Consultation on National Occupational Standards for CSWs

Following the last blogpost (Does Signature Support a Lowering of Standards?), Signature are now requesting information on the feasibility of National Occupational Standards (NOS) for CSWs in education. My view is that anyone interpreting for Deaf BSL users in classrooms should have achieved the NOS for interpreting a stated in the previous post and I will be responding to that effect. Please see info below and respond with your views: 

A message from the BSL Coalition:

I would be very grateful if you could forward the link, below, to any of your colleagues or networks that you feel would be able to contribute.
The survey closes on the 19th September and your support is very much appreciated.
Kind Regards,

Gillian Marshall-Dyson
Funding and Projects Co-ordinator


A consultation to determine the feasibility of developing National Occupational Standards for Communication Support Workers (CSW)

Communication Support Workers provide access to the curriculum and the wider learning environment in education institutions for young people with hearing loss, sight loss or multi sensory impairment.

The BSL Coalition has commissioned this consultation to establish whether a set of National Occupational Standards is required to benchmark training and qualifications for CSWs working with people with hearing loss, sight loss or multi sensory impairment. Although CSWs can work with all young people in education, this piece of research is focusing on CSWs working with children under the age of 16.

If the need for National Occupational Standards for CSWs is identified, they will be developed as a separate piece of work through consultation with the CSW community as a whole.

National Occupational Standards are detailed statements of the skills, knowledge and understanding needed in employment. They inform vocational qualifications and can be used for a range of purposes including benchmarking, recruitment, training, assessment and course design.

Everything you tell us in this questionnaire will be treated in the strictest confidence and used for research purposes only in accordance with the Data Protection Act. Any reports generated from the information received will be presented in an aggregated, anonymous format.

If you have any queries about the BSL Coalition, please contact

Thank you for your time

Does Signature Support a Lowering of Standards?

For a while now various parties have been pushing for a register of CSWs. This may seem like a sound idea in principle but it is far from it. It seems that this is closer to becoming a reality and Signature is not helping matters:
1) CSWs are not fit for purpose. I started my career with the old EdExcel qualification and saw many people pass that course that should never have worked with Deaf students. Why? A lack of language skills and sound ethical practices. Most of the Deaf students I worked with in colleges and universities needed someone to interpret for them. I never did AtW bookings as I thought I’d be doing a disservice to the Deaf person who surely needed a trained interpreter. As an ex-Chair of ASLI used to explain it: anyone who is listening to English and picks up their hands to relay this into BSL for someone or watches someone produce BSL and relays that information into English is interpreting and therefore should have met the National Occupational Standards (NOS) for Interpreting.2) So why then has Signature created an interpreting unit within the NVQ level 4 BSL qualification? CSW associations have been pushing for an interpreting unit within the EdExcel course for a number of years. ASLI has rightly fought against a lowering of standards. Now Signature has included an interpreting unit which will inevitably be used as a lower benchmark for interpreting, one which is lower than the NOS. All the arguments ASLI has made over the years about the National Occupational Standards are now effectively being ignored. Signature/NRCPD would stand to make funds from both the NVQ qualifications and a CSW register but perhaps has not considered the risks of further alienating interpreters. If this unit becomes a licence to interpret, as it surely will, then quality of interpreting provision will fall substantially. The term level 6 interpreter or level 6 CSW (both misnomers) will be no doubt be banded about and cause further confusion.3) And where is ASLI in all of this? ASLI has got too close to NRCPD to represent its members effectively. It has a place on the practitioners’ forum, which seems to be how NRCPD communicates fixed plans rather than how they get feedback from professionals in order to shape their direction. The ASLI Chair is on the board of NRCPD and has compromised his position in being able to effectively represent his own Association, a position which favours and defends NRCPD registration too heavily to be open to any criticisms ASLI members have of the register.

4) Meanwhile the DWP now seem to be pushing for more CSWs to work in AtW assignments especially for emails and phone calls. I’ve had appalling emails from Deaf people with terrible English grammar written by CSWs and had a plethora of appalling phone calls. Interpreters are not just for meetings. These are skilled jobs where you still need to have achieved the NOS in order to know what you are doing. Why aren’t NRCPD doing more to represent interpreters and the skills they have worked hard to attain? If they will soon also be registering CSWs then perhaps that does not matter to them. Why is no one talking about quality? AtW is designed to allow Deaf and disabled people equality in work, to find and retain jobs. The DWP would happily force people to use CSWs as quality for them is not an issue. It comes down only to cost regardless of value for money even when an unqualified Support worker charges not much less than an interpreter and cannot provide the same service. A register of CSWs rather than enabling registration for this group will inevitably be used against Deaf people by the DWP. Some Deaf people want CSWs. My personal opinion is that public money should not be wasted on unregulated and unskilled personnel. This also should not become the norm for those who do not want them and choose registered professional interpreters. The use of CSWs in education is another matter and regardless of how many self-published books support this, it still does a disservice to the BSL-using Deaf student.

5) Would a register of CSWs be used for schools only? No. For the reasons stated above. Would it benefit schools? Maybe. Would it benefit the Deaf student who is a BSL user. No. They would need a Registered Interpreter (see above). ACSW and NATED have now merged and formed ADEPT which puts CSWs in a stronger position.

Unless those supporting a CSW register stop pushing for CSWs to be used in areas outside of education such as AtW, for CSW courses to have interpreting units, for ‘career CSWs’ who do not develop skills and a qualifications body which goes against the NOS then I doubt interpreters will support moves by Signature or CSW organisations for registers or interpreting units where they do not belong.

