Ministers are facing calls to make British Sign Language count as a modern foreign language at GCSE level.
A modern language is defined in England as one that can be spoken or written – so BSL cannot qualify at the moment.
But deaf awareness charity Signature points out that sign language is included on the education curriculum in Sweden, Norway and Finland.
The government said if a BSL GCSE were created it would count in league tables as a measure of broader achievement.
Signature is developing a GCSE in the subject and is working with the exams regulator to gain approval and wants this to be introduced as a foreign language under the new national curriculum which ministers are currently finalising.
But Signature argues that BSL deserves the same status as other minority languages such as Gaelic and Welsh.
It says making it mainstream would also help give deaf and hearing impaired children equal access to education and employment opportunities.
The charity’s communications director Paul Parsons said: “If we believe that one of the reasons for teaching a modern foreign language is because it can bring long term economic value, then there’s no reason why BSL should be disregarded.”
He added that such a change would open up career opportunities for young deaf people by enhancing their employability and allowing them to look at career opportunities not previously considered.
Mr Parsons added: “If deaf students are able to gain a qualification in their first language whilst still at school, they will feel more comfortable and confident about going to university. We need to do all we can to create an environment of inclusion, widen participation and increase access before it’s too late.”
The charity points out that in Sweden, sign language is included as an academic subject in its equivalent of the national curriculum.
And Swedish students can undertake the equivalent of a GCSE in Swedish sign language.
These reforms were designed to create a more inclusive education system that reflected the needs of deaf learners.
The Department for Education said while there was no GCSE qualification currently offered by exam boards in British Sign Language, there were other qualifications available ranging up to degree level.
The spokesman added that Signature was in discussion with Ofqual, the independent regulator which approves GCSEs, to ensure that any GCSE in BSL is of the right quality and reflects the richness of it as a language.
“All new GCSEs will count towards the ‘best eight’ performance measure, which will encourage schools to maintain a broad curriculum for all students. This could include a new GCSE in British Sign Language, if an exam board produces a qualification that is deemed of suitably high quality by Ofqual.”
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