British Sign Language Now A GCSE Subject: All You Need To Know

Discover the groundbreaking introduction of British Sign Language (BSL) as a GCSE subject. This is indeed an educational milestone promoting inclusivity and enriching communication. In this article, we explore the significance of this pioneering qualification, the positive reception from various communities, and the transformative impact it promises in our educational landscape.

British Sign Language GCSE

Table of Contents

What is BSL?

British Sign Language (BSL) is a visual-gestural language used by the Deaf community in the United Kingdom. It is the primary language for many Deaf people in the UK and is recognised as a distinct and legitimate language. BSL has its own grammar and syntax and is not solely based on English.

Like spoken languages, BSL has regional variations and dialects. It involves the use of handshapes, facial expressions, and body movements to convey meaning. Just as in spoken languages where different countries may have their own sign languages (e.g., American Sign Language in the United States), BSL is specific to the United Kingdom.

BSL is used in various settings, including communication between Deaf individuals, in Deaf communities, and in educational and professional contexts. The recognition of BSL as an official language in the UK has been an important step in promoting the rights and accessibility of the Deaf community.

British Sign Language Qualifications

In the UK, there are qualifications available for individuals who wish to learn and demonstrate proficiency in British Sign Language (BSL). These qualifications are designed to assess and certify the signer’s ability to use BSL in various contexts. Here are some of the commonly recognised qualifications:

  1. Signature Level 1-6 Certificates in British Sign Language:
    • These certificates are offered by Signature, the leading awarding body for Deaf communication qualifications in the UK.
    • Levels 1 to 6 represent different proficiency levels, with Level 1 being basic and Level 6 being advanced.
    • Each level includes assessments of receptive and productive skills, involving conversation, storytelling, and other tasks.
  2. National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) BSL Qualifications:
    • The NDCS offers a range of BSL qualifications, including introductory courses and more advanced levels.
    • These qualifications are designed to support professionals working with deaf children and young people.
  3. City & Guilds BSL Qualifications:
    • City & Guilds, a global leader in skills development, offers BSL qualifications.
    • These qualifications cover a range of levels, allowing learners to progress from basic communication skills to advanced linguistic competence.
  4. Open College Network (OCN) BSL Qualifications:
    • OCN is another awarding body that provides BSL qualifications.
    • Their courses cover different levels and are structured to help learners develop their BSL skills progressively.
  5. University Accredited BSL Courses: Some universities offer courses in British Sign Language that may lead to degrees or certificates in Deaf studies or related fields.

When considering BSL qualifications, it’s essential to choose a programme that aligns with your current skill level and learning goals. Additionally, many programmes provide flexible learning options, including in-person classes, online courses, and blended learning approaches.

British Sign Language GCSE

A groundbreaking development in education is set to unfold as the British Sign Language (BSL) GCSE is introduced, providing students with a unique opportunity to acquire essential communication skills using sign language. The publication of the subject content on Thursday, December 21 2023, marks a significant step towards inclusivity within educational settings.

The forthcoming availability of the BSL GCSE has garnered widespread support from parents, teachers, and various organisations representing both the deaf and hearing communities. The culmination of a 12-week public consultation has contributed to shaping the content, ensuring it is both knowledge-rich and diverse in its teaching approach.

Key Features of the BSL GCSE

Students opting for the BSL GCSE will embark on a journey to effectively communicate using British Sign Language. They will acquire a valuable set of life skills applicable in work, social, and academic contexts. The content of the GCSE is designed to be challenging, fostering a comprehensive understanding of BSL for those who undertake the course.

Inclusion in Qualifications Landscape

Aligned with existing qualifications, the British Sign Language GCSE holds an inclusive stance, welcoming pupils from all backgrounds. Notably, this qualification will be officially recognised and accepted in school and college performance tables, emphasising its importance within the broader educational framework.

Advocacy and Campaign for BSL GCSE

A notable figure in the campaign for the introduction of the BSL GCSE is Daniel Jillings, a young deaf campaigner. In 2018, at the age of 12, he initiated a crowd justice campaign, emphasising the importance of offering a GCSE in BSL. His advocacy highlighted the significance of timely access to education, stating, “Delaying a GCSE is unfair to children who are deaf.” Daniel’s efforts have played a pivotal role in making the BSL GCSE a reality for students seeking to enrich their educational experience through sign language studies.

Benefits of BSL GCSE

Beyond the national context, the BSL GCSE is designed to be internationally recognised, offering students a qualification with global standing. Pupils undertaking this course will develop essential skills in expressing and negotiating meaning through visual spatial language. The emphasis on communication and visual memory skills equips students with tools that will prove advantageous throughout their lives.

