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Signing, deaf awareness and inclusion

Short articles
Authors: Dani Lang, Tina Kemp
Signing, deaf awareness and inclusion

Brimsdown Primary School is a mainstream school in Enfield, North London, with a hearing impairment resource base – HIRBiE. If you ask any of the staff at Brimsdown they will tell you how important inclusion is to us as a school.

We firmly believe that every child deserves the right to be treated equally and to receive the same quality of education as everyone else.

HIRBiE has been operating for 11 years at Brimsdown and runs special staff and family signing lessons during the day and after school, teaches British Sign Language (BSL) to all children from Nursery to Year 6, and runs a unique workshop where anyone interested in learning about signing, deaf awareness and deaf issues is welcome to join.

BSL is not a translation of English – it has its own linguistics and a very different grammatical structure. We encourage all children and staff to be confident with developing their use of facial expression and body language as this helps with the clarity of their communication.

In the past, very few staff or hearing children in the school could sign. Good communication was always valued and respected, but we wanted the HIRBiE team to show this wonderful language throughout the whole school. There was also a need to bridge the gap between hearing and deaf people, and so over the last three years BSL has become an important part of our school curriculum.

Deaf children should not solely rely on their Communication Support Workers (CSWs) to communicate between hearing staff and children. For example at playtime if a CSW was not outside then deaf children experienced communication breakdown and could become isolated. Due to our wonderful HIRBiE provision and inclusive approach, our deaf children are independent and more confident

Staff at Brimsdown have noticed that all children with special educational needs, for example autism, really enjoy and focus on signing. Why is this? Because it is a visual language. In May 2018, during Deaf Awareness Week, a new teacher at the school commented at the end of the week on how much the whole class benefited from this participation. This important part of the school has improved the lives of not only deaf children but all our pupils.

In the beginning, BSL greeting signs such as ‘Good morning/afternoon’, ‘Please’ and ‘Toilet’ started to be taught during 20 minute, timetabled, weekly BSL Studies lessons. These lessons are taught by highly qualified Deaf Instructors and have continued with our Deaf Instructors creating our own BSL curriculum for the children. The profile of BSL has continued to be raised through a Sign of the Week during assemblies and Key Stage 2 (Years 3-6) Singing Assemblies being fully signed and all children being taught signs to the songs they are learning.

Brimsdown School is one of the forerunners to bridge the gap of communication between deaf and hearing people in mainstream school. Dr Robert Adam, Director on Continuing Professional Development at DCAL (Deafness, Cognition and Language) at University College London, commented on his visit to Brimsdown in 2017 how impressed he was to see that so many people know how to sign in a mainstream school. 

This work continues within the local community as every Wednesday morning Brimsdown runs a BSL Parents Workshop. For many of these parents, English is not their first language. They regularly comment how much BSL supports them due to its visual nature. BSL helps these parents translate and remember such things as colours, objects and time.

Recently, there has been a big campaign for BSL to be included into the educational National Curriculum in England. Brimsdown is positive towards BSL being included into their school curriculum. Brimsdown School is a BSL Teaching Centre and is accredited by Signature, the leading awarding body for Deaf Communication Qualifications in the UK.

Positive contact has been established with Signature and in 2018 it assessed the quality of BSL being taught at Brimsdown from Level 1-3. Their comments were positive and they agreed that the BSL teaching met the high quality standards of Signature. Now, more people than ever are requesting to become a student in our evening BSL classes run at the school.

Brimsdown will continue to promote BSL, because for those who can hear, this may seem small, but to those who cannot, it may make all the difference in the world – and as we have learnt as a school, the benefits for all are life changing.

Think about your own school setting: What are you doing to promote inclusion amongst students? What are some of the initiatives that work well in your school? In your view, how could these initiatives be further strengthened to ensure that all students are able to participate in daily activities?

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