British Sign Language: GCSE plan after boy's campaign

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Daniel JillingsImage source, Family handout/PA
Image caption,
Daniel Jillings, 12, want to be able to sit a GCSE in British Sign Language when he takes his exams

A GCSE in British Sign Language (BSL) could be introduced in the UK before the next general election following a campaign by a deaf schoolboy.

The government reversed its decision to delay any new qualifications after Daniel Jillings, 12, and his family, from Suffolk, campaigned for one to be available in time for his GCSEs.

Their lawyers argued the lack of a BSL GCSE might be "discriminatory and unlawful", as it is his first language.

Ministers may now make an "exception".

Media caption,

British Sign Language: GCSE victory for 12-year-old campaigner

The government had previously stated no new GCSEs would be introduced in this parliament.

In March, School Standards Minister Nick Gibb argued not everything needed to be taught at GCSE, adding: "We value British Sign Language, however a huge number of steps would have to be gone through for the BSL qualification to be accredited as a GCSE."

An online crowdfunding page set up to help pay for the family's legal challenge to the government ruling raised more than £6,000.

Image source, Family handout/PA
Image caption,
Daniel's family has been campaigning for the new qualification

Daniel's mother, Ann Jillings, from Lowestoft, 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."

On Wednesday, Mr Gibb said: "We will consider any proposals put forward for a GCSE in British Sign Language."

However, he stressed it would "need to meet the rigorous standards set by both the department and Ofqual".

'Major turning point'

"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," he said.

Steve Haines, from the National Deaf Children's Society said there were 45,000 deaf children in the UK who wanted to sit a BSL GCSE and described the turnaround as "a powerful signal to deaf children everywhere".

However, he said the "campaign isn't over yet" and government and exam regulator Ofqual must do "everything they can... to develop this GCSE as quickly as possible".

Alex Rook, public law expert at firm Irwin Mitchell which represents Daniel's family, said they were "delighted that the government has backed down from its original position" and said it was a "major turning point".

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