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Should Makaton sign language be on the National Curriculum?

PUBLISHED: 12:15 20 July 2020 | UPDATED: 13:12 20 July 2020

John using Makaton alongside his grandchildren Betsy and Alfie. John is signing 'fun', Betsy is signing 'B' for Betsy and Alfie is signing 'A' for Alfie Picture: John Huggins

John using Makaton alongside his grandchildren Betsy and Alfie. John is signing 'fun', Betsy is signing 'B' for Betsy and Alfie is signing 'A' for Alfie Picture: John Huggins

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This Southwold man is petitioning and has 14,000 signatures already.

John's granddaughter Sophie who he learned Makaton for Picture: John HugginsJohn's granddaughter Sophie who he learned Makaton for Picture: John Huggins

John Huggins, of Southwold, has been working hard to raise awareness for Makaton - and has started a petition which currently has well over 13,000 signatures. But what exactly is Makaton, and why is it important?

“Makaton is a unique language programme that uses symbols, signs and speech, enabling people to communicate,” explained John.

“It has been developed from languages around the world, and there are a number of crossovers with British Sign Language, but has been carefully chosen to make it simpler and easier to learn.”

According to The Makaton Charity, the signing language helps provide extra clues about what someone is saying, as signs can help those with limited or non-existent speech. This makes it especially ideal for children, and those who deal with children on a regular basis.

Makaton shares similarities with British Sign Language, pictured. Picture: Getty ImagesMakaton shares similarities with British Sign Language, pictured. Picture: Getty Images

Parents of small children may already be familiar with Makaton through CBeebies’ Something Special – a show designed to introduce youngsters to signing with Makaton.

It is aimed at those with delayed learning and communication difficulties, and stars actor Justin Fletcher as Mr Tumble, who is a strong advocate and supporter of the language.

John and his family began to learn Makaton for his 21-month-old granddaughter Sophie, who was diagnosed with a brain tumour.

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“After Sophie had a brain tumour removed, she remained in a coma for the following month, and it was suspected by her medical team that she would be deaf. This is when we all started to learn Makaton.

“As it happened, she was left with many complex disabilities, but deafness was not one of them.”

Sadly, Sophie passed away at the age of eight – but John has continued to use Makaton and spread awareness for it ever since.

“My interest in Makaton remained and only strengthened when taking my other grandchildren, Alfie and Betsy, to a local pre-school group in Southwold called STOMP, where the group leader Clare signs Makaton throughout the session.

Makaton uses a mixture of symbols, signs and speech to allow people to communicate Picture: Getty ImagesMakaton uses a mixture of symbols, signs and speech to allow people to communicate Picture: Getty Images

“It is clear there that children begin to learn signs, even before they can speak, so I believe Makaton should be taught from year one.”

With his petition currently inundated with signatures, it is the accompanying messages that have especially touched John.

“There have been more than a thousand messages and I have read them all. There is one common theme throughout, and that is how much the lives of their family members would be improved if others could communicate with them. They talk of isolation and exclusion, and I am not embarrassed to say that many have reduced me to tears.

In addition, John has garnered support from many teachers who have signed his petition, as well as local radio after being interviewed by BBC Radio Suffolk’s Lesley Dolphin.

“If sign language was added to the National Curriculum, I am aware that time would be an issue. Makaton is easier and quicker to learn.

“I find it very sad, that we are more capable of communicating with those who speak other verbal languages than our own disadvantaged people.”


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