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All-Party Parliamentary Group on Deafness

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The Problem with GCSE English

Up to now, bright deaf young people have been able to take and pass GCSE English. This is the most challenging subject for pre-lingually, profoundly deaf people, because of the huge impact pre-lingual deafness has upon language development. Whilst GCSE English is not a "professional and trade qualification" as defined in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, it is a very important gateway to vocational and professional qualifications - for example, it is a requirement for entering teaching, and for degree level qualifications.

The exam contains a "speaking and listening" component, comprising 20% of the total marks. Profoundly deaf students, such as those at this school, whose first language is BSL, obviously cannot access this component. Up to now, deaf people have been able to take and pass the exam, without this component (i.e. receive an exemption), and receive an endorsed certificate indicating this fact. This has enabled very many exceptionally able deaf people to pursue successful careers as teachers, social workers, etc.

The Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) regulate the access arrangements and special considerations for all special needs candidates taking GCE, VCE, GCSE, GNVQ, Entry Level and Key Skills for examination boards nationally. In October 2004 they published new regulations and guidance, which we received in November. In it they state that "certificate indications and exemptions have been removed", with immediate effect.

The impact of this statement is enormous. It means that deaf candidates, who will take the exam in May 2005 and thereafter, will lose 20% of their marks before they start. When we contacted the JCQ, their response was, "You'll just have to give them 0% for that component." We have candidates who are three-quarters of the way through their course for the exam, and we now have to tell them that they will lose 20% of their marks, and therefore almost certainly not gain the Grade "C" they need for the next level of their studies.

This change so clearly disadvantages deaf people that I am staggered that it could happen with so little consideration or understanding of its impact. I am unaware of any consultation that has taken place with key stakeholders (schools for deaf children, deaf organisations, etc.)

As the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Deafness is aware, some of the most talented teachers at this school (and elsewhere) are deaf. If this regulation had been in place when they were students, they would not now be teachers. We desperately need the most able deaf people to aspire to work with the deaf community - in schools, social service departments, youth services, health services, etc. They are aware of the needs of this group in our community, can communicate effectively with them, and provide excellent role models for deaf young people who are among the most disadvantaged in our society.

I fervently hope that this decision can be reviewed very urgently.

Peter Merrifield, Headteacher/Head of Service, Oak Lodge School.

101, Nightingale Lane, London SW12 8NA Tel: 0208 673 3453
Website: www.oaklodge.wandsworth.sch.uk

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