A Forgotten History By John Walker

A hidden history that needs to be remembered.

How education changed?

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'A Forgotten History' page

The 1970s was a period of change. People became politicised and there was an increase in expectations on how people should be treated in society; away from the white, male, heterosexual, able-bodied dogma. Social mobility and equality were the prevalent forces for change; no whether it was gender, race or disability equality. People were more sensitive to differences and the right to be different. People sought for change but they didn't want to 'get rid of the old and bring in the new', they wanted to adjust what they already had and make it better.

Academically, there were considerable achievements in clarity about how deaf children learn, acquire language and develop cognitively, but the results went against the grain. It didn't support a uniform approach to deaf education, which became the overriding philosophy since 1889 (theoretically) and 1921 (in practice); the evidence supported the need for change and the inclusion of sign language, or manualism, in education.

But there were very little resources and the country was in poor economic times. Some economic decisions were made: the promotion of mainstream education as a means to restrict the cost of specialist education; identifying an alternative to the pure oral methods, which included helped the "oral failures", such as signed systems; and the improvement of the current cohort of teachers of the deaf and moving them into peripatetic work.

Deaf children didn't see or observe any changes in their educational experience. The academic research was bypassed for a more economic solution, mainstream education, which was more of the same. The next 30 years caused more frustration for children and their parents, when budgetary decisions outweighed the educational needs of the child - which was far removed from the original intentions of the Warnock Report.

Dr. Bill Watts was an unknown hero, amongst many, who challenged the assumption that oralism was a be all and end all solution for deaf education. He promoted a child centred approach to education, where the choice of teaching methods met the needs of the child. He wanted to return the responsibility for teaching and learning back to the teacher and refrain from asserting blame on the child or their parents. After all: 

"Deaf children are the mirrors of the teacher who teaches them." (Base of a Spiral, Marie Affleck, 1972)


Thanks to the following people who have made significant contribution to this project:

Narrators: Robert Clements, Lisa Warnock, Lady Mary Warnock, Louise 'Lulu' Friedli, Christopher Wyer, Lady Mary Warnock.

Interviewers: Wendy Daunt, Karen Brown, Pauline Latchem, Natalie McGarvie.

Research student: Francesca Paul

Technical support: Jerry Laurence and Community Sites

Principle Investigator: John Walker

Thanks are also given to contributors to the exhibition:

The family of Dr. Watts, University of Sussex Special Collection, East Sussex Record Office, National Archives, Hampshire Record Office, Hamilton Lodge School, Ovingdean Hall School Trustees, Veronica Armstrong, Ovingdean Hall and Hamilton Lodge Schools reunion associations, Remark!, BSL Broadcasting Trust.

This page was added on 26/09/2012.

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