1. Best Value Review 2001- 2004
We conducted the first deaf-led audit of deaf education in the UK and in Scandinavia, praised by Boyle, Breul and Dahler-Larsen, world renowned auditors, in “Open to the Public: Evaluation in the Public Arena. Our work was published the “Deaf Toolkit: Best Value Review of deaf children in education from Users’ perspective”, 2004. During the audit DEX had the support of the Audit Commission, the Local Government Association and IDeA in identifying seven performance standards which we use to measure good practice, based on international and national guidelines, our own and other research:
- All deaf and hard of hearing children to access Sign/English bilingualism service provision
- Access a significant deaf peer group and deaf culture
- All deaf children to have same education as hearing peers and access to hearing children and staff
- All deaf children to have a positive deaf identity
- Deaf children to have access to leisure, recreation and cultural activities in education
- Deaf children to be protected from abuse of rights
- Establishment and sustainability of a Sign/English bilingual service for all deaf children
Some of our findings are similar to “Removing Barriers to Achievement: The Government’s Strategy for SEN” , 2004. The report highlighted similar issues to those we found in the Best Value Review, that:
- “children with SEN have their needs met as soon as they become apparent, without the need for a period of failure.”
- “children with SEN feel valued members of the school community.”
DEX noted that there is a reluctance on the part of services and schools to self-evaluate their services for deaf children. The Department for Education and Schools (now the DfE) called for school teams “to look critically at their own practice, and identify areas where they could do better” (4.9). As our BVR demonstrated, national underperformance is not acceptable to us as service users.
The fast track training that we advocated for teaching and support staff, to create a workforce with the appropriate standards of sign bilingual and Deaf cultural skills, is akin to the Advanced Skills Teachers programme outlined in “Removing the Barriers to Achievement” (3.14.) Under our proposals there will less need to deal “with pupils’ emotional, mental and behavioural difficulties” as deaf children will become more adept in two (or more) languages and can achieve their potential more easily.
The government in 2004 said it wanted: “parents with greater confidence that their child’s SEN will be met in school, whether or not they have a statement” (now all deaf children attending resourced mainstream schools must have an Education Health and Care Plan in order to learn BSL). Which other languages require a medical assessment before we can learn them?
2. Feasibility Study with deaf young people and parents of deaf children 2004 – 2005
Some of the outcomes from our feasibility study, published in “Handing on our Experience Report” :
a) What deaf young people told us they wanted
Involvement and participation
- ensuring effective participation with deaf young people
- the duty to ensure equality of information and services to deaf children and young people
- the requisite level of staffing and administration support for participation to take place.
Information and advocacy
- training for deaf young people on Deaf culture and identity
- developing in and out-of-school Deaf peer curriculum to support mental and physical health, i.e. sports, leisure and social skills development
- the development of a skilled advocacy service for deaf young people
- raising of standards of existing services for deaf children.
We are now delivering services to deaf young people to meet the findings in our second research.
b) What parents of deaf children said they wanted from DEX
Involvement and participation
- ensuring effective participation so that parents’ views support the development of parenting skills
- the duty to ensure quality of information and services to parents.
Information and support
- The development of DEX’s Parents’ Intervention Programme, particularly at the point of diagnosis of their child’s deafness
- training and consultation for service providers, including attitude setting
- raising of standards of existing services for deaf children.
3. British Sign Language Endangerment study, 2014
Following on from our findings during the Best Value Review where it was noted that the number of deaf children using BSL was low, we were interested in the annual survey results from the Consortium of Research into Deaf Education (2012 – 2019). It finds there is approx. only 10% of deaf children of all levels of hearing loss who are learning BSL. This is similar to our estimation.
We decided to see if there is a way of measuring the level of language endangerment and how to resolve the problem, using spoken languages theory and practice. We found that BSL is a severely endangered language according to Joshua Fishman in his Graded Intergenerational Transmission Scale, Level 6 :
“Minority language is passed on from generation to generation and used in the community. Need to multiply the language in the younger generation is important to all threatened or dying languages”.
Since approx 95% of parents of deaf children are hearing and do not know BSL there can be no natural way of passing on BSL.
