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Sign Supported English at BSY

At BSY communication is integral to the early development of children.  Indeed, language and communication is one of the three core areas of the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum.


Sign Supported English (SSE) is where the children and teachers use signs, often based on British Sign Language, along with their speech.  The main difference is that we sign along with the spoken grammar of English, rather than using the grammatical structure of BSL.  Initially, most children use only the sign, however what we have experienced is that as the children are primarily focussing on the sign, they are also more relaxed and more likely to try and join in with spoken English.


Teachers receive frequent training on Sign Supported English and new families who join BSY are given access to a video which introduces the basic signs we use, giving the adults a chance to introduce their child to some of the signs at home, which can be taught using their first language.


Starting school can be a daunting experience for both children and parents, so it is vital that teachers are able to quickly build a relationship and trust with the child so that they feel safe, comfortable and able to communicate their basic needs (e.g. toilet, hurt, water, snack).  SSE has been a great tool to meet this goal.


Next, we work to consolidate these signs and introduce new signs for the class timetable, for social interactions (waiting, sharing, my turn, your turn). We also spend time using the signs for different feelings and emotions.  This helps the children communicate if they are feeling excited, happy or sad, which then opens a conversation and interest in why they are experiencing that feeling.


Since we started using SSE, teachers, children and parents have enjoyed signing together.  We follow the children’s interest and sign as it is relevant.  For example, when one child introduced their grandparents (who were visiting from Australia) to the class, we all learnt to sign Grandmother, Grandfather and family while they were in the class.


SSE has been adopted as a fun learning and communication tool throughout the whole school.  The Primary EAL department and Modern Foreign Languages department use the same signs to aid with links between the different languages.  The Music department has taught many signed songs and created some wonderful year group collaboration videos to showcase signing throughout Primary.  One end of year project saw the entire school (cleaners, catering staff, Senior Leadership Team and teachers and children from Pre-Nursery to Secondary) join in with a signed rendition of Taylor Swift’s song, ‘Shake It Off’.  One of the key aims is for SSE to be fun and inclusive of everyone. 


The positive impact of SSE is that the parents of our youngest students are more confident that their children’s needs will be effectively communicated by their children, that inclusion has remained a priority, and that friendships and positive behaviour have been nurtured through this communication tool.  


Naturally, throughout the year the children build up their signed and spoken English vocabulary.


Most importantly for our BSY community, using SSE has meant that the children are happy to come to school, they quickly gain confidence in their new learning environment, become more independent and can make friendships more easily.


Corrie Johnson 

Nursery Teacher