Rob Buxton: Barriers to post 16 education still exist for BSL users. This needs to be challenged

Posted on March 4, 2016

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It’s a sad fact that many of the people who need to read this article are those who, through no fault of their own, cannot.

It is for this reason these individuals remain “a silent minority” in Britain today and are treated so by the authorities.

Imagine being born in Britain, learning to communicate very effectively in a recognised manner, but then being told later in life you can’t access post 16 education. One could be forgiven for assuming such mistreatment came to an end during the post WW2 years of the 50’s and 60’s.

This issue first came to my attention during 2014, when a relative, who is profoundly deaf, started an engineering apprentice. He attended college on day-release, i.e. one day per week, and worked within the Company the remaining four days per week.

The college informed his employer that their apprentice was a good student, with both his practical work and theory knowledge to a high standard. He passed all his practical and theory exams at college for his Level 2 apprenticeship and his NVQ Level 2. Both his college and work attendance were 100%.

His employer also recognised they had a good, keen apprentice working above his level on a day-to-day basis. His enthusiasm and determination to learn were unsurpassable. But there was one problem, he was a British Sign Language (BSL) user and as a result of being deaf had limited access to English.

Current Government approach to post 16 education, insists certain core English qualifications must be successfully complete by all students. Any student who does not have a GCSE grade ‘C’ or above in English are required to successfully complete English “functional skills” before being allowed to commence or continue their chosen course of study, even if their first language is BSL.

One could understand this requirement in the case of English being the course of study, but NOT where English is just the method of communication. As a result, some deaf Students are effectively being cast aside and refused access because they, through no fault of their own, communicate in BSL and not English. This has got to be both fundamentally and morally wrong and must breach their human rights as individuals.

The fact this problem remains unraised at a National level, only points to the total lack of opportunities for deaf young people in society generally. Despite all the claims UK citizens have equal rights they do not. The requirement for BSL users, who are BSL qualified, to undertake functional skills in English in order to commence or continue on a course is wrong.

The Equality Act 2010, under discrimination arising from disability, places a duty on the Government to ensure they do not treat someone unfavourably because of something arising in consequence of their disability.

The Government claim BSL users are provided a level of “reasonable adjustment” when sitting functional skills English exams. However, these “reasonable adjustments” are interpreted differently throughout the country. Your right to “Reasonable Adjustments” can be a postcode lottery. Depending on where you live and the college you attend determines on what adjustment, if any, will be offered.

Things need to change. BSL users need to be treated with the respect they deserve and encouraged to make a contribution to society.

Rob has set up an email address should you wish to contact myself about this matter: BSLandEnglish@virginmedia.com

Rob Buxton is the parent of two profoundly deaf young adults. He says: “Often both my wife and myself feel we have spent most of our time arguing the case for better deaf education and opportunities. I’ve spent most of my life working in engineering including one well known international aero engine manufacture and in all this time I’ve only met two deaf engineers, one of whom being my son. Later in life I become a teacher. Whilst academic study is important we sadly no longer value practical skills and trades in this country. I would love to be able to make a real contribution to the deaf community and provide young deaf people with improved access to post 16 education in England. Currently, the way deaf students are treated is appalling. On a separate note both my son Max and I are steam and vintage vehicle enthusiasts and if you are in Nottingham we are often volunteering at Papplewick Pumping Station on Sundays. So come along and introduce yourself. Just look for the steam railway. “

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