Post-truth. Alternative facts. Brexit is Brexit, and statutory regulation is statutory regulation.
The virtual offer
Another academic year has begun, and we’ve finally reached the start of the legal requirement to give deaf and disabled students in Further Education an EHC (Education, Health & Care) Plan rather than the former Statement of Special Educational Need. “Statements” might still be used with existing primary and secondary school students until 2018. It is probably my imagination but things seem even more frantic than usual for this time of year. The service I work for is seeing deaf student enrolment way down at some colleges and surprisingly high at others; some of the colleges themselves still feel a bit like the Marie Celeste for anyone that was working in them five years ago, while others appear to be thriving. “Austerity” continues to nobble course subsidies, all the way down to Level 1.
Regarding the Local Offer (see Day 0 & Day 1), I’ve still seen nothing to indicate that the predicted explosion of choice and personalised services has kicked in for deaf students or their parents and guardians. It was insisted all through the planning and “Pathfinder” stages that the Offer would not just be a “directory”. But in my home borough and its neighbours, in my field, that is precisely what it is: almost completely a list of national charities and local voluntary groups, barely different from typing “deaf [my council]” into Google. The public sector service I work for is listed in its own borough’s Offer, but as far as I’m aware its clients remain only the FE colleges themselves, still the brokers of the funding.
It’s only mid-June: more than a month to go until the formal end of the academic year. But Further Education colleges, already sparser than I’ve ever seen them, have definitely stepped down a gear. For a good many students, all the boxes have been ticked; Ofsted have been and gone, leaving in their wake discarded clumps of hair and the ringing, indifferent hum of chemical sedation; the External Verifiers have been propitiated like household gods with offerings of burned portfolio samples. With the exception of one difficult but very rewarding out-of-office-hours assignment, most of my time in classrooms for the next few weeks will be relaxed and sociable. This has been a difficult year but “my” students have mostly done very well. A few have struggled, more with the system and with daily living than with learning.
So it’s time to reflect and review. Recent events have led me to recall that interpreters in education have to work within a broad cast. I believe the next closest public service sign language interpreting arrangement to working in education is that of the “designated” workplace interpreter, as opposed to the freelancer flitting around the region, picking and choosing agency jobs to suit their own agenda. For designated interpreters there is that same sense of continuity and of being embedded in an establishment, of having to accommodate your client’s colleagues and behave in a way that is expected and appreciated by that specific local culture, of not always being able to have things your way. Sailing into an unknown office/classroom and behaving like the lord of the manor, bossing or even bullying the local inhabitants and making inexplicable demands, is ultimately going to reflect badly on your client/student and may jeopardise or permanently alter their standing and progress. But then so will being perpetually meek, a push-over. Like any other micro-culture, colleges and companies are an orchestrated dance of expectations, face-saving manoeuvres, superstitious rituals, and continual pitches and broadcasts to establish status and dominance. It might look on the surface like nothing more than a Level 1 Multiskills course or a Primark decked in plastic and vulgar primaries, but millimetres below the surface these settings are a sixteenth century bal masqué, all lace, illicit love-making and poisoned needles.
Where does an Educational Interpreter mesh with this stepping gyre, these wheels-within-wheels, this brass and wire engine of competition and camaraderie? Who is our primary ally? Who is the engineer of the FE train, to whom should the interpreter turn first for succour?
The answer is obvious. It’s the dinner ladies.
About a year ago I wrote some bits and pieces about the incoming changes to how support for children and young people with “special educational needs” is funded. I gave an overview of the preceding disability politics background and the potential for a new market where families with Deaf and disabled children will apparently pick their own support from a menu-which-is-not-a-menu (the Local Offer) or elsewhere. I also described how I felt that the professional sphere of BSL/English interpreting has completely failed to engage with what should have been the biggest changes to Deaf Education for thirty years. There’s been no improvement there, that I’m aware of, in the 11 months since: that sphere orbits some other, slower, planet.
What I completely failed to anticipate is the possibility that there will be little or no Further Education (FE) for young Deaf people to go to, whatever their support funding. The irony is that by the time SEN support has completed its reform, perhaps there won’t be anywhere near as much to support with.
A couple of months back, I had a rummage in the 2011 Census statistics, CRIDE 2014 surveys and regional NRCPD registration breakdowns. There was also a more speculative look at the state of communication support in Deaf Education. This proved to be a very popular post with a lot of sharing: hearty thanks to all.