CSWs – Register your Disinterest for proper Deaf access

We have an established register for interpreters, the NRCPD. Though not everyone has faith in that register. I would suggest that is partly due to interpreters regularly accepting work for which they are not skilled enough which has brought about the misconception that the RSLI standard is not good enough. I’d suggest it is in most cases but that interpreters need to be supported to gain experience gradually and safely. There has, as yet, been no moves towards creating a category for senior practitioners to distinguish the more experienced from those that have just started. There is in short no advanced driver equivalent as yet.

A recent letter from the NRPSI, the register for spoken language interpreters, asked for continued support from interpreters to strengthen the register and stated that they were working towards publicising the register.

Where there is little support for the NRCPD I suspect there are a few reasons:

1) Scant work to publicise to service users or commissioners that registration is of the utmost importance.

2) No regulation of agencies – a charter mark guaranteeing quality and adherence to standards would be a start.

3) The previously stated perception that standards have slipped.

4) The removal of the Code of Ethics. We have a weaker Code of Conduct. This was to bring us in line with others on the register. I’d suggest rather than weakening our Code, other professionals should have had the opportunity to abide by an ethical code rather than a pared down, prescriptive, behavioural code. Recent emails on e-groups have shown some interpreters barely understand the Code they purport to follow.

I think, just like the statement by NRPSI, that interpreters should support their register. If we are to be united, especially without a union, this is the only way. One caveat. For the register to be supported those that run it need to listen to the interpreters on that register and work towards making it as robust as possible i.e. if you are not on the register, you can not work as an interpreter.

The latest news and the subject which gets me blogging is astounding. It has been mooted for years and is incredibly unpopular with interpreters: the establishment of a register for CSWs. A letter and a proposal has been forwarded to NRCPD and a process is underway to develop a proposal and take this to further consultation.

I’d urge the NRCPD to think carefully about the disastrous effects this will have on Deaf students. Interpreters, once qualified and working for a few years, understand the difficulty of the job. It can not be done by those not yet assessed as fluent in BSL i.e those with level 2 and 3 qualifications.

Those that run CSW organisations, run training courses for CSWs or agencies that use CSWs usually have a vested interest: money or status. The only training CSWs should be doing is not how to perfect their interpreting into English or courses in international sign. There should be a single focus on the main language and interpreting qualifications in order to make them ‘safe’ and get people to the point where they can register for the sake of students and the wider Deaf community.

Use of CSWs rather than interpreters was only ever a stop gap in the 1980’s, and one which was supposed to be temporary. Harrington’s excellent paper The Rise, Fall and Re-invention of the Communicator: re-defining roles and responsibilities in educational interpreting still makes for interesting reading. This is the history of the CSW and one which various people with those vested interests have worked hard to continue. It is not in our interests to have those working with low fluency in BSL with Deaf children. Many Interpreters around the country who do not have enough work would jump at the chance to be Educational Interpreters. Anyone who supports the Deaf community knows that is what Deaf children and students deserve: proper access to their education.

For too long CSWs have been expected to fulfil the roles of interpreter, tutor, classroom assistant as Harrington states. I started my interpreting career as a CSW. I do not speak from a position of elitism. I speak as someone who understands the CSW as inadequately trained, as an influent and untrained pseudo-interpreter, as someone who is expected to do 80% plus of their work acting as an interpreter but who is ill-prepared and ill-trained.

The CSW course I experienced over nine months had little language training, no interpreter training and was, for me, a disappointment, a waste of time and a waste of money. Most people worked with little support and some were encouraged at the time of the promise of a career that they carried on in the route of interpreting until realising there were never going to be fluent enough to achieve registered interpreter status and eventually either gave up or remained as influent untrained pseudo-interpreters.

Not only do we miss the chance to increase standards for Deaf students but a CSW register puts a proverbial nail in the coffin for anyone campaigning for higher standards of access in schools. The names of CSWs will not be used for education only but agencies will access them as lists of cheap labour to do the job of interpreting in hospitals, in councils, in offices. There is enough confusion surrounding standards and registration categories as it is, a confusion most of us work towards alleviating.

I can see the benefits to the NRCPD of ensuring this proposal goes through: increased revenue from registrations, increased use of the registers by those involved with the Deaf community, an increased profile extended to schools, colleges, universities and all those agencies that will continue to use CSWs to fulfil bookings. I also understand the NRCPD may have to entertain proposals and be seen to be giving ideas a fair hearing without seriously considering the setting up of such a register.

In my opinion these are the risks if the NRCPD decides to go ahead with this proposal:

1) Of 1,082 professionals on the NRCPD registers, 977 are either Registered Interpreters, Translators or Trainees. In other words 90% of the registers. I can not imagine that many of that 90% would agree with a CSW register and would possibly add that to one of the above possible reasons for the NRCPD not getting their full support. Interpreters have already lost out to a weakened Code and some have felt they have not been listened to in previous consultations. It would not be wise to take an unpopular decision at this stage.

2) Signature would make less money from NVQ qualifications were people allowed or encouraged to go on a register and then not further develop their skills by achieving the National Occupational Standards in Interpreting.

3) Allowing a CSW register takes work away from interpreters at a time when they need the register to fight for them. If interpreters do not have enough work, they will not support or pay for continued registration.

4) A CSW register ignores the campaign work Deaf people and interpreters have done for over 25 years to raise standards. It is not a way to get buy-in from the community for whom you are supposed to be registering professionals.

5) It will negate any further campaign efforts by the community to raise standards in schools such as the parents who successfully campaigned the school their child was at and at the time managed to get agreement for a Trainee Interpreter.

There is more to say, these are just some initial thoughts. I await this news to hit the interpreting and Deaf communities with interest.