I support the recent campaign for there to be a GCSE in British Sign Language (BSL), which has been brought to my attention by Bedford and Kempston constituents.
British Sign Language is a vital method of communication for many people and the first or preferred language for an estimated 70,000 deaf people in the UK. Many people choose to learn BSL in order to communicate more effectively with hearing-impaired people.
National Deaf Children’s Society research found that 97% of children think that BSL should be taught in schools and 92% believe it should be offered as a GCSE or equivalent. I know that the Society has raised the issue of deaf children growing up isolated and lonely. I believe that it is vital that we do what we can to ensure that deaf children are not isolated. The more we see people communicating by signing, the more we will take that as given, and as the right thing to do.
BSL was recognised by the UK government as an official minority language in 2003. Fifteen years later it is time to take the next steps to equality for users of BSL. It should be given full legal status. More widely, we need to deliver a strategy for children based on inclusivity, firmly embedding Special Educational Needs and Disabilities into training for teachers and non-teaching staff, so that staff, children and their parents are properly supported.
The Government has stated that it has no plans at present to introduce any further GCSEs beyond those to which it has already committed. I will continue to press at every opportunity for BSL to be made a fully recognised language and for it to be offered as a GCSE option.