The British Association of Teachers of the Deaf
Promoting Excellence in Deaf Education

My life and deaf education

This section differs from the other sections of the website as, rather than being topic based, it allows contributors to take an overview of a number of different aspects of deaf education over a period of time. It is a different but important way to look at the changes experienced between 1960 and 2010, the period covered by the website.

It arose because in the early days of the website, we received two pieces which went beyond a specific area but provided a valuable and rich account of the period. We were able to add to this later, through articles submitted for the ‘40 years on’ edition of the BATOD magazine published in November 2016.

Further contributions to this section, looking at this period as a whole, will be very welcome.


  1. The rather unusual but successful education of my sister Rachel. Betsy Chaloner trained to be a Teacher of the Deaf in Manchester with the Ewings. Her first post was at the Old Kent Road School for the Deaf and later she was the deputy head of a school for the deaf.
  2. Seventy years with deafness. Jennifer Sherwood also trained at Manchester. Before she retired, she was a Teacher of the Deaf, an advisory teacher working with preschool children and their families, and an Acting Head of a School for the Deaf.
  3. Forty years on. Elizabeth Andrews trained Teachers of the Deaf at Oxford Polytechnic and the University of Birmingham and later worked at the RNID, and at the Department of Children, Schools and Families.
  4. Changes and challenges in deaf education. Ted Moore is a former president of BATOD and former head of Oxfordshire Sensory Support Services.
  5. Deaf education from the 1970s to 2016; a personal journey and recollection. Sue Lewis is a qualified Teacher of the Deaf and has spent many years training Teachers of the Deaf and advising local authorities. She currently works as a senior advisor and inspector.
  6. Signs of the times. Miranda Pickersgill was for many years a Teacher of the Deaf and head of service. She is a former CEO of CACDP (now Signature).
  7. Living in interesting times. Sue Gregory is a former Reader in Deaf Education at the University of Birmingham and now coordinates the deaf history section of the BATOD website.
  8. Reflections on the inaugural meeting of BATOD in 1976. David Braybrook is a consultant specialising in SEND work (0-25 years).
  9. Battling for BATOD. Ann Underwood held various positions in BATOD over many years. She was President between 2008 and 2010 and is now the BATOD Foundation Chair of Trustees

    Accounts 1 and 2 are by Betsy Chaloner and Jennifer Sherwood. Both these authors were born in the 1930s, are siblings of deaf people, and both became Teachers of the Deaf. Thus they are able to describe, from first-hand experience, developments in deaf education over a long period of time.

    In the following two accounts, 3 and 4, Elizabeth Andrews and Ted Moore look at the changes in deaf education over the past 40 years. Ted Moore, in describing his long experience as a Teacher of the Deaf, looks at the various terms that have been used to describe deaf children and how changes brought about by various Education Acts have affected deaf education. Elizabeth Andrews describes the many changes since she began work as a Teacher of the Deaf in 1978 and how there is still much to do in deaf education.

    Sue Lewis, Miranda Pickersgill and Sue Gregory in accounts 5,6 and 7 provide varying views of the approaches to language in the education of deaf pupils. Sue Lewis describes a long career with a particular interest in speech and language. She discusses the many changes that have taken place and how they have impacted on deaf children’s development. Miranda Pickersgill talks of her experiences in deaf education from a time when sign language was not seen to have a role in the education of deaf children to the development and significance of sign bilingualism. Sue Gregory describes how she came into deaf education through a series of accidents which resulted in an interesting career focussing on the language and communication of deaf children.

    Both David Braybrook and Ann Underwood include a consideration of the development of BATOD in their accounts. In account 8, David Braybrook reflects on the nature, speed and extent of the change in BATOD over the past 40 years, from its inaugural meeting in 1976. In account 9, Ann Underwood describes her career as a Teacher of the Deaf, particularly her work with young people and the changes she has seen in this area. She also looks at the role of BATOD and her contribution to this.

    1. The rather unusual but successful education of my sister Rachel. Betsy Chaloner

    Betsy Chaloner

    My father, after taking part in the first world war, became a missionary in India where my mother joined him and where they were married. My sister was born in 1929, a very tiny and sickly baby. In spite of an attack of rheumatic fever she managed to pull through and began to develop more normally, though later than most babies. As sitting, crawling, walking etc. were all late, the suspicion of a hearing problem was also delayed. However, when my father came back to England on furlough with the family (including me by this time), Rachel was taken to a doctor and her hearing loss was diagnosed and confirmed.

