In the UK education system, there are nine different levels of qualifications which in England are regulated by the Office of the Qualifications and Examinations Regulator, Ofqual. If your certificate is not issued by a registered exam board then it is not worth the paper it’s written on. In the UK there are currently three different registered exam boards for BSL, iBSL, Signature (previously called CACDP) and ABC Awards. Though at the time of writing (October 2019) ABC awards had no level level 2 or 3 courses running anywhere in the UK. There are also some universities which offer BSL courses which can found by searching ‘British sign language’ on the UCAS website. If you intend to try and become an interpreter through a University degree or another route then you must study a course approved by the NRCPD. For further information on the National Occupational Standards for languages and intercultural working see the instructus skills website.
Note, this article is focused on British Sign language qualifications and not visual frame hands on or Deafblind manual used by some Deafblind people.
BSL Entry Level Award, IBSL offer BSL entry level three and ABC offers BSL entry levels two and three. These qualifications should not be confused with a Level 2 and 3 course as they are of a very different standard. Entry level qualifications are lower than a GCSE and provide an introduction to BSL which can serve as a good foundation for further study. This is a course for beginners and so no prior knowledge of BSL is required.
BSL Level One Award, This qualification is offered by Signature, ABC and iBSL exams boards. A pass at Level One is equivalent GCSE grades 1 – 3 and D – G and the UK Occupational Language Standards 2010 at Level 1. If your training provider offer’s the Entry Level program then they might expect you to complete the Entry-level course to prepare you for the level one course but all Level One BSL’s courses are designed to be open to candidates with no prior knowledge or experience of BSL.
Upon successful completion of a BSL Level One course candidates will be able to engage in a simple conversation with Deaf people in British Sign Language (BSL) in everyday settings, such as socially or at school or work. Learners should be able to offer someone a drink and share some basic details about themselves.
BSL Level Two Certificate or Award, This qualification is offered by iBSL, ABC and Signature exam boards. A pass at Level Two is equivalent to a GCSE 4 – 9 or A* – C, a Level 2 NVQ and the National Language Standards at Level 2. Candidates will need to be able to demonstrate Level One competence before commencing the course. It could be demonstrated with a Level One BSL certificate or an assessment with a course tutor. Local centres can admit you onto a Signature course without your BSL level One certificate if you can demonstrate sufficient level one competence. I have heard of candidates doing both Level One and Two in parrel if they have significant informal experience of using BSL in the home setting etc and now wish to be taught more formally BSL.
Upon completion, learners will be able to use BSL at an intermediate level and able to exchange routine information with Deaf BSL users in social or work settings and understand instructions in BSL about routine work or social situations. Learners should have enough understanding of grammar to cope with some non-routine communication and be taught a number of regional variations in sign language. Level Two BSL is not a qualification in bilingualism and does not equip learners for translation or interpretation work.
BSL Level Three Certificate or Award, This qualification is offered by iBSL, Signature and ABC exam boards. Through in reality no level 3 ABC courses have run in the last few years. A pass at level three is a similar level of qualification as an As-level but only the Signature BSL Level Three qualification attracts 16 UCAS points if you are applying to university, in the near future. This is the same number of UCAS points as an As level at grade B. The qualification is also of an equivalent standard to a NVQ Level three and meets Level 3 of the UK Occupational Language Standards (CILT, 2010) and (for one unit) the National Occupational Standards for Intercultural Working (2008.) In order to gain a place on a BSL level three course, candidates must be able to demonstrate competence in BSL at level 2 level. Most training providers recommend students have at least one year’s experience integrating within a Deaf environment and attending Deaf events before starting there Level three studies.
Upon successful completion, learners will be able to understand and use varied BSL in a range of work and social situations at a normal speed. They will be able to exchange, present and understand information, ideas, advice and opinions and also have developed an awareness of Deaf culture and perspectives. BSL Level Three is not a qualification in bilingualism and does not equip learners for translation or interpretation work.
Following successful completion of a BSL level three qualification in the same way that students come directly from college or 6th form with level three qualifications to study an undergraduate degree, BSL learners can commence their BSL level six NVQ qualification directly after demonstrating competence in BSL at level three or instead can study BSL at level four before then moving on to a BSL level six certificate.
