British Sign Language - national plan: progress report

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

6. School education

6.1 Progress in schools

The Scottish Government is committed to supporting and developing the use of BSL as a language for teaching and learning, and as an integrated element of education at all levels in Scotland. For schools, the National Plan sets out a number of actions intended to promote the use of the language among D/deaf students and teachers, as well as a wider understanding and appreciation of BSL among hearing students and the wider community.

Work by local authorities, education departments, individual schools and other public and third sector bodies has achieved a great deal since the Plan was launched in 2017. Inevitably the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted on plans and more work will be required between now and 2023, but important foundations have been laid and the status of BSL in schools is now stronger than ever.

Some key developments in schools include:

  • The Scottish Government has worked with partners to develop a suite of free, online continued professional learning (CPL) modules, including guidance on BSL.
  • The Scottish Booktrust developed BSL content for their Bookbug App, with funding from the Scottish Government.
  • The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) now offers qualifications in BSL from level 3 to level 8.
  • Scotland's National Centre for Languages convened an Expert Advisory Group to look at BSL learning.
  • Schools across ten local authorities reported delivering BSL at L3 in 2019, double the number in the previous survey.
  • 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.

The Plan recognises that it is important for teachers and school authorities to engage with parents who use BSL.

  • Education Scotland has been working to share examples of good practice in working with BSL-using parents. A case study at Moorfoot Primary School was published in October 2020, with a toolkit of Good Practice published the following month.
  • BSL Content is now available on Parentzone Scotland's website, where YouTube videos of BSL signing are being developed for each page.

For teachers, the Plan sets out actions to research BSL knowledge and promote its use, as well as to support BSL users in becoming teachers and progressing their careers. The General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) is working with the University of Edinburgh to develop a new MA in Primary Education with BSL.

6.2 Actions and outcomes

Action No. 16


Work with the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) to remove barriers that make it difficult for BSL users* to become registered teachers.

Update June 2021

The GTCS is working with the University of Edinburgh to develop a new undergraduate degree in MA Primary Education and British Sign Language, which would lead to teachers qualifying as primary school teachers with enhanced skills in BSL. GTCS is considering further action that would remove barriers that make it difficult for BSL users to become registered teachers, including reviewing registration rules.

Action No. 17


Undertake additional investigations into the level of BSL held by teachers and support staff working with D/deaf and Deafblind pupils in schools.

Update June 2021

The Qualification of Teachers of pupils with visual impairment, or pupils with hearing impairment or pupils with multi-sensory impairment (vision and hearing impairment) was published in Oct 2016. A small working group was set up in January 2019 to review the competency guidance for Teachers of the Deaf (QToD) and Teacher of the Visually Impaired (QTVI). Members of the group are Scottish Sensory Centre (SSC), Scottish Government (SG) and General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS). Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) and Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES) have been kept up to date with the group's work.

Next steps: General Teaching Council for Scotland to align the competency guidance to the 2020 General Teaching Council for Scotland standards. There have been delays in progressing this work due to the impact of COVID-19 and the focus on education recovery. The guidance will be prepared to go out for public consultation Autumn 2021 with a view to publishing Winter 2021.

Action No. 18


Work with the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) to review the guidance it provides to teachers of pupils who use BSL.

Update June 2021

GTCS have no role in issuing guidance to teachers. Therefore work will be carried out to explore this further and consider how this guidance can be developed.

Action No. 19


Work with the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) to develop an initial suite of awards in BSL, which will form the basis for any future development of BSL qualifications up to Level 6 of the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF).

Update June 2021

The SQA now offers a range of BSL qualifications from SCQF level 3 to SCQF level 8. These have been designed for both hearing and deaf learners to develop their language skills. This can benefit hearing learners of BSL in particular, by improving both their language fluency and understanding of the Sign Language Community. The new course being developed by the University of Edinburgh (see action 16 above) will create a group of primary school teachers who can teach in BSL which will be a significant asset to our primary school system.