    Knowing that, on return to India, help for Rachel would depend wholly on her, my mother sought help from Dr and Mrs Ewing in Manchester. I have her notes from that time and they are very reminiscent of my own time training in Manchester twenty five years later. The approach was, of course, totally oral, with any signing, or even gesture, completely forbidden! The Ewings certainly gave my mother a very thorough grounding on how to help Rachel. How to talk so as to make lipreading as easy as possible (light on my own face, no exaggeration etc.). On phonetics - breath and voiced sounds and how to teach them. On reading and how to start this with Rachel. My mother was also encouraged to make use of any residual hearing Rachel had by talking into her ear - no hearing aids in those days.

    And so back to India. Of course, I can’t remember the teaching that went on at that time, but my mother must have worked really hard with Rachel. I don’t personally remember ever having any difficulty talking to Rachel. She was always my big sister who was able to do things I could not do - including reading, which from that time on became one of her greatest pleasures.

    In December 1936, my parents had to return to England, and it was thought that perhaps Rachel would benefit from going to a school for the deaf. However, on visiting Margate school my mother was absolutely horrified and so for a while continued to teach Rachel herself.

    I remember Rachel joining my mainstream nursery class. At the end of the afternoon we sat on the floor for a story, so her lipreading must have been pretty good by then!

    After two years at a small private school for deaf children where she did not seem to make much progress, my father moved to be minister at a new church, and mother again taught Rachel at home. I remember the daily speech sessions with repeated rhymes to practise difficult speech sounds, for example:

    • How tall am I Granny?
    • Please will you measure.
    • What! Measure my treasure?
    • With pleasure with pleasure.

    Because my grandfather was able to help finance our schooling, during the war years I went to a local private school and when she was ten Rachel joined me there. She was very popular - very jolly and full of fun. She was able to keep up well in lessons with me available if she missed anything.

    We remained together, though in different classes, when we moved to a secondary boarding school where children were taught in small classes. Here again, being a real extrovert, she made good friends and generally fitted in very well. I remember her making up exciting stories and telling them to the rest of the dormitory after lights out! She enjoyed acting in the school plays and taking part in other school activities.

    She was not a person to give up easily. Once, in the annual inter house competitions, one of the ways to gain points for our house was to jump or dive from the top diving board. Rachel was afraid of heights, but shaking with fear, she climbed up and, with typical grim determination, stood looking down with horror, and then jumped!

    She went on to take her “School Certificate” as it was then, and though I can’t remember what other subjects she took, I know she got credits in English language and literature.

    After leaving school she went to technical college and did courses in typing, cooking and child care, continuing to read voraciously whenever she could. I have a mental picture of her doing the washing up with a book propped behind the taps!

    She then got married, as she had always wanted, and had five children, sadly dying of cancer before they had grown up.

    I went on to teach deaf children, at first in the Old Kent Road School for the Deaf. I was, like my mother before me, surprised and shocked by the standard of the children’s language levels, lipreading ability and speech. However, I was very lucky to get enormous help from the school’s great head teacher, Molly Johnson, so that I had a good head start when I went to Manchester for my further training with the Ewings.

    After years of lectures, teaching practice, auditory training, taking lessons in front of our fellow students (what a nightmare!) and taking individual children for speech lessons, I returned to Old Kent Road to start my career as a teacher of deaf children in earnest.

    I am very much aware that my mother was very fortunate to be able to give the time to teaching Rachel herself, quite impossible for most parents these days.

    Now that there are cochlear implants, better hearing aids, the option of using signs and all the different school scenarios, parents have difficult choices to make. Whatever they decide, it is certain that their input, providing meaningful communication at the earliest possible stage, remains vitally important if their children are to grow up to be competent, confident adults like my dear, jolly, happy sister.

