An archive photo of kids on a climbing frame

Reflections on the first term of Education is Special

The last few months have been a real voyage of discovery for everyone involved in the Education is Special project. At the end of this term, we now have a team of twenty enthusiastic, trained oral history recorders in four schools, a much bigger bank of knowledge than we had in September thanks to a brilliant effort in collecting surveys in the schools and over 30 recordings of people’s oral histories.

When we started this project, we knew we’d set ourselves some very challenging targets. There is still a long way to go to collect more stories and turn them into our finished product to surprise, amaze and move people who still know very little about special schools. However, with the amazing team we have, we know that we can do it.

students at Victoria interviewing Barry Male

Victoria is the school we’ve been working in the longest and it’s been such a pleasure working with everyone there. From the group, Harry, Josh, Aoislin, Taylor and Yash have already recorded their stories for us, plus we’ve spoken to another student, to two Teaching Assistants, Barry and Adrian, as well as Di, who’s in the senior leadership team, one former parent, Joan, whose son went to the school in the 1970s and a former pupil from the same period. Adrian gave us the most jaw-dropping moment of the project with his story about an old lady who they met in Northfield and what she said about the children. Listen here and prepare to be shocked.

Shakur

The students at Mayfield have also put in some great work, recording Shakur and Josh’s stories from the students, as well as fascinating insights from five members of staff who’ve been working there over the past three decades. David is one of the Teaching Assistants at the school and had this inspiring message to share. They’ve also completed 45 surveys with staff and students at the school and we’re looking forward to sharing what these reveal soon. They certainly show a different side to life in special schools from what most people might expect.

students from Fox Hollies school

Fox Hollies is the school with the students who have the most severe Learning Disabilities, but we have a fantastically keen group there. Despite a couple of our interviews being interrupted by an ambulance arriving, they did brilliantly well to keep going and we now have three pupils’ stories recorded, as well as one member of staff. Here’s Tracy talking about the problems their students have faced outside of school. They’ve also helped us to look through archive photos and pick out some great images to tell the story of the school. This is one of my favourites with the students exhausted after a day trip.

tired students after a day trip

Our group at Dame Ellen were the last to start and are the youngest pupils, but they’ve done a superb job of catching up, having now recorded two pupils and two members of staff giving their stories of life at the school, with lots more to come. Andrina was extremely positive about life at Dame Ellen and special schools in general. You can hear a short clip of her here. We also brought in a former pupil, who’s now in her forties to share her memories of what the school was like when she was there with them. They had already started doing their own project on the history of the school before we came in for the first time, so had a lot of their own knowledge to add. I hope we’ll be able to share the video they made.

students from Dame Ellen Pinsent

One of the highlights of the term for me was when the three older groups of pupils visited the Library of Birmingham Archives for a session to learn about what is stored there and what will happen to the materials they collect. They got to see the oldest document in the collection, complete a quiz about some of the other pieces held in the archives and think about what they would like to put in there to reflect their lives.

Library visit

We had some wonderful feedback on that session: one of the teachers said “It was pitched exactly right for our students. Thank you for a brilliant morning.”

I would like to say a very Merry Christmas and thank you to everyone who’s been working so hard on the project. I can’t wait to tell all the fantastic stories we collect next year.

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