British Sign Language - national plan: progress report

A progress report on the British Sign Language (BSL) national plan.

3. Key successes

Achievements so far The Scottish Government has long-term ambitions for BSL. Achieving these goals in full will require action over many years, continuing well beyond the end date of the current National Plan. However, we are already able to point to important achievements which lay foundations for future progress.

In Education

BSL is a vibrant and important language, and the Scottish Government is committed to supporting its use in schools, colleges and universities. We are working to expand opportunities, and to ensure that BSL users are able to achieve their full potential within Scottish education, both as teachers and as learners.

  • The Scottish Government established an expert advisory group in 2019 to develop plans to promote BSL use in schools.
  • A 2019 survey reported that schools across ten local authorities were delivering BSL as a second additional language (L3), a doubling since the previous survey.
  • The Scottish Qualifications Authority now offers a range of qualifications in BSL, from SCQF levels 3 to 8, designed for both hearing and deaf learners.
  • The Northern Alliance of local authorities is introducing a BSL course for primary teachers in partnership with the Open University, with a pilot scheduled for the end of 2021.
  • Queen Margaret University has embedded basic BSL tuition in its Initial Teacher Education provision.
  • The University of Edinburgh is planning a new MA in Primary Education and BSL, which will prepare teachers for BSL immersion settings, and for teaching BSL as a language following the 1+2 policy.
  • For children who are born deaf, the Scottish Government is developing BSL resources and advice within key programmes such as the BookBug app, where we've commissioned original BSL content from deaf artists.

BSL/English Interpreting

As we work towards widespread understanding of BSL in the wider community, BSL/English interpreters will play an important role in bridging the gap between users and non-users. Progress in supporting interpreters and interpreting includes:

  • A comprehensive review of BSL/English interpreting in Scotland, carried out in 2019 – Landscape Review – BSL Scotland Act 2015.
  • Postgraduate modules on specialist areas of BSL/English interpreting, including healthcare, mental healthcare, justice and education, at Queen Margaret University, supported by funding from the Scottish Government.
  • A pilot to test an initial model of internships for newly-qualified BSL/English interpreters in public services, funded by the Scottish Government. Promoting Equal Access to Services (PEAS) was delivered between 2017 and 2019 by Heriot-Watt University, in partnership with Police Scotland and NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde.

Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Coronavirus has had a dramatic impact on public life, but BSL hasn't been overlooked during the pandemic. Here are some ways the language has been promoted and supported during these challenging times.

  • A BSL/English interpreter at the daily Scottish Government Coronavirus briefings, more BSL in social media posts, and a range of important health information in BSL from NHS Inform. British Sign Language (BSL) | Translations (
  • Funding for organisations to help respond to the Coronavirus pandemic has included support for British Deaf Association (BDA) Scotland to provide information in BSL. This has included regular video briefings and weekly livestreams in BSL.
  • Communication work around the pandemic has ensured BSL signers in Scotland and beyond have been able to access information on an equal basis in their own language. This has attracted positive feedback, including from the European Union of the Deaf.

In Public Life and Society

Since the implementation of the BSL (Scotland) Act 2015, the Scottish Government has funded BSL Partnership organisations to play a significant role in engaging and supporting public bodies with their BSL plans, while encouraging them to build effective relationships with their local BSL communities. Progress in public life include:

  • In 2022, Scotland's Census will ask 'can you use BSL?' for the first time. This will provide important, up-to-date statistics on knowledge and use of the language in Scotland.
  • Work has been carried out to help make the Census 2022 website accessible to BSL users.
  • In October 2020 and as a result of the pandemic, the publication of this Progress Report was postponed. In lieu, Partner organisations published a number of interim findings highlighting good practice across the Scottish public sector. Examples include more information in BSL, the setting up of a Health Champions Forum, and better links between public bodies and the BSL community.
  • The employment of people from the Deaf/BSL community is progressing, with a new focus on BSL policy and work, including apprenticeships and other opportunities.
  • The BSL Partnership has employed a number of people from the BSL community as part of its work. Research by the British Deaf Association (BDA) has shown that employing signers within public bodies has a significant positive impact on the profile and understanding of BSL.



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