Press release

Equal opportunities for people who use British Sign Language

The government is breaking down barriers to ensure that people who use British Sign Language gain the skills they need.

Max Buxton

For the first time, British Sign Language (BSL) will be accepted as an alternative qualification to functional skills in English for apprentices where BSL is their first language.

Functional skills are qualifications that help people gain the essential, practical skills in maths and English they need and enable them to be confident in life and work.

This change will mean that apprentices will be able to take BSL as an alternative to functional skills in English - removing the unnecessary barrier that has been preventing them from getting on.

BSL isn’t simply English with hand signs, it is a different language with its own grammar and sentence construction. It is also totally different to other sign languages such as American Sign Language or Japanese Sign Language.

Skills and Apprenticeships Minister Robert Halfon said:

I am committed to breaking down barriers to ensure people of all ages and all backgrounds get on the ladder of opportunity through an apprenticeship.

For those whose first language is British Sign Language, this simple change will allow them to achieve their full potential. I look forward to implementing more changes like this to make sure apprenticeships can work for as many people as possible, whatever their background.

More people with disabilities have been taking advantage of high-quality apprenticeships. Figures show that in 2015 to 2016, 50,640 of those starting an apprenticeship declared a disability or learning disability (LDD). This is 9.9% of total starts and an increase of 14.8% on 2014 to 2015.

High-quality apprenticeships are essential to support our employers and address skills shortages facing industry so that everyone, regardless of background, gets the chance they deserve to succeed. English and maths are a key element of this.

Engineering apprentice Max Buxton (pictured) said:

Being deaf and dyslexic, I find English tests really hard. It’s very difficult to translate BSL into English and for it all to make sense. My employer has said how well I’m doing and doesn’t think my language skills are an issue, but I still can’t complete the apprenticeship without passing that test. It’s an unfair, unnecessary rule that has created a lot of stress, so I’m very pleased things are changing now.

Although more disabled people than ever before are doing apprenticeships, there is still work to be done to make opportunities more accessible to disabled people. A taskforce, led by Paul Maynard, has focused on issues faced by people with disabilities and made a range of recommendations which are now being implemented.

Notes to editors

  1. Find more information on the Maynard Review recommendations online.
  2. The Get In Go Far campaign is designed to inform and inspire young people to consider apprenticeships as valid and credible routes to a rewarding career. It also aims to increase interest and demand from employers in running apprenticeship programmes.
  3. It’s estimated that there are about 9 million people in the UK who are deaf or hard-of-hearing - it’s the third most common disability in the world. For more information, visit the British Deaf Association website.
  4. Max Buxton is an 18-year-old engineering apprentice with an electrical company from Nottinghamshire. He is both deaf and dyslexic and uses BSL.

DfE enquiries

Published 5 January 2017