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TX: 27.05.03 SCOTTISH STUDENTS BECOME THE FIRST IN THE UK TO USE BSL IN EXAMS

At this time of year pupils all over the country are sitting their exams and in Scotland, for the first time in the UK, some deaf students are being allowed to answer their exam questions in British Sign Language. Twenty eight pupils at 12 schools and colleges are this year using British Sign Language in their Scottish standard, intermediate and higher exams. Other exam boards are watching carefully and they may decide to do the same. Ian Hamilton visited GourockHigh School in Inverclyde in South West Scotland where he began by asking Lily Bunting, who's the acting deputy head, why she thinks it's important.

SCHOOL BELL RINGING

BUNTING
Deaf people are not used to the common English that everybody else is, they have a special language and special needs like asking our fourth year kids to go in and sit their physics exam in German or their history exam in French, it's that kind of difference.

DAVID
Well the problem with English, when you're trying to write proper English you've got all these words that aren't in sign language.

HAMILTON
David is a deaf pupil at GourockHigh School. I asked him, through his interpreter, how difficult was it before to sit exams not being able to use BSL.

DAVID
All these little words - it, a, of - and I don't sign those things, so that's not in my first language but I would be expected to write in that language and that simply isn't fair, can't do it.

COLELLA
In 2000, for the very first time, we allowed students to be presented with the question papers by sign and the logical extension of that was to actually them thereafter to sign their answers.

HAMILTON
Anton Colella of the Scottish Qualification Authority is keen for deaf pupils to get every opportunity to take their exams on an equal basis.

COLELLA
Many deaf students English is not their first language, British Sign Language is, therefore it's only right within the current legislative environment and promoting equal opportunity that deaf students in Scotland have equal access to qualifications and we feel, as part of our responsibility as an awarding body, we should allow all students the opportunity to access those qualifications. And we feel now for the first time deaf students can do that.

HAMILTON
To allow answers in BSL there's a number of practical challenges to be overcome. Lily Bunting of GourockHigh School had to use technology and interpreters to allow deaf pupils to sign their answers.

BUNTING
The signers see the paper about 20 minutes, half an hour, before the pupils are brought into the exam room and that is so the singers can make sure that they're certain themselves what it is they've got to sign, that they know the paper well enough and they can think about how the best way of signing that is. And the video is put up in place and the signers sign the questions if that's allowed in that particular exam, it's a bit more complex than that, some exams are allowed to be signed, some are not. And then the pupils can either write their answer down, if they feel quite confident in writing their answer down. If they feel that it's a question perhaps in English that needs difficult concepts and they don't have the vocabulary or they're not very sure that they have the concepts in English to do it they will sign the answer which will be picked up on the video and then after the exam's over the signer will transcribe the signing on the video, put it down on paper, and we'll send the paper off along with the video tape.

HAMILTON
Having enough resources is critical to make this work. Lily Bunting again.

BUNTING
We're not getting more problems with the pupils, they wouldn't have any extra hassle but perhaps it will be a problem in trying to find the signers because we're short of signers in schools that if there's one of our deaf unit staff off we just very, very seldom can we get in someone to do a cover, supply, we can't get that easily.

HAMILTON
Students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are currently not allowed to use BSL to give exam answers. George Turnbull is a spokesman of the Joint Council for General Qualifications.

TURNBULL
There are difficulties in an examination room, for example, if somebody is taking down the answers unless you know sign language yourself there's no way of sort of knowing they're recording exactly what the student is saying. We've always got to be cautious in examinations because the credibility of the examinations depends on that and when we do make changes they've got to be made for good reason. But this is a development which is of a great interest to the boards in England and we shall be looking at this with great interest ourselves to see exactly what does happen and what can be learned from it.

STUART
Because this is so important, I really hope that this is something that carries on for the future.

HAMILTON
Stuart, another pupil using BSL at GourockHigh School, tells us that he wants to see this spread throughout the whole of the UK.

STUART
I would hope that all deaf people get the same opportunities as me. So I think that it's important that deaf people in England get the same opportunity that I've got.

ROBINSON
That was Ian Hamilton reporting.



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