Charter for deaf children’s services considered in response to Senedd petition

(Title Image: Exeter Deaf Academy)

Petition P-04-628: “To improve access to education and services in British Sign Language”
Submitted by Deffo!
Signatures: 1,162

A summary of the Petitions Committee report is available here.

Petition Supporting Evidence

  • Lessons in British Sign Language (BSL) are expensive; a basic course costs £300-per-person.
  • Deaf children who are taught BSL at an early age will have improved wellbeing and better educational opportunities.
  • There’s a big gap in educating through the medium of BSL; it’s being wrongly treated as a learning disability, not a language in its own right.

The Chair of the Petitions Committee, UKIP’s David Rowlands, acknowledged the campaigner’s tenacity and commitment and agreed with their request that BSL should be treated as a recognised minority language.

Inconsistencies and lack of progress

Janet Finch-Saunders AM (Con, Aberconwy) – a BSL student herself – said that while the Welsh Government have officially recognised BSL as a language since 2004, progress in terms of integrating it into the school curriculum has been poor (with a few exceptions).

While BSL has been mentioned in the curriculum white paper, Janet wasn’t happy with how it was done:

“….it is deeply concerning that BSL is being classified as an international language, alongside other classic and modern languages. Not only is it incorrect to classify BSL as an international language, it undermines the necessity of this education for the 2,642 deaf children in Wales. As such, I would like to see an equivalence of BSL to English and Welsh used more widely in our schools.”
– Janet Finch-Saunders AM

It was also appalling that parents face a postcode lottery in accessing funding for BSL lessons for themselves in order to communicate with their own children; sometimes up to £6,000.

Mike Hedges AM (Lab, Swansea East) – whose sister is deaf – believed sign language should have equal status as its essential for deaf children to communicate and learn. He supported calls for a GCSE in first language sign language to be developed by Qualifications Wales and stressed the importance of minimum BSL qualifications for teaching assistants working with deaf children.

“Deffo! says that, on average, deaf children who receive mainstream education in Wales leave school at 16 with a reading age of nine. Often, their speech and lip-reading skills are poor. Also, there has been a consistent gap in the attainment levels of deaf children compared to their hearing peers, which is at its widest in the foundation stage and at Key Stage 2.”
– Sian Gwenllian AM (Plaid, Arfon)

A fair crack at the whip

Neil McEvoy AM (Ind, South Wales Central) said the deaf community doesn’t get a “fair crack at the whip” and it was unbelievable that Wales only has one youth worker fluent in BSL, while he also criticised the decision to scrap the only course for teachers of the deaf at the University of South Wales.

Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales) – who wears a hearing aid – believes the Welsh Government should take an active role in encouraging schools to teach BSL. The National Deaf Children’s Society was:

“….very disappointed that a recommendation by the Children’s Commissioner that access to BSL should be made available to all families with deaf children, has not been taken on board, and they said a stronger message is also required to ensure that local authorities start to regard provision for learning BSL as part of their duty in meeting a deaf child’s additional learning needs, because they said that, at present, this is simply not happening in practice.”
– Mark Isherwood AM

In reply, the Education Minister, Kirsty Williams (Lib Dem, Brecon & Radnor) signed in BSL that she was pleased the debate was taking place.

A Wales-only GCSE qualification in BSL has been deemed unviable. However, in better news for campaigners, the Minister outlined options (video above) which were being considered such as a national charter for services to deaf children and an additional £20million will be made available to councils to prepare for new Additional Learning Needs obligations.

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