In order to make sure that BSL is not just a means of communicating with hearing people via interpreters we must always remember that any language is a living thing, and BSL must be treated as a living thing. This is why when we campaigned for the BSL Act it was vital for us to apply our findings on language endangerment.
The practice of focusing on hearing levels of deaf children as a gateway to learn BSL also must end. Not only is this detrimental to the health of our language and to deaf children’s wellbeing but it is a fundamental breach of linguistic and human rights.
DEX compared other spoken languages efforts to save them i.e. Catalan, Canadian French, and has determined that the Welsh Language model is applicable spoken language law to act as the structure for effective BSL legislation. DEX’s research was peer reviewed by linguists at the LAUD Symposium (2014). Colin Baker, internationally renowned expert on bilingualism, and Meirion Prys-Jones, Chief Executive of the Network to Promote Language Diversity, who was also the Chief Executive of the former Welsh Language Board have advised and supported us. DEX’s suggested approach is also based on its original BVR recommendations:
- statutory replacement in law to replicate the lack of natural intergenerational transmission of BSL
- members of a BSL Board should consist of committed experts in the field of language planning
- The BSL Board should be a government appointed advisory body, with the powers to make recommendations to the Secretariy of State and with a governmental method of appeal against decisions. It follows the Welsh Language revival model.
Currently, sign languages’ legislation and regulations throughout the world have not found a replacement for the lack of intergenerational transmission that Fishman states are the only route to language survival. Parents of deaf children have a right to know what the best outcomes are for their deaf child, based on a huge body of research.
The individualistic child approach needs to be widened so that wellbeing and safeguarding become a collective and legal rights issue. Taking each deaf child individually damages the ethos behind language planning which has to be a communal governmental drive.
Our paper was presented at the LAUD Conference in Germany in 2014, and published: “Towards language planning for sign languages@ Measuring endangerment and the treatment of British Sign Language”, Jill Jones on behalf of DEX, in “Endangered Languages and Languages in Danger: Issues of documentation, policy, and language rights”, Ed: Luna Filopovic and Martin Putz, John Benjamins Pubs Co; 2016:
ISBN 978 90 272 5834 2
DEX actively campaigned for the BSL Bill to include our recommendations by setting up the BSL Act Working Group with other deaf organisations. We have, so far, been unable to explain to the Deaf community the need for language planning with respect to BSL, and this is a clear gap that must be addressed.
4. Literature Reviews
As part of our research we have undertaken reviews of other research. We have also looked at specific areas, such as our collation of research on hard of hearing children.
5. Foundation for Endangered Languages Conference. November 2022
On 3 November 2022 Deaf EXperience (DEX) was invited by the Foundation for Endangered Languages to present at their Conference held in the University of Albuquerque in New Mexico, USA. The Conference theme was Community Ownership of language education for endangered language revitalization. DEX’s research study is titled: “Deaf community ownership of endangered sign language revitalisation”.
It builds on our published work (2016) where we found BSL is severely endangered because of the low numbers of deaf children learning to sign which will affect the deaf community and our language.
Our study reviews DEX’s language activism from 2014 when the Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Deafness requested leadership from DEX to draft a BSL Bill with other deaf organisations. DEX called on the working group to use the BSL Act to protect BSL, as well as making BSL a legally recognised language of the UK. Whilst BSL is now a language of the UK, there is no provision in the BSL Act 2022 for its protection.
DEX’s study looks at the various reasons for this happening, looking at other research into endangered spoken languages’ communities for examples on how to move forward. Spoken language researchers and activists at the conference were supportive and interested in the similarities between sign and spoken language communities’ activism. Research shows that planned cooperation is an urgent requirement to ensure the wellbeing and safeguarding of future generations of deaf children and for the survival of the deaf community and its language.
6. Centre for Endangered Languages, Cultures and Ecosystems Presentation. November 2022
On 9 November Deaf EXperience was invited to present at the Centre for Endangered Languages, Cultures and Ecosystems (CELCE) at the University of Leeds; the University of Cambridge was also invited in addition to international linguists in the field of language endangerment. We gave a summary of our research (2016) where we identified BSL’s language shift (which is where the number of language users declines) and our recent research paper presented at the University of Alburquerque on 3 November on deaf community ownership of endangered languages. Again, it was well received and will be followed up with more information.