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Government has 'no plans to change' curriculum despite grandfather's sign language campaign

PUBLISHED: 12:05 12 March 2019 | UPDATED: 08:45 20 March 2019

John Huggins, from Southwold, was inspired to raise his Makaton petition following the death of his granddaughter Sophie. Picture: Courtesy of John Huggins

John Huggins, from Southwold, was inspired to raise his Makaton petition following the death of his granddaughter Sophie. Picture: Courtesy of John Huggins

The Department for Education (DfE) says it has no plans to change the UK's curriculum following calls for Makaton sign language to be added.

It follows the raising of a petition for the attention of education secretary Damian Hinds by Southwold grandfather, John Huggins, which has amassed nearly 12,000 signatures.

Designed to be used alongside spoken language, Makaton involves the use of signs and symbols to aid those with communication difficulties.

Its profile has grown in recent years thanks to CBeebies television programme ‘Something Special’, where Justin Fletcher presents while signing in Makaton.

Mr Huggins was inspired to raise awareness after being told his granddaughter, Sophie, would likely have communication difficulties after undergoing surgery for a brain tumour.

Sadly, Sophie later died, but Mr Huggins has remained passionate about boosting the profile of Makaton in her memory.

In a published response to a similar petition which calls on the government to make Makaton compulsory, the DfE said: “It is important that pupils with Special Educational Needs (SEN) and disabilities are able to play a full part in the school community.

The Department for Education said it has no plans to add Makaton sign language to the National Curriculum. Education secretary Damian Hinds. Picture: PA Wire/PA ImagesThe Department for Education said it has no plans to add Makaton sign language to the National Curriculum. Education secretary Damian Hinds. Picture: PA Wire/PA Images

“This is why schools have a legal duty to ensure that children with SEN can engage in school activities alongside other pupils who do not have SEN. It is for schools to decide how best to do this, in accordance with their legal duties.

“Makaton is a valuable communication tool for some pupils and schools. Whilst we have no plans to change the national curriculum, schools already have flexibility to choose to teach it.”

Despite this latest setback, Mr Huggins remains determined to see Makaton taught in all schools and emphasised that he will not rest until his goal have been achieved.

“Obviously I am very disappointed by the response,” said Mr Huggins. “It really comes back to the fact that the current system is not really helping those outside of the school environment.

“I am just so aware that we are more capable of communicating with the French and the Germans than we are with our own community.

“I’ve had so many great responses to the petition and I’m not ashamed to say I sit there with tears running down my face reading about people’s experiences. This is the way they feel for their children and their family members who suffer from deafness or impairment.”

The DfE’s response, available online, went on to highlight that the National Curriculum is deliberately slim to “provide greater flexibility” to schools when it comes to their teaching content.

It added that schools must themselves decide how best to support a child who uses Makaton, including how to support their relationships with other pupils and what training staff require.

But Mr Huggins is adamant that Makaton warrants being taught on a compulsory basis to promote more social inclusion among children and society as a whole.

“I really feel adding Makaton to the National Curriculum is the only way people with deafness and impairment can be truly included in their communities, throughout their every day lives,” added Mr Huggins. “That is the bottom of line of this whole campaign.

“I said previously that, once the petition received 10,000 signatures, I would write again to Damian Hinds - which I have done - but I have not had a response as yet. Going forward, the next step is to simply get a response from him.

“My biggest challenge is simply getting this petition in front of people. I have written to every national newspaper there is and didn’t even get a response. The reality is they are more interested in the lives of celebrities, which is such a shame.”

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