Dr. William 'Bill' Watts By John Walker

The Assistant Director of the Reginald Phillips Research Unit

A Teacher of the Deaf

Photo:Dr. William 'Bill' Watts (right)

Dr. William 'Bill' Watts (right)

University of Sussex Special Collection

William John Watts, who was better known as Bill, was a Teacher of the Deaf in East Sussex for many years. He had a great passion for deaf children. In fact, he was described as someone who always gave time for deaf children, and had very little patience for anything else. He was a Methodist and regularly attended a local church in Kemp Town.

Watts was the Assistant Director of the Phillips Deaf Unit and developed the work programme through the life of the centre. As a significant member of the Unit, Watts demanded a curricula change within deaf education. He contributed a number of published works on the subject of deaf education. His PhD can be found in the University of Sussex's library; Watts had ideas about deaf education that were surprising for his time.

It was Watts who found Reginald M. Phillips of Brighton to fund a new research unit at University of Sussex. Phillips was involved in the National College of Teachers of the Deaf (pre-requisite to BATOD) and served as their Chair. Watts wrote in a memo to the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Asa Briggs, to ascertain that it was he who found Phillips and introduced him to the university.

A Different Attitude

Dr. Bill Watts had a different take on education of deaf children, than his peers. His peers expressed a 'belief' in the oral methods of education, which 'far superseded other methods'. But there was little evidence to support their claims. The PhDs of his colleagues began with an expression of their author's belief systems, rather than relying on fact and scientific enquiry.

Alternatively, Dr. Watts was more of a realist. He wanted to understand which approach to education would most benefit the child in order to release their intelligence and cognitive development. If one educational system was not effective, then another educational system must be considered; belief didn't come into it.

One contributor expressed an admiration for Dr. Watts who was locked in an argument with a Physician, who labeled the deaf child as 'incapable'. He knew that the oral methods would not befit the needs of the child, who was profoundly deaf, and recommended the child was introduced to a school that used a manual form of communication (sign language). Today, he is grateful for his ferocity which gave him the best start in life.


Photo:A PhD Thesis

A PhD Thesis

Towards the end of the unit's life, Bill Watts completed his PhD. He developed tests, adapted from the Montessori Method (explained at the end of this section), to assess a deaf child's level of intelligence. In those days, intelligence was associated with speech and the articulation of English. Watts wanted to assess intelligence, in deaf children, without relying on communication. 

Watts developed several tests and explored the level of intelligence between deaf children with language, deaf children without language and hearing children. In his findings, he said:

"The development of deaf children's cognitive abilities is remarkably unaffected by their lack of verbal language."

He found the levels of intelligence in all three categories to be very similar. Deafness was not a condition that affected intelligence and the perception of low intelligence in a deaf child was not a direct consequence to the lack of verbal skills. This research raises questions on whether oral education was able to meet the needs of the child's cognitive development.

Towards the end of his career, he was a Trustee of Cued Speech UK.

His publications include:

Watts, W. (1979) The Influence of Language on the Development of Quantitative, Spatial and Social Thinking in Deaf Children. American Annals of the Deaf (Vol. 124, pp. 46 - 56).

Watts, W. (1979) Deaf Children and Some Emotional Aspects of Learning. Volta Review (Vol. 81:7, pp. 491  - 500)

This page was added on 21/09/2012.

If you're already a registered user of this site, please login using the form on the left-hand side of this page.