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    2. Seventy years with deafness. Jennifer Sherwood

    Jennifer Sherwood

    It was the summer of 1946. I was 10 ½ years old and we had taken shelter from the wind and rain in a little beach café on Dawlish Warren. At another table were some people who were not talking in the normal way but communicating with gestures and signs. I turned to my mother, who explained they were deaf. That was my first encounter with the deaf and deafness, something which was to remain with me for my entire life, though little did I know it then.

    In November 1944 my only sister was born, the youngest of 5 children. In 1946 she was still not walking although she sat up and crawled at the normal time. She said a few words. She was diagnosed as a spastic diplegic. This was the early days of the Spastic Society. Her delay in walking and talking was attributed to her cerebral palsy. My mother arranged for her to go to a Rudolph Steiner Nursery when she was about 4, where she was very happy, but she could not stay there after the age of 6 since she was still not talking. Only gradually was the possibility of deafness mooted. She was found to be profoundly deaf. We had all, including my mother, had German Measles when my mother was in the early stage of pregnancy. The link with deafness and rubella had only just been made.

    Things moved pretty fast then. My mother and sister had an interview in London and my sister was offered a place at the Royal School for Deaf and Dumb Children in Margate and went into the Opportunities Class in the Homes. I think she was nearly seven years old. Her very first teacher was Doreen Woodford. My mother joined the Deaf Children’s Society and I remember going with her to a talk in London by Arnold Bates about Mary Hare Grammar School. At that time the DCS, as it then was, produced a magazine ‘The Silent World’, a title reflecting the understanding and ethos of the time. I later met the little girl, whose photograph was shown on the front of each copy, on teaching practice. My mother became involved with the St. Albans Diocesan Mission for the Deaf and used to help with teas and hold tea parties in our large garden. The Rev. Percy Corfmatt was in charge and we got to know Canon Sutcliffe quite well. In those days services for the deaf were very church orientated. My sister made many very good friends at Margate, friends she kept up with for the rest of her life. She played a full part in school life and in spite of walking difficulties went camping with the Guides on a number of occasions. She was there under the headships of Mr. Swayne and Mr. Pursglove. I left school and went to Bedford College for Women, London University, where I read History. Afterwards, instead of doing a PGCE I decided to train to be a Teacher of the Deaf at Manchester University. I shall never forget the comment of one of my former teachers: ‘What does a clever girl like you want to do that for? After all, the deaf only need to sit at the front of the class.’ The OL56, the first transistor hearing aids had just come into existence and was seen by many lay people as a cure-all. These sturdy body worn hearing aids replaced the heavy cumbersome aids with batteries in leather cases, which were difficult for my sister to carry around.

    I was interviewed by Professor Alexander Ewing in a hotel off Oxford Street, London and offered a place at the Department of Education of the Deaf. I remember he stressed the importance of oralism. It was the age of ‘New Opportunities for Deaf Children.’ I knew, however, that the adult deaf and many deaf children outside the classroom signed to communicate with one another. My sister had taught me signs and told me the names of many of her friends. In spite of the increased opportunities with transistor hearing aids for some children, the teaching of speech by teaching how specific sounds are physically produced rather than making the most of residual hearing was an important part of the curriculum.

