Deaf News: Sign language recognised as English equivalent for deaf apprentices

Posted on January 6, 2017

Deaf young people who use British Sign Language (BSL) will have equal opportunities to complete apprenticeships, following policy changes announced yesterday by Robert Halfon MP.

Apprentices currently all have to pass English functional skills tests before they can complete a course, which has proven problematic for many deaf young people. However, the Skills Minister has pledged that BSL qualifications will soon be accepted as an alternative to these tests.

18-year-old engineering apprentice and BSL user Max Buxton (whose father Rob wrote this article about the issue for Limping Chicken back in March last year) is also celebrating the announcement, having struggled to progress from an intermediate to advanced course because of the English functional skills tests. After 18 months of intense studying and exam retakes, Max passed – but now faces further tests to complete his advanced course.

Max said: “Being deaf and dyslexic, I find English tests really hard. It’s very difficult to translate BSL into English and for it all to make sense. My employer has said how well I’m doing and doesn’t think my language skills are an issue, but I still can’t complete the apprenticeship without passing that test. It’s an unfair, unnecessary rule that has created a lot of stress, so I’m very pleased things are changing now.”

The Buxton family has campaigned with their MP, Graham Allen, and the National Deaf Children’s Society for BSL to be formally recognised so that Max and other apprentices like him can thrive.

Brian Gale OBE, Policy and Campaigns Director at the National Deaf Children’s Society, explained: “We’re delighted that the Government has committed to these changes, because it was making it very challenging for some deaf young people to complete their courses.

“BSL is a totally different language, so for users to meet this kind of academic standard is a much bigger challenge than it would be for a native English speaker. We heard from parents whose deaf children who were doing brilliant work in their apprenticeships but being held back by that, which they understandably felt was unfair.

“Most deaf young people move to vocational education at 16, and apprenticeships are a much-needed route to employment. For those whose first language is BSL, this simple change will mean they truly have equal opportunities to achieve their potential.”

The announcement has also been praised by the British Association of Teachers of the Deaf (BATOD), the Association of Deaf Education Professionals and Trainees (ADEPT) and Signature – all of whom campaigned to change the system, which they said discriminated against some deaf people.

Skills Minister Robert Halfon MP commented: “I am committed to breaking down barriers to ensure people of all ages and all backgrounds get on the ladder of opportunity through an apprenticeship.

“For those whose first language is BSL, this simple change will allow them to achieve their full potential. I look forward to implementing more changes like this to make sure apprenticeships can work for as many people as possible, whatever their background.”

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