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Credit where it's due

Year 6, All Saints primary school, Blackheath

When nine-year-old Thomas McWhinney joined Year 5 at All Saints primary in Blackheath, the 180-pupil south London school had never had a deaf pupil before. One year later, it boasts four signing clubs, with three held at lunchtimes.

"Children in Thomas's class use it to communicate with him," says All Saints special needs co-ordinator Lis Watson. "Some of them also use it to talk when the teacher isn't looking."

Despite that disadvantage, the school has embraced signing so wholeheartedly that it awarded its own signing club certificates to 60 regular attender pupils in the summer, as well as presenting six Year 6 children with externally-assessed British Sign Language level 1 awards - an achievement that also brought them one of 17 Awards for Languages given to British schools by the European Union in 2004.

As well as continuing with the clubs run by signing support workers - one of which is held after school and is attended by parents - the school now teaches signing to all children in Year 1, where Thomas's profoundly deaf brother Andrew is a pupil. And it is discussing developing a national children's sign language syllabus with the British Deaf Association.

At each club session children have to "switch off their voices" while they tell stories, play games and role play, all in BSL. Some become quite fluent, says Watson, and sign for others during school assemblies and church services.

"I did my level 1 two years ago and some of them are far better than me.

They chat away to Thomas and I will be asking, 'What did you say?'"

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