Peter Aldous backs calls for British Sign Language GCSE

5th March 2018

Peter Aldous backs calls for British Sign Language to be offered as a GCSE.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Austin. I congratulate the hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) on her work in facilitating this debate.

It is either coincidental or a subliminal message from another place that this debate is taking place on the same day that “The Silent Child” won an Oscar. I have not seen the film, but I understand that sign language is the means by which a whole new world is opened up for Libby, the four-year-old star of the story. Similarly, if BSL is part of the national curriculum and there is a GCSE in sign language, a whole new world will be opened up for thousands of deaf and hard-of-hearing young children and adults around the UK.

Later this month, I shall be accompanying Daniel Jillings from Lowestoft and his mother, Ann, to meet the Minister, at his very kind invitation, so they can explain why a GCSE in sign language is so important to them. Ann highlighted to me that BSL is deaf children’s first language. She said it is discriminatory that they do not have the opportunity to achieve the most widely recognised qualification in their first language, and that it is given a lower status than other languages. It is accepted that there are other accredited qualifications in BSL, but they are not widely available to children in schools and they are less likely to be recognised by employers.

Daniel achieved his BSL level 1 three years ago. It was not funded, and Ann tutored him and paid for all the assessments herself. That is not right. There is a compelling case for a GCSE in BSL. First, we must ensure equality. Many other languages are rightly taught at GCSE, including Arabic, Biblical Hebrew, Persian and Urdu. In an outward-looking, pluralistic country, it is right that they are taught, but the deaf and the hard of hearing must be placed on the same level playing field.

Secondly, the continuing absence of a GCSE in BSL is a denial of choice. A survey by the National Deaf Children’s Society’s youth advisory board found that 92% of young people who are deaf or hard of hearing think schools should offer a BSL GCSE.

Finally, the continuing non-availability of a GCSE in BSL puts up a barrier for many young people initially to further and higher education and thereafter to entry into the workplace. A barrier was taken down in Hollywood last night, as Rachel Shenton used BSL in her Oscar acceptance speech. I look forward to meeting the Minister with Daniel and Ann later this month so we can begin work on taking down a barrier in Westminster.

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