I popped along to the Houses of Parliament yesterday – as you do – to a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Disability. This is a group of MPs and peers with a stated interest in disability issues who hold meetings once in a while. Yesterday’s meeting was on the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill, a hefty piece of legislation that is now making its way through the House of Lords.
Lots of Lords and Ladies came, including Lord Young, who is the Government’s spokesperson on apprenticeships in the Lords. He was challenged on the issue of entry requirements for apprenticeships. The Government is creating a new scheme whereby it will guarantee young people an apprentice if they meet certain requirements.
Unfortunately for deaf young people, these certain requirements include GCSEs in English and Maths. Putting to one side the issue of whether deaf children get the right support to be able to fulfill their potential and achieve these GCSEs, is a deaf person whose first language is British Sign Language necessarily going to get or want a GCSE in English?
And yet the scheme seemingly excludes them, ignoring the fact that deaf young people will be able to make use of interpreters, communication support, etc. in an apprenticeship, as in any other job.
I was hoping that Lord Young might stand up and cry out “now that’s what I call discrimination” but instead, he made some warm words about the need to support disabled young people. But he also taked about the need to “strike a balance” and ensure that apprenticeships are “useful” to employers. So it doesn’t seem likely that the Government will abandon the principle of entry requirements anytime soon.
But we don’t plan to shut up about it, and will be continuing to press for these entry requirements to be relaxed for people with disabilities. So watch this space.