PUPILS across East Lancashire are set to be taught sign language in class in a pioneering bid to tackle prejudices about the deaf.

The scheme, believed to be one of the first of its kind, is the brainchild of Debbie Reynolds, 31.

She wants to roll out her programme across the region after a successful pilot project at St Paul's RC Primary School, Feniscowles.

For the last five weeks, Debbie, herself hard of hearing and employed as a communication support worker at Blackburn College, has been working with Year 5 pupils at the Preston Old Road school.

Under her tuition, the 18 scholars none of whom have hearing difficulties have been learning British Sign Language (BSL) the preferred language of about 70,000 people in the UK, including thousands of East Lancashire residents.

The children received certificates after learning lip reading, finger spelling and different signs ranging from numbers and colours to common phrases.

The pupils also used their new found skills to practice some signed songs as part of the pilot scheme, commissioned by Blackburn with Darwen Council.

And after winning backing from deaf charities and education chiefs, Debbie, through her company School of Sign Language, plans to take her project to schools across the county in a bid to rid stigma and break down barriers between pupils who are deaf and those who are not.

Debbie, of Feniscowles, said: "The idea is to break down barriers and prepare pupils for how to communicate with deaf children should they join the school. It helps get rid of any stigma and people feeling they are different.

"I am hard of hearing but I didn't want to draw attention to myself so did not admit it until I was 21 and got my first hearing aid.

"Until then on many occasions I would just smile and pretend I had understood what had been said. The sign language is also just another example of showing the children how we can all communicate in different ways."

Kathleen Grehan, education Officer for The Royal National Institute for Deaf and Hard of Hearing People (RNID), said: "We welcome any initiative which encourages an inclusive environment within schools.

"We are delighted to hear that this school in Lancashire is teaching British Sign Language to its pupils and breaking down the barriers to communication which deaf and hard of hearing children can experience. RNID hopes that other schools follow their example in taking such a proactive, positive approach towards deafness."

Ian Kendrick, Blackburn with Darwen Council's deputy director of children's services, said: "I know this project has fired children's interest and enthusiasm at the school.

"We welcome any initiative which helps children learn new skills, particularly those that enhance communication. We wish such projects every success."

l There are currently 244,000 deaf and hard of hearing people in Lancashire.