STAFF and pupils at one of Birmingham's biggest secondaries are learning sign language in preparation for the setting up of a centre for deaf children on its site.
A joint venture has been agreed between the city's Hodge Hill comprehensive and Braidwood school for the deaf. Work starts on a purpose-built 12-classroom complex next July and it is due to open in January 2003.
The two-storey building, to be built at the heart of the Hodge Hill campus, will have a futuristic, semi-circular design. Features include pupilteacher interactive boards and screens in every classroom. It has been funded by the Department for Education and Employment's New Deal for Schools scheme.
Mike Handford, acting head of 1,300-pupil Hodge Hill, Birmingham's largest school for 11 to 16-year-olds, said: "This is social and educational inclusion in a very dynamic and practical form.
"Many of our children are expressing a positive interest in the initiative. Some of them have already learned basic sign language and believe the new school will give children who are deaf many more opportunities.
"It's possible that British Sign Language could join French and Spanish as part of our curriculum. We are immensely looking forward to Braidwood joining us."
The scheme, supported by Tim Brighouse, the city's education director, is in line with the Government's policy of inclusion.
Joint study periods between deaf and hearing pupils are being planned. Classes will have two teachers, one a specialist in deaf education. A training programme in sign language will be made available to all Hodge Hill staff.
Fiona Ison-Jacques, head of the 104-year-old Braidwood school said: "This is based on a vision which encompasses the idea that we are a partnership of equals where British sign language is simply another language and not a special need.
"We don't believe our pupils are disabled. It's society that disables them by not using signing everywhere. The beauty of this school will be that everyone will be using sign language and our pupils will be competing on equal terms."
Burnaby school in British Colombia, Canada, which opened in 1993, was the first attempt at the school-within-a-school concept. It was praised for its innovation by Prince Charles on a visit in 1998.