Action No. 20


Work with Education Scotland to share advice and examples of good practice for education professionals and support staff about how to engage effectively with parents who use BSL.

Update June 2021

The Moorfoot Primary School case study exemplifying good practice for professionals was published in October 2020. The Good Practice in working with deaf learners, their parents and families and toolkit was published in November 2020.(See also, No 23 below)

Action No. 21


Work with BSL users* to develop information and advice about how parents who use BSL can get further involved in their child's learning. This work will be led by Education Scotland.

Update June 2021

Progress is well underway. Education Scotland have worked with BSL users, parents, practitioners and national Deaf organisations. Information and advice has now been developed to help BSL users get more involved in their children's learning. Content is now available on Parentzone Scotland website. Arrangements are being made to have YouTube video links on each page with the text signed. The work should be completed by October 2021. Content for BSL users will continue to be developed beyond the duration of the current BSL National Action Plan, e.g. a toolkit for practitioners that could sit on the above good practice case study.

Action No. 22


Seek the views of parents who use BSL when we revise legislation about parental involvement in education.

Update June 2021

The plans for an Education Bill were not taken forward in 2019, and there are no current plans to amend primary legislation on parental involvement, and therefore this action can no longer be taken forward. Decisions on potential updates to statutory guidance or the broader regulatory and good practice framework are dependent on decisions regarding the next phase of policy work in this area. The Scottish Government, does, however, give a commitment to ensure that the communication needs of BSL using parents as a key consultation group will be supported as part of any consultations on major changes to education policy or legislation relating to parental involvement or engagement in education.

Action No. 23


Instruct Scotland's National Centre for Languages (SCILT) to lead a programme of work to support BSL learning for hearing pupils. This will include, but will not be limited to:

a) making sure that education authorities and schools know that BSL can be part of the language offer in schools under the 1+2 language policy.

b) Gathering detailed information on where and how BSL is being offered in schools as part of the 1+2 language policy, and update this information regularly.

c) Gathering and sharing examples of good practice in teaching BSL to hearing pupils as part of 1+2, and make sure there is guidance to support this.

Update June 2021

a) Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, activities including the promotion of BSL as part of the 1+2 languages policy had to be reprioritised. Previous communication and promotion included.

  • A presentation on BSL at a meeting of the Languages Network Group Scotland (LANGS), one of the country's main language stakeholder groups, with local authority representatives in attendance.
  • Highlighting BSL as a second additional language (L3) option in a report on the 2019 local authority survey of 1+2 implementation (see response to 23b).
  • Showcasing BSL at the launch event of Languages Week Scotland 2020, held in February 2020, which was attended by the Deputy First Minister, local authority representatives, school teachers and pupils.

Furthermore, the Northern Alliance (a Regional Improvement Collaborative) has reported organising a BSL course for primary teachers in partnership with the Open University, which is expected to be piloted towards the end of 2021.

b) Information on local authorities' implementation of the 1+2 languages policy is gathered annually through a survey conducted in partnership with COSLA, ADES, Education Scotland and the Scottish Government.

In the most recent survey, carried out in 2019, schools across 10 local authorities reported that they delivered BSL as an L3. This represents a doubling of local authorities from the previous survey, showing that good progress is being made in the uptake of BSL. It should be noted that schools are likely to only offer BSL as an L3 to their hearing learners, as there are no National Qualifications in BSL for it to be taught as a first additional language (L2).

A report on the 2019 survey is available. A survey was not carried out in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however one is planned for 2021.

c) Scotland's National Centre for Languages has worked with Education Scotland to develop a case study on BSL with family learning. This has been designed to promote and raise awareness of BSL and its potential as a second additional language in schools under the 1+2 policy. The Moorfoot Primary School and Garvel Deaf Centre case study explains how BSL is being used to engage parents in their children's learning, improve communications across the whole school, and engage with the wider deaf community.