I’m now very grateful to staff at NDCS, who have shared more detailed breakdowns of the CRIDE 2014 national survey with me, allowing for better reckoning of the education scene. I was also able to try and speculatively triangulate the Census reckoning of sign language users in the UK against CRIDE’s estimate of children and young people who sign. See the previous density of interpreters post for the full discussion on what the problems with the Census data are and why some people are very firm about how wrong it must be.
I’m quite capable of writing seriously and in a proper academic style. But this is a blog. If I can’t have fun and speak my mind, why bother? Despite that, I think there may be some serious points and interesting finds here. I don’t think anyone has done this before: if I’m wrong, please let me know.
This mini-project used three data sets, all available to the public. One (a portion of the 2011 National Census) has questionable data. The next (CRIDE’s 2014 survey) comes with a warning attached that it should only be used for analysis and debate rather than drawing any hard conclusions. The last (NRCPD’s May 2015 registration breakdown) only represents those interpreters who choose to register with NRCPD. Therefore the following should also be taken as an exploration – stuff that is or is not likely – rather than solid fact. I’m the first to point out other people’s terrible use of stats and I hope I’ve been equally critical and honest about my own dalliances.
If you’re already bored you can skip ahead to the pretty maps.
NRCPD recently began releasing a breakdown of qualified registered interpreters by region for the first time. When I saw this, I realised there is the potential to have a pop at some very old questions: how many BSL users per interpreter are there? and where is the most work for interpreters? and where do Deaf people compete most for interpreter availability? The answers would obviously be of interest to those invested in Deaf Industry strategy and marketing, but there are political concerns as well. For example, I regret that it has been suggested to me more than once that there are “too many interpreters” (only by interpreters, obviously).
But counting registered interpreters is the trivial part. The question of how many Deaf people there are and where they are has always been problematic, because we don’t all necessarily agree on what they are. Humans always come unstuck on methods and definitions, because words don’t mean anything in themselves. For areas, grey is the new black. Determinations of identity are always going to be muddy, because people are fabulously muddy.
But if you don’t ever try, you don’t progress. Despite these issues, there is always some kind of data. Data trumps ideology every time. You just have to pull your finger out. [Read more…]
Let’s be done with euphemism for five minutes. When we talk about statutory regulation for sign language interpreters, we are really talking about deliberately creating a new breed of criminal: we need and want more criminals. We are so desperate to be preferred that we are preparing to use the bluntest of instruments to cleave the world of community interpreting into two halves: interpreters over here, and criminals over there. With us, or against us, in the name of public protection. Because historically, black and white solutions have worked out so well.
Recently there’s been a digital fuss about Mark Cave, an Auslan interpreter, uncomfortably dubbed #signguy by people with smartphones. He is the latest in a line of interpreters in recent years who have lingered for their fifteen minutes of limelight, following Lydia Callis, Jonathan Lamberton and (in a very different category) diagnosed schizophrenic and alleged murderer Thamsanqa Jantjie. Depressingly, the story is rarely about what is really happening, but about people’s reaction to it. Tweets used to react to news media stories, but now they are the stories. (Updated 17/3/2015: a mere three weeks later, we can now add Tommy Krångh to the list, a Swedish interpreter whose TV performance triggered a social media reaction which virtually eclipsed the original artists.)
Happy New Year to all the diligent interpreting robots out there accessing T9000 via their cranial hypernet implants. I hope you are all managing to “adhere strictly” to the rules (they are sticky, which helps with the adhering) and are continuously “raising standards” in a small way every day. If you ever feel like this is a futile task, don’t worry: in the alternative future dystopia that T9000 originates from, the world energy crisis has been solved by hooking up a generator to a perpetual motion machine made entirely from crystallised standards. [Read more…]
This wasn’t an easy decision. You could choose to look at it as though I were leaving a profession. If you really want to think that, I can’t stop you. But to me, it feels like I’ve decided to join one.
Graduating as a qualified interpreter was one of the proudest days of my life. I got to surround myself with the most important people to me, the ones to whom I owe everything and who have put up with all manner of crap over the years, while shuffling around in a Harry Potter costume. I was called up onto a stage, saluted by men carrying giant sceptres, and shook hands with a very important personage in gold-threaded robes (I don’t even remember who she was, just that she was venerable and illustrious and vaguely beneficent). We were flanked by my academic superiors, arranged in tiers of increasing breadth and floppiness of hat, looking on with weary approval. Hundreds of strangers applauded, there were drinks and flashing cameras and a thousand permutations of mutual congratulation. We were the very last BSL/English interpreters to graduate from the University of Leeds MA programme, a course that was axed without even a whimper from sign language interpreting professional membership bodies.
The same month, my yellow NRCPD badge arrived in the post, and everything went downhill rapidly from there.