A 12-year-old deaf pupil has persuaded the government to back down on its decision to rule out introducing a GCSE in British Sign Language (BSL) before 2022.
Daniel Jillings, of Lowestoft, Suffolk, and his family had launched a legal campaign after the Department for Education said that no new GCSEs would be introduced during this Parliament.
But now, following a submission from the family’s legal team, the government has now reversed that decision and said it will consider making "an exception" to its rule and look into introducing a BSL GCSE during this parliament.
The Jillings' lawyers, Irwin Mitchell, are describing the development as a "U-turn".
Daniel uses BSL as his first language and was concerned that there would be no signing qualification in place when he took his exams in a few years’ time.
So the Jillings began a crowdfunding campaign to launch their legal challenge – which exceeded its £6,000 target.
Before its latest announcement, the government had offered only to "consider a proposal" after an unspecified "period of stability" following recent reforms. And it specifically refused to agree to any new GCSEs within this Parliament, which could last until 2022.
But, in its response to the family’s lawyers, the government has now said that if proposals for a BSL GCSE met its accreditation criteria, education secretary Damian Hinds would “consider whether to make an exception to his general policy of not introducing new GCSEs in the interests of stability for school and teachers, in respect of BSL only”.
Alex Rook, a partner and public law expert at Irwin Mitchell, described the announcement as a “major turning point”. He said: “Daniel’s family has always maintained that deaf children such as Daniel should be able to achieve a GCSE in BSL – his first language.
“We are delighted that the government has backed down from its original position as, at present, the lack of a BSL GCSE is having a major and unnecessary impact on thousands of children each year.”
Daniel’s mother, Ann Jillings, said: “We are not asking for any special treatment, all we want is for Daniel and other deaf children across the country to be given the same opportunities as other pupils.
“We are so pleased that the government finally appears to be recognising how big an issue this is and the announcement is another hurdle cleared.
"However, it is now important that the Department for Education acts on its pledge and works with families and sign language charities to develop a BSL GCSE so this issue can be resolved once and for all.”
Steve Haines, director of policy and campaigns at the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS), also cautioned that the campaign was not over yet.
"The Department for Education and the exam regulator Ofqual must to do everything they can to work with exam bodies to develop this GCSE as soon as possible," he said.
"For Daniel Jillings, and for so many of the 45,000 deaf children across the country who want to study a GCSE in British Sign Language, we need a proactive, positive attitude from the government. Anything less is a complete dereliction of duty.”
A survey by the NDCS last year found that 92 per cent of deaf and hearing children wanted the option of taking a GCSE in BSL.
Nick Gibb, school standards minister, said: "We will consider any proposals put forward for a GCSE in British Sign Language. As we have made clear previously, any new GCSE would need to meet the rigorous standards set by both the Department and Ofqual.
“If these expectations are met and a British Sign Language GCSE is ready to be introduced, we will then consider whether to make an exception to our general rule that there should be no new GCSEs in this parliament.”