Looking back at the formation of the Association in 1976, it is staggering to think that anyone involved in that formation would have predicted all the changes that might occur. Almost at the same time as BATOD was formed the government convened the Warnock Committee which produced a groundbreaking report and suggestions for new ways of dealing with children’s Special Educational Needs. The resulting legislation and subsequent education acts produced changes that have affected all teachers in all schools. However, the purpose of this article is not intended to be a catalogue of all these changes, nor is its purpose purely historical, rather it is hoped that what follows will be an appreciation of our Association –The British Association of Teachers of the Deaf.
I imagine that there are few current members of our profession who were there at the formation of the Association in 1976. Most, like the writer, will have retired and not many will be able to recall the sense of excitement, enthusiasm and hope which pervaded that time.
Professional organisations for Teachers of the Deaf have a long and venerable history.
The College of Teachers of the Deaf and Dumb (established in 1885) and the National Association of Teachers of the Deaf and Dumb (established 1895) amalgamated to form NCTD (1918). The College brought to this union the right to examine. The Association brought organisation, branch membership, a journal and teacher training. The new organisation became therefore a substantial body and a force to be reckoned with.
It was due to dissatisfaction with the standards of teaching and conditions in the big residential schools in the late 19th century that the Ealing College and Fitzroy Square Association for the training of teachers in the oral methods came into being. In time this led to the inauguration of the National College of Teachers of the Deaf in 1918. The following year Manchester University opened the precursor to what is now the Centre for Human Communication and Deafness (CHCD). The need then, as now, was for an adequate supply of effective teachers. It is with some pride that our profession can claim to have been at the forefront in teacher training by giving it high priority. We were also one of the few sections of teaching that was able to examine and thereby control entry into this sector of the teaching profession.
If one ignores the independent sector, which of course is very old, the teaching profession in this country was developed from the 1870 Elementary Education Act which set up the School Boards. This act influenced our profession too, as did the later Blind and Deaf Children’s Act (1893) but through our ‘College’ we were able to establish a link between training and schools which has been one of our strengths.
The National College of Teachers of the Deaf and the Department at Manchester dominated deaf education for the best part of half a century. It was not until the 1950s that the winds of change started to blow, which culminated in the formation of our association in 1976.
The 1950s and 1960s were (as ever) times of change in education. There was a chronic shortage of teachers. There were ‘bulges’ going through the schools and more children meant more deaf children. Deafness was not more common, it just meant that the ratio stayed much the same. There was therefore a pressure to find more Teachers of the Deaf. In addition, diagnosis was improving in both medical and educational terms and, although there were still casualties of late diagnosis and wrong placement, it all meant more work for Teachers of the Deaf. Added to this, more LEAs were opening Partially Hearing Units and starting Peripatetic Services. Units had been in existence before World War II but they really took off from the 1950s onwards. It was against this background that the Society of Teachers of the Deaf (STD) came into existence in 1959.
Teachers working in new positions in hospitals, as peripatetic teachers and in units, formed the STD. This was received with some regret by the NCTD who viewed a united profession as essential. The College was quite correct in this but really only had itself to blame for what became at times a rancorous split. It was slow to change and even slower to recognise the needs and special problems of those working in the ‘external’ services. The College was dominated by the heads of the special schools, especially the residential schools, as a glance at the make-up of the NCTD executive in those far-off days will amply illustrate. The issues were naturally muddied by the ever-present oral/manual controversy but this was less of an issue than some made it out to be.
The process which led to the eventual union in 1976 was long. There were many meetings and many discussions but finally the driving force came from the two leaders, Mr JRW French, MBE, Chairman of the NCTD and Mr Derek Wilton-Brown, his opposite number on the STD in the years immediately before the union. There were various attempts to unite between 1959 and 1974 but all had foundered for a variety of reasons.
The College suggested that the Society should become a branch of itself but this was rejected because the STD believed that it had an important rôle to play in the education of teachers involved and working other than in special schools. The neglect of this aspect of our work had been the very reason for the original split! Another stumbling block was the different methods of election between the two organisations. The NCTD had a non-specific election to its executive. This was fine on paper but in practice led to an over-representation of the special schools by their headteachers (see above). The STD specified representation from clinics, hospitals, Partially Hearing Units (PHUs) and peripatetic teachers.