    As well as short visits to schools and partially hearing units I spent two weeks in a Secondary Modern School in a poor area of Salford, a real eye-opener in many ways. The whole of the Spring Term was spent on teaching practice, the first half at Mary Hare Grammar School, the second half at Preston School for the Deaf, two very contrasting placements. At Mary Hare one of the Staff slipped on the ice, broke her arm and I took her classes for several weeks - an interesting experience. Quite a number of the staff at Mary Hare were not qualified Teachers of the Deaf or were currently undergoing in-service training. They had the cream of deaf children and/or children successful orally. Yet, they were very critical. Whilst at Mary Hare I was invited to sit in on a discussion about candidates for selection and was amazed at the prejudice against children from a school where it was thought signing was predominant outside the classroom, namely Margate. I recognised the names of some of the children! None of them was offered a place. At Mary Hare also I met one of the children featured in Ewing’s ‘New Opportunities’ and her future husband. I was later to meet her again as a young mother with a young daughter, also deaf. The other half of the term was very different in Preston. There I was very much ‘the student’. The teacher split the class in two. I had one half of the room and she the other. There was an invisible barrier between us. On completing the course I was offered a place doing research in the Department, but I wanted to get out into the world of work and Manchester in the 1950s was a smoky, foggy city! I obtained a job at Nutfield Priory School in Surrey under Sam and Joy Blount, and Norah Browning was Deputy Head. There was a sort of affinity between us. We all had personal connections with the deaf. All three had previously been at Margate. Sam Blount was full of enthusiasm for his ‘new’ school, for the possibilities of a greater oral emphasis. He brought with him ‘diagrammatical English’ from Mr Swayne at Margate - a system which helped to overcome problems with sentence structure. He managed to introduce CSE exams for his pupils, obtaining permission to create a syllabus appropriate for the deaf. Every night the children came into the Hall to watch the television news. The teacher on duty had to give a spontaneous commentary to what was said. There were no subtitles for the deaf then. Once I remember there was a power cut and it was extremely difficult holding a large lantern so that my lips could be seen and at the same time giving a commentary. Plus points were given to encourage oralism and minus points for too much signing. Hearing aids were valuable items so were not necessarily worn outside the classroom in many schools for the deaf. Commercial hearing aids were just coming in and a group of children in my class living in the same local authority were issued with identical hearing aids and probably with identical settings too. The understanding of audiology and differences in hearing loss were still in their infancy. Integration in the local community was encouraged and I took a group of Nutfield Priory children to the local Guide Company and ended up running it! On Saturday mornings we walked into Redhill to the Pictures and back again in time for lunch. On Sunday afternoons we took the children for a walk. If there were under 20 children only one member of staff was required. I may have the number wrong but I do know that nowadays the number of any children, let alone deaf ones is far, far lower!

    After Nutfield I went to Heston School, close to Heathrow airport. When in the dining hall it sounded as though planes were coming through the roof! Only one room was sound proofed. The school day was shorter because of the children arriving and departing in a fleet of taxis. There was less opportunity for incidental learning. On the other hand some of the children were able to join sports clubs or play with hearing children in the neighbourhood and had the benefit of home life.

    My sister left school at 16, the school leaving age for children in special schools, at that time. After a brief spell at a firm making hearing aid leads my mother negotiated her a job at Ovaltine’s where she was to remain for her entire working life. I think she was a packer or something similar. In the early 1960s there were few opportunities for the deaf school leaver to have further education or go to College. Fortunately, she was a good lip reader and one or two older women took her under their wing and she was a very happy and loyal worker. Socially, she kept up with former school friends and joined Breakthrough, where she made friends who had attended other schools for the deaf, partially hearing units and also mainstream schools. After she was made redundant, when new health and safety regulations led to many deaf people who had worked losing their jobs, she became active in local social clubs for the deaf. She married.

    After teaching at Heston I also married and had three children, so I was out of deaf education for about ten years. During this time I maintained my membership of the NCTD and went to the occasional meeting. On two occasions whilst the children were still young I was told there was a vacancy at a PHU in the vicinity and asked if I would take it on, but the children were still too small and I was about to move. When my youngest child started school I obtained a part-time job running an ‘Opportunity Class’ for children with special needs. Almost simultaneously as a result of a rubella epidemic in the area there were seven hearing-impaired children, whose parents needed support. I was asked to step into the breach, as an Advisory Teacher of the Deaf. So began more than twenty years of working with pre-school hearing-impaired children and their families, advising teachers in mainstream schools on the needs of the hearing-impaired children in their care. Although I had started with the pre-school children alone it wasn’t long before I had a case-load from pre-school to College. The first post aural hearing aids, the OL67, had just come in. Auditory Training Units were initially an essential part of my equipment. I met some wonderful mothers who coped admirably with difficulties. I saw sadly a number of broken families with fathers who couldn’t accept the fact that their son would not follow in their profession. I worked as part of a team, which was particularly important as the number of multiply-handicapped deaf children increased. My greatest emphasis has always been that each child is an individual and that communication is of vital importance. If the child is able to make use of residual hearing, he or she should do so. An education focussing entirely on oralism failed a number of children, although some of those children were able to compensate with better lip-reading skills than those being educated with the help of signing, unless a truly total communication method is used which is unfortunately not always the case. I worked closely with consultants, attending clinics wherever possible. I learned a great deal about middle-ear problems and unusual syndromes, topics barely touched on in my training.

