BSL and Makaton signing classes for Highland pupils

Sign language will be taught at a primary school in the Highlands as part of the Curriculum for Excellence. Picture: Donald MacLeod

Sign language will be taught at a primary school in the Highlands as part of the Curriculum for Excellence. Picture: Donald MacLeod

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NURSERY and primary school pupils in the Highlands will be the first in Scotland to be taught sign language as part of the new curriculum.

Smithton Primary, on the outskirts of Inverness, will teach youngsters both British Sign Language (BSL) and Makaton – a form of signing for those with special educational needs or communication disorders that is popularly used by Mr Tumble on the CBeebies show Something Special.

The move at the school has been welcomed by the British Deaf Association and the Scottish Association of Sign Language Interpreters.

It has come about after the Scottish Government’s announcement that all primary age children should have two additional languages as well as their first language.

The decision to teach sign language follows a suggestion from a parent at Smithton Primary, where there are a number of pupils with special needs.

Headteacher Aileen Mackay said: “This is on our school improvement plan for next session, so in preparation for training, planning, delivering, etc, I asked key stakeholders – parents, pupils and staff –about which languages would be of most benefit.

“Curriculum for Excellence should be built around local community, hence my open question.

“I suggested a few as ‘starters for ten’ but it was a suggestion from a parent to consider Makaton and BSL.

“I checked with my quality improvement officer, who agreed that this could be regarded as a language. Student council welcomed this idea and we are very excited about the prospects.”

She said the strategic thinking would first see babies and parents, or carers, doing “baby signing” involving the community and health visitor.

She added: “This will develop from ‘baby signing’ to Makaton to BSL to show clear progression and development.”

Judith Anderson, a member of Smithton’s parent council, said: “One of the parents came up with the off-the-wall suggestion and we all thought it was a fantastic idea which made so much sense.

“Pupils come into the school having watched Mr Tumble at home and there are loads of children out in the community with hearing difficulties or special needs who our own children come into contact with.

“So to have these communication skills is a real benefit and it is great the school headteacher is so forward-thinking and sought advice about including it in the curriculum.

“It is a language which can be used within our own community, compared with a foreign language such as German or Spanish.”

Avril Hepner, of the British Deaf Association, welcomed the fact BSL was being taught as a modern language.

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