Full part to play

27th October 2000 at 01:00
The Lighthouse sign support resource in Westwood Park School, Guildford, was set up in 1997. Its 12 pupils are referred through a statement specifying the use of sign. Two full-time teachers of the deaf are joined by one learning support assistant for every two children.

Lighthouse pupils take full part in assemblies and playtimes; Lighthouse staff are fully included in whole-school planning of schemes of work and objectives. A unified behaviour policy with rewards and sanctions relies on monitors from Year 6 to watch out for Lighthouse children in the playground.

Westwood Park mainstream pupils and teachers delight in their signing abilities, which they learn in lunchtime clubs. Jackie Parsons, teacher in charge of the centre, says: "You often see teachers communicate directly with their deaf pupils, even though they have the learning support assistant in with them."

Pupils come to the unit with varied language backgrounds. Some, from hearing backgrounds, with possible troubles in diagnosis, can have quite severe language delay. The resource centre offers them additional hep, from well-tried tools such as the Derbyshire Reading Scheme to newer strategies such as video. Some children have deaf parents and are fluent in sign. They are easy to teach, says Mrs Parsons: "They already have language, so we get them to transfer their skills."

Above all, the aim is to get children reading and writing English. "I feel strongly that they need written language," says Mrs Parsons. "New technology opens up for them once they have English."

Westwood Park offers signing support: vocabulary and some features of British Sign Language, such as verb tenses, but with English word order. While clear speech and cue gestures are used to help develop lip-reading there is no attempt to phase out sign.

Results are encouraging, with pupils moving up SATs levels and taking pleasure in English books and stories. Maths works quickly in sign language, particularly mental maths with flying fingers.

Apart from language and literacy, pupils take all lessons with mainstream classes. "It's very exciting," says Mrs Parsons. "We are meeting these children's needs."

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