A while ago I blogged about how the Children, Schools and Families Bill might discourge primary schools from the option of teaching British Sign Language if they want to. NDCS has been exchanging a lot of emails recently with the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) to try and get to the bottom of this.
The good news is that DCSF officials have been willing to engage with us and respond to our questions, which is much appreciated. The bad news is that I completely disagree with pretty much everything they’ve said on this issue.
Going through the arguments, they’ve used…
DCSF say: BSL is not a “modern foreign language”.
I say: The definition in the Bill of language as a “modern foreign language” is arbitrary. BSL is as ‘foreign’ to the English language as is Welsh, which officials have confirmed would be permissible as a modern foreign language.
DCSF say: They want to exclude ‘dead’ languages, like Latin,
I say: Why not just use the definition “modern languages” then?
DCSF say: The proposed programme of study is to require students to “speak” and “listen” in another language
I say: This is a narrow and arbitrary definition of what learning a language involves. BSL is still a language even though it does not involve speaking or listening. BSL does, however, require students to demonstrate productive and receptive skills – that should be regarded as equally important as ‘speaking’ and ‘listening’. Besides, you don’t need to physically speak or listen to a language to understand it. I got a pretty good grade in my French GCSE and I’m as deaf as a dodo.
DCSF say: The proposed programme of study aims to enable children to develop understanding of everyday life, traditions and cultures in other countries.
I say: Aaaarrrghh! Clearly, DCSF have missed the memo about there being such a thing as a deaf community, with its own everyday life, traditions and cultures. Besides, aren’t there other benefits to BSL being more mainstream, like creating a more inclusive and welcoming society that values disabled people, that are as valuable and as important and learning a new foreign language?
DCSF say: A school can still teach BSL, just not as a modern foreign language.
I say: Schools will have to disapply the curriculum or find extra time within the curriculum to teach it in addition to a modern foreign language. I don’t think primary schools have oodles of time. Besides, we’re missing the key point of principle: that BSL should have the same status as other languages.
The Children, Schools and Families Bill has moved to the Lords, where we’re hoping to get this issue raised there. NDCS has just updated their briefing on this issue – which you can download from their website. And watch this space for more info.