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A Sign of Our Times?

Danielle is an experienced special educational needs primary teacher who holds British Sign Language Level 2. She was inspired to write for us after seeing an article discussing languages in schools. 

A (British) Sign (Language) of our times?

Recently on the Protocol Facebook page, an article was posted about languages in school, and the fact that there are not enough teachers who have learnt a language past GCSE level. I mentioned in that feed that I was a Level 2 British Sign Language (BSL) user, and that the language was officially recognised in 2003. Would it not be possible to teach it in schools the same way as French, Spanish and German is?

BSL is one of the most accessible languages I have seen, mainly because it is so visual and kinaesthetic. You must use your hands when ‘talking’ to others, and you have to watch not only how the hands move, but also facial expression, placement of hands and lip patterns, as more often than not one sign can be used for two words. The grammar is different from English (e.g. the question words is always at the end of a sentence instead of the start), and, like spoken English, there are ‘dialects’, meaning one word could have a completely different sign in another part of the country.

But why learn BSL in school, alongside more traditional languages as mentioned above? As the curriculum is changing (from September this year KS2 will be required to learn languages including Greek and Mandarin) why not? It would certainly give teachers and children more choice in what they want to learn.  It could be one that is more accessible for children who might find spoken languages harder to learn (I definitely fall into this category!). I have even sat in classes with EAL children that, when they knew the answer but could not say the word, would sign it instead!

I also believe that it, without a doubt, BSL is such a beautiful language to see in action. I love watching two colleagues having an expressive conversation in Sign, and having the chance to converse with these people myself has made me a better signer. At James Wolfe School with Centre for the Deaf in Greenwich, every class, from Nursery to Year 6, has a half hour BSL lesson every week from a deaf Sign Language Instructor. The same person also provides classes for anyone involved in the school – parents, teachers, and transport! This has lead to the school being extremely inclusive, and has helped to build a strong school community because of it. To see Year 3’s children speak to their deaf fellow student with such fluidity is beautiful to see.

It does worry me then, while researching for this blog, that on the National Deaf Children's Society (NDCS) website, an article from 2010 stated that the Government wished to discourage the teaching of BSL in mainstream schools.  Personally, I fail to see the reason why and, thankfully, there seems to be some places that have bucked this trend. Bexley Grammar School in Kent list British Sign Language as one of their enrichment courses, even though there are no deaf children there. Blanche Neville School in London (a school for deaf children which shares its Primary and Secondary sites with mainstream schools), offers BSL classes to both children and parents up to Level 3.

I hope this is a trend that continues – I loved learning BSL as an adult. I finally had a language I could feel excited about and, more importantly, find another passion  I could impart onto the children. I just hope I get the opportunity to do this.

Links to websites

We were thrilled when Danielle agreed to blog for us and we have thoroughly enjoyed her debut blog. Did you? Email your comments to Megan at

Tags: Danielle, LondonSEN, SEN, teacher, BSL, language, French, Spanish, German, needs, access, grammar, dialect, talking

Category: Australian Teachers

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