British Sign Language (BSL) will be taught as a GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) in England from September 2025, according to the UK government. The qualification will be open to all pupils, who will learn approximately 1,000 signs. It is described as an important life skill and an advancement for inclusivity.
A GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) is an academic qualification in a range of subjects taken in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Typically students study for and take GCSEs between the ages of 14-16.
UK Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said the introduction of BSL as a subject will “open so many doors for young people.”
The curriculum has already been finalized after a 12-week public consultation, which included consultations with and input from parents, teachers, and organizations from deaf and hearing communities.
BSL was officially recognized as a language in the UK last year, after the British Sign Language Act was passed.
Chief Executive of the National Deaf Children’s Society – Susan Daniels, said she was “delighted” the course content had finally been published, after a decade of campaigning. She added that the GCSE will celebrate “the rich culture and history of British Sign Language.”
As with spoken languages, sign languages have different variations. American Sign Language (ASL) and British Sign Language (BSL) use different signs, although some words and phrases present similarly. One of the main differences between these two sign languages is that BSL uses two hands, while ASL only uses one.
In the UK, the government considered introducing a GCSE in BSL after a long and steady campaign by 17-year-old Daniel Jillings, who is profoundly deaf and was born without a cochlea, meaning he is not able to use hearing aids or cochlear implants, and does not use speech.
He began campaigning for the GCSE when he was 12 years old. “This is a significant moment in the history of the British deaf community, as it is a powerful step to equality,” he said.
Educators are now debating the best way to deliver this course to students. Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the union “fully supported” the new GCSE, but foresees some practical and logistical blocks.
“There are likely to be practical constraints because schools are under tremendous pressure in terms of staffing, finances and time.”
Sue Denny, president of the British Association of Teachers of the Deaf, said she would be keen to see training become available to deaf and hearing people who are fluent in BSL to teach the subject for GCSE.
She added there will also be a need to have sustainable succession planning to recruit and retain suitable qualified BSL teachers.