Martin McLean: Can family access to BSL be improved? An opportunity looms…

Posted on August 21, 2014

Martin McLean, I-Sign Project Manager at the National Deaf Children’s Society looks at the upcoming changes to education laws in England for children with special educational needs and how access to British Sign Language (BSL) could be improved as a result.

What will the changes include?

September 1st  is a big date in the calendar. It is when the Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) reforms come into force.

For those of you who are not aware, these changes are arguably the biggest reforms to provision for children with special education needs (SEN) and disabilities for many years.

‘Uh oh’ I can imagine some of you thinking. What now? More cuts? More meddling with our education?

At the National Deaf Children’s Society we do have some concerns, particularly in terms of it being up to parents to hold local authorities to account when they fail to provide the support deaf children need to learn.

However, the reforms could create a positive difference for deaf children too. The changes, outlined below, are designed to give parents, children and young people more control over the support they receive and encourage greater co-working across health, social care and education. The changes include:

Local offer

Every local authority will be required to produce a local offer – a website that provides information about all the services for children and young people with SEN and disabilities in one place.

This means that deaf children, young people and their families should be better informed about the support available in their area.

Local offers should include a range of information, including details about family sign language tuition, audiology services or activities for deaf young people.

Education, Health and Care plans

The reforms will also see the end of SEN statements which are being replaced by Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plans.

About 20% of deaf children currently receive statements and this figure is not expected to change when the new EHC plans come in to effect.

The views and aspirations of children and young people have to be included within the plans which will see ‘outcomes’ drawn up for each child.

These are aims that the child, their family and the professionals supporting them, will work together to achieve.

Personal budget

Families of children or young people receiving EHC plans will have the option of requesting a personal budget. The family will have control of how this money is used to achieve the outcomes specified within the plan.

How might the changes affect BSL provision?

Through my role at the National Deaf Children’s Society, I manage a project called I-Sign, which aims to improve access to BSL through supporting the implementation of the reforms.

There is the potential for personal budgets to improve BSL provision for deaf children and their families.

The few examples we have come across so far have been where parents have used a personal budget to pay for BSL tuition.

It provides the family with greater flexibility – they can choose their tutor and when they learn e.g. daytime or evening, once a week or intensively etc.

I use the word ‘potential’ above as there are no guarantees that personal budgets will actually be implemented.

At this stage we understand that some sensory support services are not keen on the idea and local authorities will have the right to say ‘no’ to any requests, if they feel it would not be an efficient use of their funds.

Conversely, some families may not want the hassle of organising their child’s support. Hopefully, over time, as we come across more examples of how personal budgets have been used to achieve positive outcomes we’ll see a shift in opinion around this.

Local offers have the potential to improve access to BSL too, as there should be better information about the support available.

However, local offers are not going to be the finished article on 1 September – some local offers have already been launched and the ones I have seen still have a long way to go before they become really useful to deaf children and young people.

A lot will depend on young people and families submitting feedback. People will need to look at the local offers and tell their local authorities how useful they found it, considering the following:

  • Is there any information about how parents can learn BSL?
  • Does it tell you what communication support is available for children at school?
  • Does it mention any youth activities that will be accessible to BSL users?

To sum up the reforms, they provide an opportunity to bring about positive change but much will depend on parents of deaf children and deaf young people adopting the changes and being aware of their rights.

We hope you’ll get involved as it’s you that can make the difference!

Where can you find out more?

This article provides a brief summary of the reforms, in relation to improving BSL provision.

The National Deaf Children’s Society empowers deaf children, young people and their families to make informed choices and influence decisions affecting them, including choosing the communication methods that work for them.

For further information on SEND reform please visit: or to find out more about the I-Sign project visit

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