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Liberal Democrats

Expanding the Use of British Sign Language

In order for schools to be given the resources they need to teach British Sign Language, it must form part of the core curriculum for young people.

By Christine Jardine, Mar 11, 2022 3:03

As a child I learned basic sign language.

My parents’ had a friend whose mother had been deaf since birth and just loved looking after and playing with me.

Part of that was teaching me her language so we could chat about the TV we were watching, what I was doing at school or just whatever flitted through my happy little head.

It didn’t seem like a big issue to me at the time. Natural in fact.

But over the years after Annie passed away I gradually forgot everything that she taught me so that when I met one of my heroes, Dame Evelyn Glennie I felt inept at relying on her to ensure we could communicate.

All deaf and hearing-impaired individuals have the right to participate in society fully and independently and too often these rights are not fully realised.

It shouldn’t be that way. Not for anyone.

British Deaf Association figures suggest that 151,000 people can currently use BSL in the UK including 87,000 hearing impaired users.

British Sign Language was recognised as a language in its own right by the UK Government in 2003.

Many parents may want or need their children to learn sign language, however they will need to pay for these lessons. Subsidised or free lessons are entirely at the discretion of local authorities.

As a party, we are deeply concerned that, despite deafness not being a learning disability, it can lead to underachievement of deaf children. All deaf and hearing-impaired individuals have the right to participate in society fully and independently and too often these rights are not fully realised.

British Sign Language should have equal status to the UK’s other official languages.

Better access and understanding of the language used by deaf children by both their teachers and their peers can only help to alleviate some of these problems. British Sign Language should have equal status to the UK’s other official languages.

The British education systems teach modern languages in the hope of fostering greater communication between peoples and bringing long-term economic benefits, British Sign Language lessons would fulfil both of these aims. Sign language is included on the education curriculum in Sweden, Norway and Finland who have seen no detrimental effects on children’s education by adding more subjects.

School budgets are already creaking under the consistent underfunding and cuts from the Conservative Government.

In order for schools to be given the resources they need to teach British Sign Language, it must form part of the core curriculum for young people.

In our new policy passed today, the Liberal Democrats are calling for:

  • The rapid introduction of GCSE equivalent qualifications in BSL in England.
  • The Department for Education to commission a feasibility study into the introduction of BSL lessons in primary schools to embed the teaching of basic BSL from an early age, with expert findings to be offered to devolved education departments.

Read the full motion

This policy would sit alongside our other education policies to improve the system for all, including for English, Maths and Science. We have also been in strong support of British Sign Language being given legal status as a way of raising awareness of deaf culture. Now that this idea is gaining traction politically across the spectrum, a GCSE and more accessible studies of the language should follow

Young children are able to learn languages at a faster rate due to rapid neural formation. If the aim is to get young children to fluency, then it is best to start at a young age.

Around 150,000 people in the UK use British Sign Language, these changes would give them a chance for a more integrated future with the children and adults around them.

As Liberal Democrats, we are committed to inclusivity. Not only will learning British Sign Language include those children who have hearing impairments, it will teach all children about the importance of this inclusivity.

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