Language in context seminar
Speakers: Drs Rob Wilks (University of South Wales) and Rachel O’Neill (University of Edinburgh)
Title: The impact of the BSL (Scotland) Act 2015 on deaf children and young people’s education
Abstract: Considerable recent research has focused on the legal recognition of signed languages (De Meulder, Murray & McKee, 2019; Wilks, 2020). This talk documents shifting viewpoints of deaf children and young people from professionals and the state as the legislation is applied. It shows how changing educational policy and discourses about deaf young people are tied to interpretations of British Sign Language (BSL) as a tool or prop, or as a multilingual path to new identities in education.
The paper draws upon theory from Johnson and Johnson (2015) in looking at the disproportionate influence of language arbiters such as Teachers of Deaf Children and state and local authority inclusive education managers. We examine council, college and university negotiation of identities and local enactments of language policy. The study uses documentary analysis from submissions to Parliament as the BSL Bill progressed, posts in BSL on the BSL Scotland Bill Facebook site, then the BSL Act site, BSL plans from local authorities, colleges and universities, secondary data from the Consortium for Research into Deaf Education deaf education survey, data from the Scottish Qualifications Authority, Scotland’s exam board, and advertisements for deaf education posts.
The study depicts a progress of positive change in the post-16 education sectors as colleges and universities have improved access to education for deaf BSL users and imagine new ways in which BSL can become part of the academy. In the school sector, however, local authorities have been cautious. Conflicts are revealed between viewing deaf children as disabled, as not natural BSL users, or as potential multilingual and multimodal BSL users. Contrasts are made with sign language use in Wales and South Africa and in relation to Gaelic in Scotland. The early years are still hotly contested in deaf education contexts. So far in Scotland few plans for this age group make provision for parents and young deaf children to learn and use BSL.
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