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’ve used the term “SLU” repeatedly below for “Sign Language Users”. This is for two reasons: firstly, we are not only talking about BSL, as the figures used from both the Census and CRIDE represent people who use a range of signed communication methods, some of them in combination with speech. Secondly, we are not necessarily talking about the Deaf community either, because with the Census data we have no way of untangling the (probably small-ish) number of hearing people such as CODAs, PDFs and L2 learners who ticked the Census box.
The ratio of SL users to registered interpreters: NRCPD July update
- Qualified interpreter registrations fell by about 37 between May and July 2015. That is a turnover figure – the register may have lost even more experienced interpreters than that but gained some new recruits at the same time. We just don’t know: NRCPD don’t give us that kind of detail.
- The losses were not spread evenly across the regions: the South East was the only area to maintain its numbers. This changes the spread a little, but the picture is not greatly altered. The East Midlands remains the best place for Deaf folks to find an interpreter but the South East is now hard on its heels. London remains the worst region: speculation was raised in my last post about whether the figure for SLUs in London is artificially inflated or not. See below for a decent stab at an answer to that question.
- There is still a fair amount of variation, but no region’s difference varies from the mean by what is considered a statistically significant amount, although London comes close.
The ratio of deaf minors to registered interpreters
- In the previous post, I had to estimate the number of SLU deaf minors receiving support in education from CRIDE’s national reckoning that 9% of young deaf people who “belong” to a Local Authority are either primary or secondary users of a signed language. I now have a detailed breakdown of signed language use in children regionally.
- The guesstimate was not far off in most cases, with the notable exception of Wales. Welsh Local Authorities could not provide a detailed breakdown for 2014 so I had to use the 2013 figures. This wasn’t ideal, but the overall number of deaf children in services in Wales (including children who don’t use any form of signed language) only changed by 1% between 2013-2014, so there’s no reason to believe the number of SLU minors changed radically. Nonetheless, the Welsh figures for children in services and support workers are surprisingly low: this puts the ratio of interpreters to children in Wales into second best place despite Wales having the second lowest NRCPD count of registered interpreters.
- You’ll notice how similar this better version of the terps-to-kids map is to the one above. If you were a parent of a deaf child who insisted on fully qualified interpreter support, you’d be worst off in the North East, followed closely by London. Generally, the CRIDE and Census estimates are finding fairly similar patterns of variance. This is explored in more depth below.
The ratio of deaf minors to public sector CSWs
- NDCS also provided me with excellent breakdowns of the public sector communication support workforce. However, there are problems, and they lie with the public sector.
- The first is the definition of a CSW. This is not so much a can of worms as a titanium vat of anacondas, so let’s keep it simple. I’ll use myself as an example: I am a fully qualified interpreter. But in my education work, my line manager and colleagues refer to me as a Communication Support Worker. And then on my zero-hours contract and my ID badge, I’m referred to as a Classroom Support Worker. When my employer, a London Local Authority, reported me to CRIDE, which of those three titles did they use? When that same service sent me to work in another London borough – I work in at least four – was I also reported there as well? CSWs are electron-like, subject to a kind of Uncertainty Principle. You can know what they are or where they are but not both at the same time.
- The CRIDE numbers therefore make a potentially useful distinction between “Teaching Assistants / Classroom Support Assistants” and “Communication Support Workers / Interpreters / Communicators”. But the numbers for the latter are shockingly low. For example, there were apparently only 3 CSWs in the entirety of Wales in 2014. It seems likely, then, that Local Authorities will be reporting a good number of people doing the work of a CSW as “TAs”. Some Local Authorities reported on the BSL qualifications held by the CSWs and TAs, with a minority of TAs being better qualified than some of the CSWs in the same region.
- Given this and my own experiences of being labelled, I therefore took the decision to count CSWs as being the sum of reported CSWs plus TAs.
- It is not clear whether this is just contracted posts or casual/temporary/zero-hour staff as well. Figures are given as Full Time Equivalent (FTE) but from my own experiences of dealing with local authority Human Resources, I have doubts about any council’s ability to reckon a zero-hour CSW’s yearly work pattern accurately.