While the primary focus of the GCSE is on effective signing, it goes beyond mere practicality. Students will delve into the history of sign language in the UK, gaining insights into its evolution and development. This historical perspective not only enriches the educational experience but also lays a solid foundation for understanding how British Sign Language has reached its current form.

The BSL GCSE, therefore, emerges not just as a language qualification but as a holistic educational experience. It empowers students with practical communication skills, international recognition, and a deep understanding of the historical context of British Sign Language. As students embrace this qualification, they embark on a journey that goes beyond the confines of traditional education, fostering inclusivity, and preparing them for a diverse and interconnected world.

Timeline for BSL GCSE Implementation

The goal is to have exam board syllabuses approved by September 2025, signalling the official commencement of the BSL GCSE in classrooms across the country. The curriculum will not only teach students how to communicate proficiently using BSL but also provide a historical perspective on the development of British Sign Language in the UK.

How to learn British Sign Language

Learning British Sign Language (BSL) can be a rewarding experience, whether you’re interested in communicating with Deaf individuals, pursuing a career in sign language interpreting, or simply expanding your language skills.

Any student, of any age, can take the GCSE, either through their school or college, or entering as a private candidate. 

In general, here are steps you can take to learn British Sign Language:

  • Find a Course:
    • Look for local classes, workshops, or courses that offer BSL instruction. Many community colleges, adult education centres, or organisations focused on Deaf awareness may offer BSL courses.
  • Online Resources:
    • There are numerous online resources and courses that provide BSL lessons. Websites like British Sign, Sign Language Forum, and the British Deaf Association offer video tutorials, dictionaries, and learning materials.
  • Mobile Apps:
    • Mobile apps can be a convenient way to learn BSL on the go. Apps like Sign BSL, Signly, and Sign Language! are designed to teach BSL through interactive lessons and quizzes.
  • BSL Dictionary:
    • Invest in a good BSL dictionary, either in print or online. These dictionaries provide visual representations of signs along with explanations and usage examples.
  • Community Courses and Workshops:
    • Check if there are any local community courses, workshops, or events focused on BSL. These can provide a supportive environment for learning and practicing with others.

Basic British Sign Language

If you’re looking to get started with basic British Sign Language (BSL), here are some common signs and expressions to begin your journey. Keep in mind that learning BSL involves not just hand movements but also facial expressions and body language. 

British Sign Language I Love You

In British Sign Language (BSL), the sign for “I love you” is expressed by using specific handshapes and movements. Here’s how you can sign “I love you” in BSL:

  • Hold your hand up: Start with an open hand, palm facing outward.
  • Extend your thumb, index finger, and pinkie finger: Keep the middle and ring fingers folded toward the palm.
  • Raise your hand: Raise your hand, holding this handshape, toward the person you are communicating with.

By forming this handshape and raising it, you create the sign for “I love you” in British Sign Language. This gesture is commonly used to express affection and love. It’s important to note that the orientation of the palm and the movement can carry specific meanings in sign languages, so accuracy in forming signs is crucial for clear communication.

British Sign Language Thank You

In British Sign Language (BSL), the sign for “Thank You” involves expressing gratitude through a specific hand movement. Here’s how you can sign “Thank You” in BSL:

  • Place your hand near your chin: Start with your hand open, fingers together, and your palm facing inward.
  • Move your hand forward and slightly downward: While keeping your hand in the same shape, move it forward and slightly downward.

This movement conveys the expression of “Thank You” in British Sign Language. Remember that facial expressions and body language are also important elements in sign language, so convey sincerity and gratitude through your entire expression while signing “Thank You” in BSL.

Numbers in British Sign Language

1: Lift your index finger, keeping the other fingers in a fist, with your palm facing inward.
2: Raise your index and middle fingers, forming a ‘V’.
3: Lift your index, middle, and ring fingers, creating a ‘W’ shape. Keep them separated.
4: Point all fingers upward, except your thumb. Hold it a few inches from your chest, leaving a small space between fingers.
5: Show all five fingers in front of you, a few inches from your chest.

Frequently Asked Questions

There are different types of BSL courses available, from basic introductory courses through to recognised qualifications like NVQs and even honours degrees. You can find out more about different courses through Signature, the recognised awarding body for BSL qualifications.
It is easy to assume that American Sign Language (ASL) and British Sign Language (BSL) would be similar, but they are actually two completely different languages. Only about 30% of the signs are the same, even though they are based on the same spoken language.
There are lots of websites and apps available which offer online BSL lessons and tips. These can be a great way to practise the BSL you’ve learned in your class, or learn some basic BSL if you can’t join a BSL class just yet. However, the standard of online BSL courses and BSL apps vary widely.
Students will soon be able to study British Sign Language (BSL) as a GCSE following a consultation into the course content. Parents, teachers and organisations from the deaf and hearing communities, overwhelmingly agreed with the proposals it set out.

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