John Davies previews a series featuring Makaton
Something Special. BBC1 10.20am for the next four Thursdays (September 11-October 2)
Pupils from St Nicholas School in Purley, Croydon, will feature in a new BBC Schools programme aimed at children with learning difficulties. Something Special uses the simplified sign language Makaton which was devised for use by people with learning disabilities.
The initial four-programme series has an appropriately easy-to-follow structure. Its young viewers and their parents and carers are greeted with the Makaton sign for "hello" by the presenter, the genial Justin Fletcher (a regular presenter of CBeebies' Tikkabilla). He then takes them through some simple Makaton signs before filmed inserts follow a group of four to six-year-olds in activities such as shopping, visiting a farm or preparing for bed.
Justin then reappears in a different guise as "Mr Tumble", doing the sort of "silly" things - trying to eat soup with a fork, putting clothes on the wrong way round - that his young viewers may have done themselves.
The presenter studied the language for the programme and plans to use his new-found skills in the real world. "From doing those programmes I've been invited to go along to a couple of schools that use Makaton for communication, so I'm going to be testing my skills fairly soon," he says.
"It's a lovely language, very expressive."
Producer Allan Johnston, was determined to keep the shows simple with spoken language kept to a minimum and a straightforward visual style. He says: "What I really wanted to avoid was constant cutting and I have tried to limit the number of edits." He recalls a conversation with Margaret Walker, one of the founders of Makaton, who pointed out that "one problem that children with learning difficulties have is with what she calls distractors - if you're talking about something you have to see it, and it has to be prominent. It can't be incidental. I think quick editing could end up being a distraction for the children. Everyone on television is trying to cut all the time, which is not helpful."
For more on Makaton, see www.makaton.org