- Also, this is purely a count of public sector employees. Most CSWs have heard many anecdotes about colleges around the country farming CSW support out to private sector agencies, with varying degrees of failure. I doubt very much that private sector agency staff are factored in at all, or if they were, it won’t be consistent.
- These issues aside, the regional pattern is very different here. The East Midlands, which is the best place in the country to find an interpreter, is the worst place to get a CSW directly from your Local Authority, followed by the South West. I’d love to think that this means there are loads of qualified freelance interpreters working in education there, but unfortunately that isn’t supported by any evidence. It could be that those regions have simply been more aggressive about contracting the work out to the private sector. The hardly more pleasant alternative is that deaf children and young people in those areas just get less support, full stop.
- London can hold its head a bit higher for once, as it firmly occupies the middle ground, being only fractionally off the mean ratio of about 3 deaf minors to 1 CSW.
- The best places to get public sector CSW support are the North West and, strangely, Wales. See above and below for more suspicions about Wales’s reporting.
- No region’s ratio differs from the mean by a statistically significant amount, though the East Midlands comes close.
- It should be noted that yet another way in which this map might mislead is that CSWs and TAs who work with young deaf people do not necessarily use a signed language in their work. However the majority of them are listed as holding at least a Level 2 BSL certificate.
The ratio of SLUs to the general population
- These figures were briefly mentioned in the last density post but not shown. The colouring of this map is taken from the region’s z-score, how much each region’s ratio of “usual respondents” (the people legally obliged to take part in the Census, ie. almost everyone over the age of 3) to the number of SLUs varies from the mean. The intensity of the colour shows how strong the variance is. Red colours indicate the ratio is higher, blue colours indicate it is lower.
- London stands out as the only region whose ratio differs significantly from the mean. This raises three possibilities: either SLUs and/or the Deaf community cluster in London even more than everybody already clusters in London, or the Census was a lot more accessible to Deaf Londoners for some reason, or Londoners in general are more likely to tick boxes wildly for giggles.
- We do know that cultural and linguistic communities tend to cluster. If you look at this amazing UCL map which visualises all of the Census SLU data, you can see the old Royal Deaf School towns popping out as clusters of sign language use. But London has a quarter as many SLUs per head again compared to the average. That’s a big difference. Is it possible? Read on.
Clustering of sign language use
- Below is a heat map of postcode districts in England and Wales where the proportion of SLUs to the general population is higher than the mean. NDCS’s list of specialist deaf schools with a total communication or bilingual BSL/English approach is also shown. To reduce noise, areas with low populations have been removed. Again, the old “deaf school towns” pop out. You can see how the regional average maps above have picked up London, Birmingham, Derby, Doncaster and Bradford.
- This is not a population map. If you plotted Census sign language users just as numbers, you would get something that looked more or less exactly the same as a standard population distribution. This map highlights places with a decent-sized population where the proportion of SL users is higher than the national average. That is why Margate pops out as brightly as London. Obviously there are many, many more people signing in London than there are in Margate, but that’s not what this is showing. The map indicates where, according to the Census, there is an increased likelihood of finding someone with a sign language among members of that local community, regardless of population size.
The ratio of qualified interpreters to the general population
- We’ve seen that interpreter ratios to SLUs vary somewhat. Eyeballing the numbers, it didn’t look like there was much correspondence with the population of the regions, so I checked.
- The mean proportion of qualified interpreters to the “usual respondent” census population is a whopping 0.0015%. The map below shows how this varies. Intensity of colour indicates more variance from the mean, pale colours indicate small differences, almost white areas are very close to the mean. Red areas have more interpreters per head than the mean; blue areas have fewer.
- East Midlands is yet again the clear winner. The proximity of two internationally-regarded post-graduate interpreter training centres would be my first guess. The ratio isn’t statistically significant in its variance from the mean in the typical social science sense of “significant”, but it’s heading there.
- The North East has the fewest terps per Joe Public in the country. If only they had some sort of sign language charity or awarding body based there.
Triangulating the Census against CRIDE
- Part of the CRIDE survey is an independent reckoning of sign language use in a specific section of the Deaf community: it asks Local Authorities to account for children and young people in statutory education who may also be receiving other social services and describe their language use. Although they do caution that care should be taken when comparing data to other sources, I’m going to do it anyway. Please take this as exploratory, speculative and not as hard fact.
