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Deaf education reform – Cardiff law academic makes recommendations

23 February 2023

A Cardiff law academic is carrying out research into the impact of sign language recognition and is exploring how a more joined up approach is required across the education sector.

Law lecturer Dr Rob Wilks is a Deaf British Sign Language (BSL) user who teaches law through the medium of BSL. He joined the School of Law and Politics in September 2022 and has since published a report, Deaf Education in Scotland and Wales, co-written with Rachel O’Neill of the University of Edinburgh, which compares Scotland and Wales’s approaches to deaf education and attitudes towards BSL.

Speaking of the report Dr Wilks said, “It might seem strange that a law lecturer is carrying out research into education but our work, what’s taken place to date and the work we carry out in future, is very much about widening understanding of the law as it relates to Deaf people and sign languages.  The UK currently has the BSL (Scotland) Act 2015 and the BSL Act 2022, and while there is no such act in Wales, BSL is included in the new Curriculum for Wales.

Deaf Studies discourse has long argued that the Deaf community is a language minority group rather than disabled. However, in the intersectional world that we now live in, it is possible to be both.”

Dr Wilk’s’ report, published in October 2022, is a phase 2 review of the impact of the BSL (Scotland) Act 2015 and the Curriculum for Wales on deaf education. Whereas phase 1 of the project focussed on the Act’s issues, failures and successes, phase 2 aims to ascertain if there is an appetite at government and local authority level for deaf children to be educated in either BSL medium or bilingual schools in Wales and Scotland.

“We spoke to a cross section of people including Scottish and Welsh Government civil servants, teachers of the Deaf and third sector employees to ascertain their thoughts on what should happen next in deaf education legislation. We’ve made several recommendations in our report which include capacity-building efforts for BSL that replicate how Gaelic and Welsh have been treated in schools and funding and provision made available to allow parents and families of Deaf children to access BSL learning.”

The publication of the report is particularly timely as the British Deaf Association published its audit of Welsh Government policies and approaches on 15 February 2023. One of the recommendations mirrors that of Dr Wilks’ report: to completely restructure Deaf education and instigate a national BSL plan with an financial investment to support Deaf children, young people, parents/guardians of Deaf children and the education workforce for the long term. Dr Wilks is currently working on setting up a BSL Partnership consisting of various Welsh stakeholders including higher and further education institutions, BSL teachers, Teachers of Deaf Children and Young People, in order to plug the current gaps in deaf education.

Dr Wilks’ research interests are the impact of sign language recognition, deaf education, disability discrimination and equality law and developing Deaf Legal Theory. He teaches business law and practice and employment law modules on the LLM Legal Practice Course at the School of Law and Politics and is available for postgraduate supervision.

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