Update: BSL not equal to other languages, says Government

Image courtesy of http://www.blanchenevile.org.uk

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.


5 thoughts on “Update: BSL not equal to other languages, says Government

  1. BSL has NEVER been officialy accepted, certainly not in educational terms. So the news is hardly ‘new’ to most. The BDA were to blame for telling deaf people that via the European Union a diktat had been issued to the effect sign language was a right in LAW. It merely suggested sign can be a preference to the British Government, and there was no ‘law’ issued to back it up, since the UK opted out. We aren’t bound by every ‘law’ the European Union issues by any means, and the BSL one is just another our government did NOT endorse via accepting the suggestion. We aren’t bound to accept a metric education or, to dispense with ounces, pounds, etc. IN fact Britain reversed that and it WAS a law they suggested we adopt the British people did not like being told what to do.

    In BSL terms the re=issue is extremely complex, it would divide up educational systems and schools and fly in the face of ‘integrational’ education our government for better or worse, is dedicated to. If accepted as such would fragment deaf educations cause chaos for schools etc, and there would simply not be enough deaf children to fill a deaf school, because PARENTS are still entitled to choose,most are against a dedicated sign education par se,and many want sibings taught alongside each other, deaf and hearing. I don’t think there is much support for a tiered educational system splitting deaf children from other deaf children that way.

    Of course less than 30 deaf schools now exist and it is debatable you could staff such a system now. NO campaign for a BSL schooling has a chance at all, you have to staff these places and develop a curriculum and get it accepted. If you got the right tomorrow you still could not move for years.

  2. Ian wrote: >>BSL is as ‘foreign’ to the English language as is Welsh, which officials have confirmed would be permissible as a modern foreign language.<<

    Ah!! Have they now? That makes all the difference to me with this one. As I understand it both BSL and Welsh are recognised as official UK languages which is why I wouldn't have clasified either of them as "foreign". They are just "different" languages to English. If one is allowed to qualify as a "modern foreign language" but not the other though…that sounds like nothing short of discrimination. Join you on the barricades?

    But then the teaching of welsh at adult night-classes is subsidised whilst BSL is not, which I've never understood.

    Hmm. They're pre-judging that BSL ain't a modern foreign language and bending the rules to fit, it seems. And that's when pre-judging becomes prejudice.


  3. I always understood BSL was a ‘vocational teaching aid’ to the deaf. I don’t go with playing off BSL against Welsh either, is there a point to that ? There is a whole history and language and culture with Welsh, there are few if any records of signing history go back anywhere near as far as Welsh does (Or even English for that matter!). Welsh is one of the oldest still living languages in Europe still in daily use. Anyone can learn sign, not anyone can learn welsh that takes real learning, you have to know the music, the language (Written/spoken), and the culture of it,and there are still many many more welsh speakers than BSL users, (Most of whom at school are taught SSE)..

    Ditto ! sign this there IS no welsh sign language..

    Rwyf bob amser yn deall BSL yn ‘cymorth dysgu galwedigaethol’ i’r byddar. Dydw i ddim yn mynd i ffwrdd â chwarae BSL naill ai yn erbyn Cymru, a oes pwynt i hynny? Mae holl hanes, iaith a diwylliant gyda Cymraeg, mae yna ychydig, os unrhyw gofnodion o arwyddion hanes yn mynd yn ôl unrhyw le yn agos cyn belled ag Cymru yn (Neu hyd yn oed Saesneg ar gyfer y mater!). Cymru yw un o’r hynaf yn dal i fyw mewn ieithoedd Ewrop yn dal i yn cael eu defnyddio bob dydd. Gall unrhyw un ddysgu arwydd, ni all unrhyw un ddysgu Cymraeg sy’n cymryd dysgu go iawn, mae’n rhaid i chi yn gwybod y gerddoriaeth, yr iaith (ysgrifenedig / llafar), a diwylliant, ac mae nifer yn dal i fod llawer o siaradwyr Cymraeg yn fwy na defnyddwyr BSL, (y rhan fwyaf ohonynt yn yr ysgol yn cael eu haddysgu SSE) ..

    Cymru AM Byth

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