- It occurred to me that if you did treat the CRIDE count as an accurate reflection of all SLUs aged 0-17, then you could come up with an estimate of how many adults there were in that region as well, and then compare it to the Census count and see if there are any wild differences.
- The Census was consulted to find out out the ratio of minors to adults in the general population of every region. This came out at a mean of 22% with little regional variation around that. The CRIDE count of deaf minors was then divided by the Census count of SLU adults to see what ratio that produced. The difference between the two ratios was worked out as well as whether any particular region’s difference was especially different from the mean. This is shown below.
- Every CRIDE/Census ratio was lower than that in the general population: the mean difference of ratios was -6.5%. This fits with what we know about the data: CRIDE report that about 20% of Local Authorities did not account fully for the language profiles of their “belonging” children, so their numbers are likely slightly low. But only one region differs from figure significantly: Wales, which comes out at -11% of the Census ratio. There are two possibilities: either the CRIDE count of Welsh SLU children is significantly low, or the Census count of Welsh SLU adults is significantly high, or both.
- The region which has the smallest difference (ie. higher than the mean difference of -6.5%) is the North East, but not with a highly significant difference.
- London, on the other hand, has a z-score of just -0.21, indicating that the two methods find a ratio of minors to adults that is only about as different as the mean difference. Perhaps the Census count for London is not particularly wrong and the Deaf community really does cluster more in London.
- In some ways this doesn’t really answer any questions. We might assume the Census is equally wrong everywhere, or that it is more wrong in some places than others; ditto for the CRIDE counts. We could assume that Local Authorities all over the country are just as good as reporting to researchers, or that whole regions will make less of an effort than others.
- On the other hand, to me these data do seem to suggest that while the Census figures are definitely not completely accurate counts of the Deaf BSL-using community, they are not anywhere near as far out as some have claimed. It is highly unlikely that there are huge numbers of deaf children unknown to Local Authorities across the whole country. This triangulated data seems to suggest that for any individual region, the real figure could only be 120% of the Census count at the very most – not the received past wisdom of 300% or the BDA’s wild Scottish-based guess of 700%.
The ratio of registered trainee terps to qualified
- Just a bit of fun. Are trainee interpreters like some kind of linguistic cultural minority, clustering around natural features like rivers and prairies, wandering in majestic herds around ancient mating grounds? Short answer: yes, yes they are.
- Yellow areas indicate regions where the ratio of trainee interpreters to qualified interpreters on the NRCPD register favours the qualified interpreters more than the mean ratio of all regions. Blue areas indicate places where the scale is tipped towards trainee interpreters.
- The conclusion is pretty clear. The West Midlands has crazy numbers of TSLIs. Wales and the North East seem to be much less bothered with TSLI registration.
The ratio of public sector CSWs to registered terps
- And another highly speculative one, just for fun. We’ve all heard stories around the campfire about this mythical horde of CSWs that are stampeding about taking everyone’s jobs. I thought I’d have a look.
- A big hurdle to this, on top of the invisibility of unregistered and/or unqualified community interpreters in general, is that the CRIDE count of CSWs+TAs takes part-time workers into account, and the NRCPD register figure emphatically does not. Anecdotally, I’ve been told that registered terps are likely to be secondary breadwinners in the household and not work full time. There’s almost nothing in the way of hard numbers to show that, though. The best I could find was the ASLI 2011 Fees and Salaries Report. There’s a rough indication in there that the average interpreter works about 2/3rds of the standard working week. I went with that.
- So the map below shows that proportion of the number of NRCPD qualified interpreters (a wild stab at FTE terps, if you like) compared to the number of FTE CSW posts in the public sector. Yellow regions indicate places where interpreters outnumber CSWs. Purple regions, vice versa. Paler regions are more evenly split.
- The East Midlands is the only region with more FTE terps than CSWs. No surprise, we’ve shown above that it’s Terp Central. The whole south of the country (except London) has them neck and neck; elsewhere, CSWs roam like pillaging Vikings. If people are serious about wanting more qualified interpreters in education, they clearly have their work cut out. Or – and I realise this seems crazy – we could try supporting CSWs more.