Sign language learners affected as ‘ground-breaking’ awarding body to close

Up to 150 learners could be affected by closure of Institute for British Sign Language at the end of March

Up to 150 learners could be affected by closure of Institute for British Sign Language at the end of March

An awarding organisation for British Sign Language (BSL) courses is to cease trading after more than a decade because of a shortage of money due to falling student numbers post-Covid. Up to 150 students could be affected by the closure.

The Institute for British Sign Language (IBSL) will lose its Ofqual recognition on Friday, March 3 and told FE Week that it is due to close its business at the end of the month.

Ofqual said it was informed by IBSL in January that the charity planned to surrender its status as a recognised awarding organisation. A letter sent from the institute to centres on Tuesday said the decision was made on financial grounds.

It was “with great sadness” that the charity had decided to wind up, the letter said, adding: “As trustees, we have had to make some very hard decisions about our future and ability to continue. Our conclusion has been that IBSL is not financially viable, and we will be closing the organisation in the next couple of months.”

The awarding organisation (AO), which is led and managed by deaf people, currently has nine qualifications on Ofqual’s register, ranging from level 1 BSL and deaf awareness courses through to level 6 diplomas in sign language interpretation.

It stressed there was “no issue with the quality or validity of IBSL qualifications or assessments”.

The organisation told FE Week that it currently has around 150 learners taking its qualifications who could be affected.

Results and certificates issued to students beyond Friday will remain Ofqual-regulated, it has been confirmed.

Heather Venis, acting responsible officer for IBSL since mid-January, said: “We hope and intend until the end of March to continue with our marking and awarding, which means we can continue to issue certificates. Any learners that are continuing and have got assessments and marking booked for March will be able to complete their qualification.”

Learners that do not complete their qualification with IBSL after the end of March should contact awarding bodies Signature or SEG [Skills and Education Group Awards]. These offer similar qualifications and will “be able to make an assessment of progress so far through the qualification and what they have achieved as individual learners”.

The bodies can then put learners “on the right track in terms of the appropriate qualification and any additional assessment or anything that they might need to complete that qualification”.

The charity would not disclose its 2021/22 financial position, accounts for which have not yet been published, but figures for 2020/21 showed a £51,832 deficit following a £93,253 deficit in 2020.

Its 2020/21 income was £150,183, which included around £26,000 from two government grants, compared with more than £250,000 of income recorded pre-Covid.

IBSL confirmed it was financially stable before the Covid-19 crisis, but student numbers declined during the pandemic as learners were unable to attend and centres delivering courses closed. It also cited rising costs, but would not be drawn on the extent to which  student numbers had fallen.

Venis said the organisation “did make some noises with various MPs and tried to lobby”, but “didn’t get very far unfortunately”.

Its letter to centres this week said IBSL had been “ground-breaking, as the only deaf-led AO” and expressed its pride at its learners who remain the charity’s legacy.

A statement issued before Christmas explained it was under new management in a bid to steady the ship, but was issued with special conditions from Ofqual in late November instructing the charity not to enrol new learners until further notice.

The organisation was originally established by the British Deaf Association in 2004 but needed to become an independent organisation to achieve awarding body status, according to IBSL’s website. It was incorporated as a community interest company in April 2007, before registering as a charity in September 2015. It gained Ofqual recognition in June 2009, with its first results issued in April the following year.

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