By 1974 it was becoming ever clearer that our profession was doing itself absolutely no good by its continued division. The NCTD chairman stated, “It seems to me to be suicidal that as a profession we should face the oncoming situation with two organisations representing some 1200 teachers…the advantages of professional solidarity, harmony amongst teachers working in and out of schools and rationalisation and extension of teaching facilities for teachers are in my view overwhelming.” The changes in medical and educational practice, the reorganisation of local government and the NHS and perhaps above all the need for the profession to have a united voice in the teachers’ salary negotiations were all pressing reasons for a single organisation.
Finally, it was agreed that both Associations should dissolve and a new one be formed. This was easier for the STD than for NCTD because the latter had special monies such as the Mary Grace Wilkins Scholarship, the Braidwood Medal fund and so on, in addition to its special examining function. However, these problems were resolved by much hard work. The inaugural meeting of BATOD was held in October 1976 in Birmingham. The first President was Conrad Powell.
The question that arises is whether or not the new association obtained the best from each of the old organisations. This writer believes that it did. The categories of representation to the National Executive prevented any section of the profession becoming too influential (this came from the STD). More recent change to encourage ToDs to focus on specific areas of interest has provided the opportunity for a range of skills to be represented on the NEC. The development of regions has allowed for local representation and activity (this came from the NCTD whose branches were always its strength).
The teacher training element has changed out of all recognition since 1976. The most popular method of training was by secondment to a full-time post-experience course, end-on from University or teacher training, or by in-service through the NCTD.
How different things are today! BATOD no longer has its ‘Exam Board’ providing the in-service training and examination route to becoming a ToD. Instead the Association is represented at Course Provider meetings and negotiates with the TTA. Now there are six universities in the UK providing ToD training, with a possibility of a seventh.
Since its inauguration, BATOD has had to respond to many government initiatives and other pressures. The Warnock committee and the ensuing legislation have already been mentioned. The pressure for ever more integration has increased from year to year and BATOD has had to respond to this.
Nowadays deaf people are being encouraged to teach deaf children, which was virtually unthinkable when the writer trained at Manchester in 1963/4. BATOD has accommodated this change too through close liaison with the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS), so that deaf people wishing to train as ToDs are provided with the most comprehensive and helpful information available.
Recently we have seen the development of different approaches to the education of children with a variety of special educational needs. This has sometimes led to educating children with differing special needs together. BATOD has responded well to all of this. For example, we have maintained good relations with other bodies working in special education, whilst at the same time maintaining the distinctiveness of our own specialism.
Representation has been made to all kinds of committees and organisations. Reference has already been made to the Warnock Committee and the results of its deliberations but the Association has pursued a consistent policy for the retention of our specialist qualification by representation to bodies such as the Advisory Committee on the supply and training of teachers. BATOD has continued to respond to a range of consultation documents.
What will the next 25 years bring? Is it possible that in 25 years time there will be no schools at all? Such a suggestion might seem to be rather eccentric but is it? Advances in Information Technology certainly makes exclusive home learning for all ages possible but probably unlikely. Social skills would be almost impossible to learn, even from ‘virtual reality’. The trend for more deaf children to be educated in their local schools is certain to continue and who can foresee what further advances there will be in hearing aid technology and medical treatment?
If BATOD maintains its present course, it will do more than cope, indeed it will make, as it always has done, a major contribution to any debate. One of the most effective ways of doing this is through the internationally respected Journal, Deafness and Education International and the imaginatively produced Association Magazine. In the writer’s opinion, those members of the profession who do not belong to the Association are missing out. BATOD may not be a Union but it is of great value to belong to an organisation that has its finger on the pulse of education of deaf children and young people, which can offer advice and make direct representation to government and other bodies.
In the magazine of May 2000, the NEC pointed out that proposals in the SEN and Disability Rights in Education Bill will focus on the right of a child to a mainstream placement regardless of that child’s educational needs unless the parents wish otherwise. There will be problems stemming from that if the Bill becomes an Act! None of this should deter BATOD from battling on. No one could have put it better than the first President, Conrad Powell, who in his inaugural address in 1976 said, “There are many problems that confront us, some so difficult that one wonders where the solutions lie, or even if they can be resolved. But the fact that a problem seems to be insoluble is no reason why we should not attempt to find the answer - quite the reverse, we should double our efforts.”