BSL Level Four Certificate, This qualification is offered by Signature and iBSL exam boards. A level four qualification is equivalent to a certificate of higher education, a higher national certificate or a NVQ level 4. The BSL qualification has been developed in accordance with the National Language Standards at Level 4 (2010) and (for one unit) the National Occupational Standards for Intercultural Working (2008). To study BSL at level four candidates must be able to demonstrate competence in BSL at level three. Most training providers recommend students have at least two year’s experience integrating within a Deaf environment and attending Deaf events before starting their level four studies.
Upon successful completion, the learner can operate independently and at an advanced level in British Sign Language; able to exchange, present and understand information, ideas, advice and opinions at normal speed and has an understanding of Deaf culture and how to communicate effectively cross-culturally.
Signature exam board also offers a Level 4 Certificate in British Sign Language and Introduction to Interpreting which has all three modules from the BSL level Four qualification with one additional module ‘introduction to interpreting’.
The exam board iBSl also offers a Level 4 Award in Bilingual Skills (BSL/English) which has four modules all based on relaying information from and to BSL and English. This qualification is based on the National language Standards for Languages and Translation at level 4. To commence this course learners need a competence at in BSL at Level three and an A’ Level equivalent in written and spoken English, due to the bilingual nature of the course. Upon successful completion of this course, learners should be able to confidently relay information to and from BSL and English and vice versa, at a normal speed with minimal hesitation in a predictable setting such as supporting a Deaf person at work by relaying information, advice or instruction to and from and colleague with sufficient technical vocabulary for that situation to be thought of outside routine predictable conversations. But it is stressed that this qualification does not qualify someone as to work a BSL interpreter as the qualification is assessing their ability to relay information without any important, omissions, distortions or errors that would
distort the original meaning but not the high level of accuracy required by BSL interpreter qualifications.
Level five qualifications include Foundation Degree’s and HND’s but there is currently no Level Five BSL qualifications on offer by any of the exam boards.
BSL Level 6 certificate, This qualification is available from the iBSL and Signature and the iBSL qualification is approved by the NRCDP. Upon successful completion, learners will be able to demonstrate language skills equivalent to an undergraduate degree in Modern Languages. BSL Level six qualifications are equivalent to a degree with honours, or a Level 6 NVQ or level 6 diploma. This qualification has been designed to conform to the National Occupational Standards for Languages at Level 6. To commence this course candidates should be competent in BSL at Level 4 and Signature recommend all candidates should be assessed on their current BSL knowledge and skills prior to starting the course. Most training providers recommend students have significant knowledge of Deaf community issues gained through experience of integrating within a Deaf environment. Upon successful completion of this qualification, the learner will be able to use and understand complex BSL in all types of social and professional interaction.
BSL Level Six NVQ, This qualification is available from the Signature exam board and is approved by the NRCDP. BSL Level six qualifications are equivalent to a degree with honours, or a Level 6 NVQ or level six diploma. To commence study at this level candidates must be able to demonstrate competence in BSL at level 3. Most training providers recommend students have significant knowledge of Deaf community issues gained through experience of integrating within a Deaf environment. Upon successful completion of the course, learners will be able to use and understand complex BSL in all types of social and professional interactions.
Level six BSL qualifications are not interpreter or translation qualifications but in order to become a registered BSL interpreter candidates need to hold either Signatures Level six NVQ Certificate in British Sign Language or iBSL’s Level six Certificate in British Sign Language Studies, as well as an approved Level 6 course in Sign Language interpreting unless they have qualified through a university course approved by NRCPD.
In order to become a registered British Sign Language translator, translators need to have compleated an approved university qualification or Signature’s Level six Diploma in Sign Language Translation.
In order to become a register British Sign Language interpreter, interpreters need to have compleated an approved university qualification or Signature Level six NVQ Diploma in Sign Language Interpreting or iBSL Level six Diploma in BSL/English Interpreting Studies or iBSL Level six Diploma in Sign Language Interpreting Studies. This video by the Association Sign Language Interpreters (ASLI) clearly explains the route to registration as a British Sign Language Interpreter.
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