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Why British Sign Language matters

Published Date: 06 Feb 2020


It's crucial that families of deaf children are able to access British Sign Language courses in the early years. 

Recently, our Deputy Director of Campaigning and Advocacy, Jo Campion, appeared on You and Yours (BBC Radio 4) to speak about this topic. Jo was joined by Jade Kilduff and her four-year-old brother Christian. 

Christian, who is hearing, uses Makaton to communicate with Jade and the rest of his family. 

You can read the full interview with Jade, Christian and Jo below. 

Winifred Robinson (You and Yours): We have two online stars in the studio with me right now. They are a teenage girl, Jade Kilduff, and her four-year-old brother Christian. They’ve become stars on Facebook and YouTube with signing lessons, where they sign along to pop songs.

Jade’s 18, she’s now campaigning for basic sign language to be made compulsory in early years education.

*Plays YouTube clip of them introducing themselves signing to Someone You Love by Lewis Capaldi. They’re then joined by comedian Russell Howard.

WR: That’s Jade and Christian and Sign Along With Us. They’re from Rochdale.
Jade, why did you start to communicate with Christian using sign?

Jade Kilduff: We were told Christian would never be able to communicate due to a type of brain damage called HIE and I knew that he just really wanted to get his personality across and he was really interested in watching Mr Tumble, who uses sign.

So I decided to start doing sign in our everyday lives and eventually he did a sign back. From there, he just managed to learn so many and that’s just how we communicate.

WR: I could see you through the glass here having great fun signing together. You mentioned Christian has brain damage, that’s from birth?

JK: Christian was born stillborn and he didn’t take his first breath for 24 minutes, which meant that his brain was starved of oxygen causing a brain damage called HIE, which has led to him having other disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, he’s visually impaired, global development delay, sensory processing disorder and some other things.

WR: Christian, would you show me your favourite sign?

*Jade helps Christian with some encouragement and he signs and says “love”.

WR: Oh that’s love? Wow! That’s where you cross your hands across your chest.

JK: You put your hand on the opposite shoulder, if that makes sense. Hands on opposite shoulders and that’s how you do love.

WR: I want to bring Jo Campion in now because she’s from the National Deaf Children’s Society, and it’s campaigned and won the introduction of British Sign Language at GCSE level.

Jo, how easy is sign language to learn as a language?

Jo Campion: All languages vary in their complexity, have different grammar structures, different accents and British Sign Language is no different. It’s a language in its own right, it has a complexity, different grammar, and that’s why it’s absolutely essential that families are supported in those early years to learn British Sign Language if that’s what their child is using because we can’t have families not being able to communicate with their children.

WR: How easy is it to find a teacher then?

JC: Well sadly it’s not that easy. Families come to us all the time telling us they’re having problems accessing lessons in their area and that may be because of the cost, it may be that councils aren’t covering the cost of it or because they’ve got to travel too far to get to lessons.

WR: The Department for Education told us, I’ll read this statement:

“We’re firmly committed to ensuring that children with special educational needs receive the support they need in Early Years at school and in college. Schools have the freedom to include British Sign Language in their curriculum if they want to and we’re working towards a British Sign Language GCSE, which will be introduced as soon as possible, subject to it meeting GCSE requirements.”

Jade, I know that you have more than 40,000 followers on Facebook and you’ve started a petition about sign language education. Tell me what it is that you want.

JK: Me and Christian want some form of sign to be taught as a compulsory thing starting from Early Years all the way through Primary School and High School so that every single child knows at least the basic signs like ‘hello’, ‘good morning’, ‘what’s your name?’ just so Christian and people who use sign are made to feel included and so they’re not isolated to only be able to talk to their family or their carer.

We think if everybody knew just a few signs the world would be a much more inclusive place.

WR: I know that Christian’s started school. What happens there?

JK: So, at Christian’s school he does sign because he goes to a special educational needs primary school so he learns a form of sign called Sign Along at School, so all the teachers and pupils can talk to each other through that.

But if he then went to a place with children from mainstream, like a party or the park, they can’t understand Christian and they can’t talk to Christian, so he’s very secluded in terms of who he can talk to.

WR: The type of sign language you’re teaching Christian isn’t British Sign Language is it? What’s different then about the sign language you do?

JK: Me and Christian do Makaton Sign of the Day, where we teach everyone out there a sign of the day. It’s different in terms of it’s to support speech so you speak as well as doing it and it’s not necessarily a full language in terms of you don’t have every single word in Makaton. It’s only a few to support.

A lot of the actions are simpler to do, so children like Christian with cerebral palsy can do it easier and it helps, it links to British Sign Language and some of them are quite obvious in terms of the sign looks like the word you’re trying to say. It kind of paints a visual picture.

WR: Christian, will you do another one for us? You showed us ‘love’.

*Christian says and signs radio with encouragement from Jade.

JK: So you put one hand on your ear and the other moves forwards and backwards as if it’s like sliding volume things.

WR: Jo Campion from the National Deaf Children’s Society, the kind of sign language that Jade and Christian are using, that’s partly to aid speech. When a child is born profoundly deaf, don’t parents try to teach lip reading instead of sign language?

JC: Well every deaf child is different and they have different levels of hearing. They can be aided by technology some of them, and some of them can’t.

For some, British Sign Language is a choice and families choose that to support oral communication or in challenging environments, like swimming pools and things like that. But for others, it’s the only choice available to them.

But for whatever reason they’re choosing to use British Sign Language to communicate with their child, they absolutely need to be supported in that decision and those courses need to be available in those crucial early years when children are developing language, because we also know that if they’re not supported to be able to communicate with their children, that later on in life they can be at risk of developing mental health problems.

So this is a win-win situation, we absolutely need to support these families to be able to communicate clearly with their children.

WR: And you think the new GCSE, that will help build the pool of teachers and so on?

JC: Absolutely. We’re delighted that the Government have agreed to a new GCSE in British Sign Language and the credit for that must go to an incredible teenage deaf campaigner that we have, Daniel Jillings, who campaigned relentlessly on this issue and the Government did wake up and listen and has agreed to introduce a new GCSE.

It is taking its time and we are getting frustrated with that, but we do hope that progress can be made and soon enough children across the country will be able to learn British Sign Language as a GCSE if that’s what they want to.

WR: Thanks to Jo Campion and to Jade and Christian Kilduff.

We realise this is a visual story, so we’ve been filming Jade and Christian as they sign to each other and we’ve put it up on our website if you’d like to see them both: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qps9


They really are delightful, thank you.