A foreign language is currently defined as one that is written and spoken. But Signature, a national charity that campaigns to improve the standards of communication with deaf and deafblind people in the UK, wants the definition to be extended to include “signed” languages. The charity is developing a GCSE in British Sign Language and argues that the subject deserves the same GCSE status as other minority languages, such as Gaelic and Welsh.
It believes that making British Sign Language mainstream would help to give deaf youngsters more equal access to education and employment opportunities.
“This educational reform will open up a wealth of career opportunities for young deaf people by enhancing their employability and allowing them to consider career opportunities that they may have previously not considered,” said Jim Edwards, chief executive of Signature.
“If we believe that one of the reasons for teaching a modern foreign language is because it can bring long-term economic value, then there’s no reason why British Sign Language should be disregarded.
“If deaf students are able to gain a qualification in their first language while still at school, they will feel more comfortable and confident about going to university. We need to do all we can to create an environment of inclusion, widen participation and increase access before it is too late.”
The number of people in the UK whose first or preferred language is British Sign Language is estimated to be 70,000.