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​Why BSL (British Sign Language) is Taking Off in Schools

About over 1 year ago By Alex Schulte

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More than confidence, more even than subject knowledge, communication is the one skill no educator can do without. Relaying an hour of information to 30 young people requires a knack for public speaking and the power to hold a room. But what should you do when the children you’re entrusted to teach cannot hear you, however stirring your oratory might be?

At least 50,000 children in the UK are deaf or hearing-impaired, and 78% of those children attend mainstream schools without dedicated specialist facilities attached. This means that in every school of a thousand pupils or more, educators should expect to encounter at least one pupil with a hearing impairment.

These children, like any other, should be entitled to an education that accommodates their needs. Schools typically employ a range of assistive technologies to help deaf pupils get the most out of learning, such as installing radio listening systems and visual aids.

On top of these technological solutions, one of the most meaningful steps a school can make to engage hearing-impaired pupils is to increase the presence of British Sign Language (BSL). Let’s find out why.

What is BSL (British Sign Language)?

British Sign Language is the preferred language among the UK’s Deaf community. It is a complex system of hand gestures with its own grammar, syntax and even distinct dialects, that has arisen over hundreds of years in deaf communities across the British Isles.

BSL is used by approximately 151,000 people in the UK, of whom approximately 87,000 use it as their first language. It was first recognised as an official language in 2003.

How BSL is used in schools today

Up until relatively recently, the use of BSL in schools has been patchy, and generally limited to taking on the services of BSL-speaking teaching assistants to run one-to-one or small-group sessions with hearing-impaired pupils.

Yet slowly but surely, demands for BSL to be a more commonplace part of school life are growing in momentum. Earlier this year, a major multi academy trust in North London confirmed that it would be offering classes in BSL to all pupils across its 10 primary schools. A 2019 petition to Parliament calling on BSL to be taught in schools garnered over 35,000 signatures and was debated in the House of Commons. The Liberal Democrats have even issued their own call for British Sign Language to feature on the National Curriculum.

It is entirely possible that BSL will become a particularly in-demand skill for all types of educators in the coming years. But why is there such a growing clamour for this to happen?

The need for more BSL in schools

Something needs to change in the education of deaf children. 2021 was the sixth year in a row in which deaf pupils achieved an entire GCSE grade less than their hearing counterparts. Deafness is not a learning disability, so there should be no acceptable reason for this persistent underperformance.

With 86% of teachers testifying that their training has not sufficiently equipped them to support deaf pupils, it is urgently evident that interventions are urgently needed in the state of provision for deaf children.

Greater use of BSL in school settings has already been identified as a plank of any package of change by institutions like the Scottish Universities Insight Institute. By allowing deaf pupils to communicate on the same level as their hearing peers, British Sign Language can improve pupil confidence and make lessons less alienating for hearing-impaired pupils.

The pressure for change is building, and educators can get ahead of it by developing a working understanding of BSL.

How you can learn BSL

Our partners at New Skills Academy are offering an introductory Diploma in British Sign Language that will serve as an ideal springboard onto the accredited British Sign Language Level 1 Award.

How to put your BSL skills to work

As one of the country’s leading educational recruitment agencies, we place mainstream and SEND educators into thousands of roles every year.

If you have experience of using British Sign Language, browse our latest specialist roles today to find out how you could make a positive impact on the lives of deaf and hearing-impaired children.

To be the first to hear about the latest opportunities for BSL-skilled educators, wherever you are, register today to work with Protocol Education.