History of Deaf Schools By John Walker

This page explores how deaf children were educated before the 1970s, which is very different to how children are educated today.

Deaf schools

Photo:The first house purchased in Walpole Road, Brighton, for Hamilton Lodge School

The first house purchased in Walpole Road, Brighton, for Hamilton Lodge School

Hamilton Lodge School

Before the 1970s, most deaf children went to a residential school for deaf children. By the 1960s, deaf schools had already existed for 200 years. Deaf children were sponsored to attend a school, and the sponsorship may have come from family or a wealthy benefactor. The conditions in these schools were not great and children were poorly fed. But the children also developed a language, which started in the streets, and became, what we know of today as, sign language. The first school for the deaf was set up in 1760 in Edinburgh, called Braidwood School. It is commonly thought that they used a mixture of reading/writing, lipreading and sign language to teach deaf children. At the time, it was an industrial secret and was not revealed until Thomas Braidwood, the founder, was at his deathbed.

When sign language was banned

Photo:Press release from the organisation who banned sign language, who apologised.

Press release from the organisation who banned sign language, who apologised.

In 1889, the Royal Commission for the Blind and Deaf & Dumb committed an inquiry into the use of the 'pure oral method' in deaf education. The questions were often biased towards speech, a method spearheaded by Dr. Alexander Graham Bell (who also patented the telephone). They saw the lack of speech training for deaf children was detrimental to their development, when, in fact, children did well through using sign language and reading/writing English.

Speaking English had greater precedence over sign language or reading/writing English. Educators wanted to achieve the Holy Grail of deaf education, to give deaf children speech. In the 1921, the Newbolt Report said, "Every teacher is a teacher of English because every teacher is a teacher in English, and the whole of the Times Table is therefore available for the teaching of English. Speech training must be undertaken from the outset and should be continued all through the period of schooling." (Chapter X, pp.348)

In 1921, sign language went underground and was removed from most educational institutions. Deaf teachers were removed from their posts and were replaced by teachers who spoke to deaf children, instead of signing.

Schools in Brighton

Photo:Deaf children in a holiday camp

Deaf children in a holiday camp

This exhibition focuses on three schools: St Thomas in Basingstoke, Hamilton Lodge School in Brighton and Ovingdean Hall in Sussex. All three schools opened after the Second World War, when a huge building programme was launched in 1944. All three schools did not use sign language in education, they used the 'pure oral method'. It is a combination of speech therapy, auditory verbal exercises and use of amplification technology, such as hearing aids.

This page was added on 29/08/2012.

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