Update: BSL still not equal in status to other languages, said Government

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

Those with long memories might remember from a previous blog posting that the Government was proposing to introducing new laws which would require primary school children to learn a moderen foreign language. The National Deaf Children’s Society felt that these would discourage schools from teaching British Sign Language (BSL) and didn’t gave BSL the same status as modern foreign languages.

Do you want the good news first? Well, the proposals to make primary school children learn a new language were abandoned by the Government a few weeks back, just before Parliament was dissolved for the general election.

The bad news? The proposals weren’t abandoned because of a change of heart, but to get other new laws through in the short term then available. Judging by correspondence from around the same time, the Government hasn’t really changed its mind on BSL. Warm words aside, the Government is sticking to its definition of languages, not realising that the creation of a definition of languages which excludes BSL is arbitrary and therefore, discriminatory. As well as offensive to those who communicate in BSL. Why is BSL less valuable than Welsh or Mandarin that schools shouldn’t be free to teach it in schools if they want to do so?

Because there is no change of heart, it means that these proposals could return to Parliament, depending on the outcome of the general election. I’m on red alert.

More detail from NDCS on the issue is on their website. In the meantime, what are your views? What are your thoughts on how to make the decision-makers realise that, duh!, BSL should have the same status as other modern foreign languages?


3 thoughts on “Update: BSL still not equal in status to other languages, said Government

  1. BSL in my area (Taught in evening classes), was listed under ‘hobbies’ along with flower arranging ! teachers of BSL not allowed to declare themselves ‘teachers’ in an educational sense, unless they could show appropriate English language and curricular qualifications, or they aren’t allowed to teach in a school. THIS is the issue because it would be an ‘in’ to BSL in education of deaf children, through the ‘back door’ by-passing school teachers who have to acquire these qualifications. Only when BSL teachers can show, they can teach in the present system via English means, as well, and an ability to interact with hearing children. You cannot pick and choose which children you teach, many deaf children are in mainstream now so you have to show ability to teach both sectors of children at the same time. Even french teachers must have English abilities to do their job. When BSL tuition in education is accompanied by the relevant other skills they need, can I see BSL being allowed in. Is that discrimination ? I don’t believe it is. While some tutors downgrade speech, I cannot see them ever being allowed in a classroom. Rather than object to this view, they should accept it, and gain better teaching qualifications, if only so deaf children will benefit by it. The image of BSL is a ‘foreign language’ because of incompatibilities to the national modus.

    • Of course, any BSL tutor needs to have appropriate qualifications and experience. What those qualifications should be is a separate debate. As an aside, I’ve been taught BSL extremely well by someone whose English was poor, so I don’t personally regard knowledge of English as a necessary pre-qualification.

      The point is, even if you had an army of well-qualified people who could teach BSL, the Government still does not believe it should have the same status as other modern foreign languages. As a point of principle, I think that’s unacceptable and discriminatory.

  2. As a primary school teacher…

    Before i was required to teach only French (?!), i taught children a mixture of French, Spanish and Mandarin. Not because i am in any way a language expert but because the idea of teaching primary aged children langauges should be to motivate and excite them about learning another language. About being able to communicate with more people. Which should surely mean BSL is an appropriate langauge to explore. The result being children at secondary school who are enthusiastic langauge learners, ready to be taught by specialists.

    I don’t believe any langauge should be ruled out of the MFL choices but most schools will take the easier option and deliver French schemes. Which will frustrate secondary teachers who will then need to undo 4 years spent consolidating poor pronunciation, poor grammar and a distaste for learning langauges – the result of non-specialists teaching langauges they can’t speak.

    MM – You don’t need any langauge qualifications to teach langauges at primary so i don’t understand how the approval of BSL would lead to the consequences you describe.

    Ian – I agree with the arguments in your orginal article. The DCSF need to clarify what they want to achieve with the teaching of MFL at primary because their arguments don’t hold for excluding BSL.

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