Over 223,000 primary school children take part in the UK’s largest-ever online British Sign Language lesson

On Wednesday 15 March 2023, over 223,000 primary school aged children across the country took part in the UK’s largest ever online British Sign Language (BSL) lesson as part of the Sign Language Week celebrations.

Over 1,350 schools from across the UK joined in a celebration of British Sign Language and embarked upon a lesson to begin their journey of learning about the language of the Deaf community in Britain.

Signature, working together with the British Deaf Association (BDA), created the online lesson to provide primary schools with the opportunity to learn about BSL from a qualified Deaf teacher. The lesson was one of a series of events taking place during the Sign Language Week campaign.

Sign Language Week is run on an annual basis by the BDA. The aim of the campaign is to celebrate and educate the British Public about BSL, to encourage more people to start learning our beautiful, unique, and visual language, and to protect and preserve BSL for future generations to come.

The online lesson was presented to pupils by Yvonne Cobb, a Deaf teacher and TV presenter on ITV and BBC. The lesson will remain available for schools to access in the future to use with future classes and pupils and is part of an ongoing campaign to get BSL delivered in primary schools across the UK.

Primary schools who already offer BSL as a school subject have seen a rapid growth in their children’s confidence to use BSL to communicate not only within school, but also within the community.

For any schools who missed out on doing this lesson, they can still sign up and receive the link by signing up here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/BSL_lesson

Lindsay Foster, Executive Director at Signature said:

“It’s incredible to see so many schools carrying out this lesson, with many of them doing it with all the pupils within their school. I think that really shows that schools and pupils are interested in learning BSL some at a young age and they just need the opportunity and support to do that.  

Signature have attended events recently where we have spoken to hundreds of primary school leaders, and they are really engaged with finding out more about BSL and how they can deliver it to their pupils. This is a great first step, but we want to go further… and we will.

Sign Language Week is a great chance for us to promote BSL and show how fun it is to learn, it’s also an opportunity for us to educate and provide people with the right information.

Working alongside the BDA again has been great, we achieve so much more as sector allies, as we did with the BSL Act, when we come together to promote BSL. I think this campaign just goes to show how successful we can be. I look forward to working with them on future projects.

For any schools, primary or secondary, who are interested in delivering BSL in their schools we encourage you to get in touch and our team would be happy to support you to do that.   

Dr John Walker, Chair of Signature, said:

“We are really pleased to be working alongside the BDA on this Sign Language Week campaign to create an online BSL lesson for primary schools and we have seen an incredible number of schools who have already signed up to take part in the lesson, which is beyond expectations.

We hope this will encourage primary schools to consider including BSL, in their schools, teaching pupils this incredible and beautiful language. British Sign Language involves expression of ideas visually and spatially, and reinforces learning through visual and kinaesthetic association, while enhancing vocabulary and spelling. At the same time, schools can build inclusivity into a classroom while improving learning for all.

We have already seen how successful this can be within a primary school setting through schools like Reigate Park Primary School who currently deliver our level 1 qualifications to their pupils.”

Rebecca Mansell, Chief Executive Officer at the British Deaf Association said:

“We are absolutely thrilled to see so many children signing up to learn BSL, the language of the Deaf community in Britain.

We hope that this will be the start of a lifelong love of British Sign Language and Deaf culture. BSL is different from the foreign language’s children learn at school, as it is a visual language that uses your hands, face, eye gaze and whole body to express meaning. It’s great fun for kids!

With language learning, you really can’t start too early – primary school is the perfect time to pick up BSL almost effortlessly. While we look forward to the imminent roll-out of a BSL GCSE in the next couple of years, we believe that the best approach would be to deliver the language to children from the very start of their education.

Learning BSL provides children with so many opportunities to make Deaf friends, take part in the Deaf community, and even get a job working with Deaf people when they grow up!

We’re so grateful to Signature for their amazing work delivering this lesson to so many children across the UK, and to Yvonne Cobb for her wonderful teaching. We hope that everyone who takes part enjoys it and goes home to teach the rest of their family some basic BSL!

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