Debate on the Petitions Committee Report: P-04-628 To improve Access to Education and Services in British Sign Language (6/2/19)

Janet's contribution:

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer, and I will sign. [Signs in BSL.] That's the trouble with having a long name. [Signs in BSL.] That said: I am Janet Finch-Saunders and I am a BSL student. Over the last year, my team and I have enjoyed the pleasure of learning BSL. We've already passed the first level and are now studying for the next. The reason for this is because I acknowledge the fact that many of the 7,200 BSL users in Wales rely on BSL as their first language and believe the support we offer should be more accessible to our deaf community. Through my role on the Petitions Committee, I have been delighted to support the cause made by Deffo! for improved access to information and services in BSL.

Following the Welsh Government's recognition of BSL as an official language in 2004, it is fair to say that progress has been poor. Whilst there are some pioneer schools, as part of the area of learning and experience for languages, literacy and communication, there's a lot of vagueness about where these schools are and how other children in schools can access this approach. Of course, it is reassuring to see that special educational needs schools are included in the trial group. However, it is deeply concerning that BSL is being classified as an international language, alongside other classic and modern languages. Not only is it incorrect in this instance to classify BSL as an international language, it simply undermines the necessity of this education for the 2,642 deaf children in Wales. As such, I would like to see an equivalence of BSL to English and Welsh used more widely in our schools. Qualifications Wales has dismissed the introduction of a GCSE in BSL at this stage, arguing that BSL will invite too few students. While they concede that this may be subject to reassessment following the conclusions of the Department for Education's collaboration with BSL partners, I consider that Wales should also undertake further preparations to pioneer the introduction of a GCSE in BSL.

GCSE aside, as for the Children's Commissioner for Wales's report, it is essential that sufficient funds are available to ensure that parents and close relatives of deaf individuals receive BSL training. And do you know what? How ironic that my colleague Suzy Davies AM told me of the news release:

'Parents of deaf children face funding "postcode lottery"

Parents of a deaf four-month-old have to pay £6,000 for sign language classes if they want to communicate with her.'

That is appalling in this day and age. Such inconsistencies are also creeping in to—. Oh, sorry. I've jumped ahead, sorry. Crucially, I believe that urgent action is needed to address the inconsistencies in the services currently being provided. I have seen first hand how there is a variation between different local authorities, and, for example, my colleague Mark Isherwood AM and I co-operated with the deaf community in Conwy County Borough Council following the withdrawal of financial support and the negative impacts on those merely wanting to communicate as regards council services in a way that they are only able to do.

Such inconsistencies are also creeping into education, as data released in July 2018 highlighted the fact that seven out of 18 respondents thought that SEN specialist services were not meeting the current demand for hearing impairment services. This is worrying, given that there are 3,116 pupils with this communication requirement in Wales. Whilst I welcome the fact that the Welsh Government has acknowledged there are problems and have allocated £289,000 to support professional training of a local sensory workforce, I am concerned that this is insufficient to ensure there is wide consistency across the service, especially when there is only one deaf youth worker for the whole of Wales. As such, I now implore you to listen to the recommendations of this report and to develop a national charter for the delivery of services and resources to deaf children, young people and their families, as a matter of urgency, so that there is a clear national benchmark and standard that all organisations and authorities can work towards. We are lucky. We can communicate here in the way that we are easiest able to do so. It is about time that the deaf people in our community are able to do the same. Diolch yn fawr iawn.