    I had the privilege to be involved in the initial plans for the purpose-built School for the Deaf, Heathlands School, and in discussions over which form of communication should be used. It was decided that the approach should be oral with the back-up use of Cued Speech. This worked very well for a number of children but was not meeting the needs of all. After a few years the school switched to using the back up of signs - in theory a Total Communication approach, but the best use of residual hearing was not always apparent.

    One of the most enjoyable and worthwhile activities which two colleagues and I ran for several years was the monthly meeting of our mother and baby group for pre-school children when we could observe the relationship between mother and child, help sort out problems, and arrange informal talks over particular aspects.

    In the late 1980s and early 1990s the trend away from specialisation in Special Education leading to a more generic approach led to my post being made redundant. For the long autumn term I was Acting Deputy Head at Heathlands School. It concerned me that a number of children were apparently not making the most of their residual hearing. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, meeting again some of the children I had known as babies. My professional life had swung full circle, beginning in a boarding school for the deaf and ending in a school for the deaf, which had some weekly boarders. For a while after that I assessed children with special educational needs not necessarily with hearing losses, since one of the team was terminally ill.

    I kept up my membership of BATOD and then, just as I was thinking I might let it lapse, my youngest grandchild was born in Hanover, Germany, in one of the few hospitals where new-born screening is carried out. This was not universal as it is in this country. At a few weeks old an EcoG confirmed a profound hearing loss. I was there with my daughter and the little one when it was carried out. He was fitted with enormous post-aural hearing aids and some of the worst ear moulds I have ever seen, so feedback was a constant problem. My daughter was told that the deafness was due to the Connex syndrome. She was advised the little one should have a cochlear implant. My younger daughter had always been the best at communicating with my sister. She was very musical and was well aware of the implications of deafness. She and her husband decided he should have the operation. My sister, as many deaf adults, was horrified at the idea of the little one having such invasive surgery. The first time she had seen her great nephew she took him in her arms and said, ‘He’s deaf like me’.

    At just under 8 months he was fitted with his first cochlear implant and at the age of 9 months he was switched on. My daughter had worked hard to keep him babbling and I had been a distant adviser. She also took part in a correspondence course with the Elizabeth Foundation in Portsmouth. She was very keen that he should be oral. She had a visiting teacher about once a month. My daughter was advised that, at least to start with, he should be spoken to in German only. At the age of 4 he had a second implant. He remembers the trauma of the operation vividly.

    He started school at 4 ½ and had the same teacher for the four years of the Primary School, who did her best to integrate him into the class. The health insurance company refused to provide him with a radio aid but a friend of my daughter’s had a contact and the company donated an aid to him. He was recommended for a grammar school placement and he now attends a grammar school in Hanover and is in the 8th class. In the 3rd year of the Primary School when he started to learn English at school my daughter began to speak English to him at home. He is now almost bi-lingual though his written German is probably better than his written English. He also learns French. He finds it very difficult, virtually impossible, to follow recordings in any language. About once a year he gets a visit from a Teacher of the Deaf. He has a radio aid, which the school has provided for him, but it is not always used or checked that it is working properly.

    He does remarkably well but it is difficult in a class of thirty and it is not appreciated under how much strain he is. He does not like to admit if he has not followed. He has found it difficult to make friends and is going through the difficult teenage years at present, trying to come to terms with his deafness and having an English mother. People who speak to him on a one to one basis feel there is no problem; he has a clear musical voice but in a group you can see how he seeks the faces of each speaker in turn. He is in the deaf and the hearing world but not quite secure in either. When I think of my happy well-adjusted sister I sometimes wonder, yet Rupert can use the telephone, travels independently long distances by train and is achieving academically far more than she ever could.

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    3. Forty years on. Elizabeth Andrews

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    4. Changes and challenges in deaf education. Ted Moore

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    5. Deaf education from the 1970s to 2016; a personal journey and recollection. Sue Lewis

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    6. Signs of the times. Miranda Pickersgill

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    7. Living in interesting times. Sue Gregory

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    8. Reflections on the inaugural meeting of BATOD in 1976. David Braybrook

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    9. Batting for BATOD. Ann Underwood

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