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.

Are Statutory Regulation and CPD cure-alls for the ills in interpreting?

photoRoger Beeson NRCPD Registered BSL/English Interpreter (since 1988)
Roger Beeson is a self-employed interpreter based in London. He was a founding member of ASLI and has held various offices, including Chair. He is a regular attendee at its London & South-East Region meetings. He was made a Fellow of ASLI (FASLI) in 2008. He is co-founder and still one of the co-owners of the long-lived independent online interpreting discussion forum “e-newsli”. He is chair of trustees of 3 Deaf organisations, drawing on the experiences of a lifetime spent living and working with Deaf people. He is scaling down his interpreting work, aiming to work a maximum of 3 days a week.
So NRCPD surveyed views on Statutory Regulation and CPD, and will no doubt come up with the expected results. What about the unasked questions?

  • What are Deaf people’s experiences of using NRCPD yellow badge holders?
  • Does the NRCPD yellow badge assure competence and quality?
  • What do interpreters see that’s not right in interpreting?
  • How many more would complain if it was as easy as pressing a button?
  • Is the NVQ system fit for purpose?
  • How do NRCPD’s CPD requirements address interpreting shortcomings?
  • Do we need a more rigorous test of interpreting, post qualification?
  • Is NRCPD really policing interpreting?
  • Does NRCPD have the personnel to understand what is happening on the ground in the interpreting world, or to find imaginative and sustainable solutions?

What would address shortcomings?

  • Statutory regulation? I don’t think so.
  • CPD in its current form? I don’t think so.

In recent months there have been two high profile court cases in London, involving Deaf defendants on serious charges, where registered interpreters have been told to stand down by a judge, following complaints by Deaf defendants and other interpreters. This is serious stuff. But nobody complained to NRCPD (as far as I know).
We could go on and on with anecdotes about sub-par performance, but we know why only a tiny number complain. Interpreting is a transient event, usually in a private space and rarely recorded.  This makes it difficult to gather evidence for a formal complaint.  However, it is clear when talking to Deaf consumers and interpreters, that there are worrying registered interpreters out there. Why can’t NRCPD proactively monitor interpreters when concerns are raised which are difficult to turn into formal complaints? Why isn’t there an interpreters’ MoT to identify weaknesses?
Before NRCPD points the finger at “cowboys” outside the fold, what is it doing to sort out what is under its control?
I’ve been a long-time supporter of the principle of registration. Even if the rhetoric rarely matched the reality, I paid my annual fee. I’d imagined that once the majority of people being paid to interpret were registered, that standards would be cranked-up. But far from that, NRCPD has become a pointless encumbrance, driving people away from registration. NRCPD is now part of the problem, not the solution.
What’s the connection between doing a CPD activity, writing about it, and high interpreting performance? Is there really any realistic prospect of Statutory Regulation in the next decade?
NRCPD needs to urgently reform itself if the whole registration system is not to go into melt-down (and I’m conscious that this contribution could precipitate that). Where is the credibility and leadership to address the real concerns of Deaf people and interpreters?