The first qualifications for Communication Support Workers (CSW) came about in the late 1980s. However, since then there has been continual confusion and misapprehension concerning the role. The role of the CSO is multi-faceted and has been historically difficult to delineate. The result of this has been a tendency for qualification provision that does not fully support the skills and knowledge necessary for the occupation. This apprenticeship represents a structured programme of training for the role of Communication Support Worker that can serve to give it greater definition and aim towards a greater degree of professionalisation in the area.
The role of the CSW is to use a variety of support strategies and communication modes in order to enable communication based on the needs and preferences of individual deaf learners. In doing so, they liaise with a range of other professionals such as Teachers of the deaf, audiologists, teachers, lecturers, and other CSWs. As such it is essential that CSWs should establish strong professional relationships with their colleagues and all others involved in educational settings.
The CSW is an important part of a team of professionals who are all ‘educators’; this is how they should be viewed rather than as interpreters. In this way they are constituent of a collective educational team with a responsibility towards the education of individual deaf learners in all different types of educational settings, facilitating access to the curriculum and the wider learning environment and meeting their needs wherever possible. In addition to this, the CSW plays an important role in the fostering of a positive deaf image and self-esteem.
Communication Support Workers are multi-skilled, adaptable professionals able to change roles to suit an individual deaf learner’s shifting requirements. In general, the role of CSWs is to help deaf people to communicate in a range of environments, including schools, colleges, universities, and adult education centres.
Their role typically includes responsibilities such as:
- Supporting people by working between spoken English and British Sign Language (BSL), with some notetaking and lip speaking;
- Helping learners to understand and produce written material;
- Adapting learning materials and work-related materials to make them easier to understand;
- Enabling peer interactions;
- Implementing, reviewing, and adapting communication strategies for changing communication requirements;
- Providing deaf awareness training for other staff and peer groups;
- Performing the function of an Oral Language Modifier in relation to assessments – this is regulated by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ).
A CSW needs to have role flexibility due to the number and variety of tasks that they are required to perform. However, this role flexibility should not be at the cost of skills levels in key areas, eg working between BSL and English, notetaking, etc. The introduction of this apprenticeship will mean that there is a stipulation of the same basic standards of performance and lead to qualified and competent CSWs practicing within a variety of educational settings. The apprenticeship will serve to define this occupation as a valid job role, as well as creating a basic standard of performance for the occupation.
In addition to this, the apprenticeship will help to distinguish those practitioners who are qualified to perform their role from those who are not so as to guard against individuals being engaged as a CSW but without either the knowledge or skills necessary to perform the role.
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