The government understands the great importance of British Sign Language (BSL) for bridging barriers to communication between hearing and deaf people. The department also appreciates the vital need for families with deaf children to be able to access BSL courses, as early access to language is essential to help children learn and thrive.
Funding is available through the Adult Education Budget (AEB) for qualifications in or focusing on BSL up to, and including, Level 2. These qualifications include the Level 1 Award in BSL, which allows learners to communicate in BSL on a range of topics that involve simple, everyday language use, thereby giving them the basic skills and confidence in production and reception of BSL. It will depend on an individual’s circumstances as to whether they are entitled to free provision or are expected to meet part of the cost through co-funding.
For qualifications at Level 3 and above, Advanced Learner Loans (ALLs) are available for certain BSL qualifications. Individuals can access information on which qualifications are eligible at: https://www.qualifications.education.gov.uk/Search. More general information about the provision of ALLs is available at: https://www.gov.uk/advanced-learner-loan. If undertaking a BSL qualification that leads to a master’s level qualification, eligible students can access a postgraduate loan, as long as they have not previously accessed the postgraduate loan product, or already hold a Level 7 qualification. Several universities and organisations offer such qualifications.
For parents learning BSL on an AEB funded course, there is also additional support available. The AEB provides funding to colleges and providers to help adult learners overcome barriers preventing them from accessing learning. Providers have discretion to help learners meet costs such as transport, accommodation, books, equipment, and childcare. Learning support funding also helps colleges and training providers to meet the additional needs of learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities and the costs of reasonable adjustments, as set out in the Equality Act 2010.
The government has not assessed the accessibility of BSL classes and qualifications for those who are ineligible for the AEB. In areas where the AEB is devolved, it is for the Mayoral Combined Authority or Greater London Authority to decide how funding is spent.
In the rest of the country the Education and Skills Funding Agency manages the AEB. Learners who are employed and earn above the low wage threshold can be co-funded to complete provision up to, and including, Level 2, meaning that government pays a 50% contribution to the course cost. This includes some BSL qualifications. For these learners, the department suggests contacting the education provider regarding enrolment and payment processes. Apart from the statutory entitlements, it is for AEB providers to choose how they wish to prioritise funding within their AEB allocations.
In addition, on 15 June, the department launched a public consultation on the proposed subject content for a new GCSE in British Sign Language (BSL). The aim is for first teaching of the GCSE to take place from September 2025. The aim is that by introducing this new GCSE, more schools and colleges will choose to teach BSL in turn, increasing the number of BSL users and advance equality of opportunity.
The table below contains adult (19+) further education (FE) and skills learning aim enrolments from the 2017/18 academic year onwards that have ‘British Sign Language’ or ‘BSL’ in their aim title. Additional breakdowns are provided for education and training learning, and for learners declaring themselves as hearing impaired. The department does not hold information as to whether the learners taking these aims have deaf children.
Adult (19+) learning aim enrolments with ‘BSL’ or ‘British Sign Language’ in the title
Further education and skills
Education and training
Education and training up to level 2
of which hearing impaired.
1) Figures rounded to the nearest 10
2) Data Source is the Individualised Learner Record.
3) Education and training aim enrolments includes learning funded via the AEB
4) Learners have the option to record a single instance of a primary learning difficulty or disability on the ILR, which we are reporting here. It will not include learners with a hearing impairment that do not wish to declare their disability, or who have multiple disabilities and do not declare a hearing impairment as their primary disability.
5) Aim enrolments are a count of enrolments at aims level (including component aims) for each academic year. Learners are counted for each aim they are studying and so, can be counted more than once. It is not a count of unique learners. Care should be taken when interpreting different learner characteristics as they could be repeated where a learner does more than one aim.
FE within the FE and skills and apprenticeship and traineeships publications covers learners who are studying courses in a FE College, with a training provider or within their local community. It also includes employees undertaking an apprenticeship or other qualification in the workplace. Education and training are mainly classroom-based adult FE that is not classed as an apprenticeship, community learning or workplace learning. It can also include distance learning or e-learning. It includes traineeships and offender learning.