Action No. 24


Assemble an expert advisory group to support this work. This will include recommendations for a longer term strategy to support the teaching of BSL to hearing pupils, and gathering data to measure progress. This will be led by SCILT, and will report to the Scottish Government by 2020

Update June 2021

An expert advisory group was established by the Scottish Government in 2019 to develop a delivery plan for growing the provision of BSL in schools, with SCILT chairing the group. The group was unable to report to the Scottish Government in 2020 due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. This led to the work of the group being postponed, and it last met in January 2020.

Action No. 25


Expect all colleges and universities will publish BSL plans, setting out how students who use BSL are supported, with a clear measurable commitment to improvement where necessary. These plans link with college and university outcome agreements and will be reviewed annually by the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), to ensure that inequalities experienced by D/deaf and Deafblind BSL students are being addressed.

Update June 2021

This action was progressed and reported to the SFC BSL Steering Group. The latest assessment was undertaken in October 2019. The outcome agreements at that time covered up to 2022. Institutions are expected to update these agreements annually but the reporting for the 2020 and 2021 Outcome Agreements was reduced significantly due to the pandemic and the pressures on institutions at this time. This means that the 2019 assessment is the most up to date one available. Of the 304,092 enrolments at Scottish Colleges in 2019 to 2020, 245 (0.08%) were by BSL students.

In addition to the inclusion of BSL plans in the SFC Outcome Agreements, SFC have also undertaken a high level assessment of the BSL plans themselves. All universities and colleges in Scotland have their BSL plan (accessible in BSL and English) available on their website. All plans meet the key requirements of the National Plan, and institutions have shown a clear commitment to update and develop their plans taking into account progress, feedback and further consultation.

Actions are generally SMART with key person or department named for taking each action forward giving a clear line of responsibility. Actions range from making events, facilities and services more accessible to BSL users (including employment, childcare, mental health, careers advice, and promoting and raising awareness of contactSCOTLAND-BSL; ensuring accessibility in democratic processes (e.g. student reps, complaints, committees); reviewing how to make extra-curricular and recreational facilities BSL friendly and accessible (this included museum and galleries, exhibitions, prestigious lecture series, Fresher's Week, clubs and societies); engaging with local Councils/schools to engage with BSL pupils; exploring routes for fluent BSL users to become qualified teachers; providing BSL training to key staff or in some cases offered to all staff/students; and holding informal BSL chat sessions for staff and students to practice BSL.

The lack of BSL interpreters was raised as an issue in the plans, particularly for the North East Scotland. An assessment of the BSL plans did highlight a common theme in relation to a lack of access to BSL interpreters. Excellent work on the landscaping review which sought to inform and assist this issue. It should be noted that the SFC support the flagship MA (Hons) British Sign Language (Interpreting, Translating and Applied Language Studies) at Heriot Watt University.

Action No. 26


Establish a steering group to help colleges and universities develop their own BSL plans. This will be run by the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), will involve BSL users*, and will include assessing what further guidance colleges and universities need to ensure they are clear about their responsibilities to BSL users* leaving school and going on to further or higher education.

Update June 2021

This action was progressed and a SFC BSL Steering Group was in place from January 2018 to October 2019. Membership included the SFC and representatives from colleges, universities, equality agencies including Deaf Action, Scottish Government and a BSL using student representative.

The group informed the requirements of BSL reporting in the SFC's Outcome Agreements and considered progress. In addition to this, the group oversaw a BSL Showcase event for the sector which was BSL led.

The group was closed in November 2019 following discussions with the Scottish Government. It was felt that the group had achieved its purpose in relation to overseeing the reporting and publishing of BSL plans and the promotion of BSL. Going forward the SFC and the Scottish Government agreed that the SFC's role would be better placed in providing support to the Scottish Government on the next steps for the National Plan.

Action No. 27


Offer accessible advice and guidance to students who use BSL on funding packages available through the Student Award Agency Scotland (SAAS)

Update June 2021

SAAS Funding Guide suite and help videos are translated with BSL overlay and are embedded throughout the SAAS website – Funding Awareness Webinars, with BSL interpreters, have also been undertaken to support prospective BSL students and their families understand student funding entitlement and study options.



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