THE HISTORY OF
SPECIAL EDUCATION

Education is Special is an oral history project. We talked to people about the last fifty years. We also think it is important to understand what happened before that. 

Click the years for more info!

Some of the schools we are working with are over 100 years old.
Until 1970 there were not enough places in schools for everyone with a Learning Disability. Some people got letters saying their child was “ineducable” and they couldn’t go to school.

PIONEERS OF SPECIAL
EDUCATION IN BIRMINGHAM

On the next page you will see the stories of three women who all played an important role in special education in Birmingham. Teaching has traditionally been quite a female-dominated profession. Three of the four schools we worked with now have female Head Teachers. 

DAME ELLEN PINSENT

Ellen Parker was born in Lincolnshire, but she moved to Birmingham and got married when she was 22.
Ellen was on the Special Schools Sub Committee at Birmingham City Council from 1900-1913. When she started, there were 100 children in special schools. When she left, there were nearly 1,300.

CLARA MARTINEAU

Clara Martineau followed in Dame Ellen’s footsteps. She took over her seat as a councillor and her position as Chair of the Special Schools Sub Committee in 1913.
We can see from the school records that Clara was also a frequent visitor to the schools.

SUDARSHAN ABROL

Mrs Abrol was born and educated in Pakistan. She came to England in 1963.
Sudarshan worked hard to build a career in Special Education, inspired by her daughter, who has cerebral palsy.
In 1983, she became the first woman of Asian heritage to be appointed as Head Teacher of a special school in Birmingham.

EDUCATION IS SPECIAL

FOX HOLLIES SCHOOL

The school’s name comes from the place where it first opened. In 1970, Fox Hollies Special School opened in Acocks Green.

The school was very well connected in the local community and had help in fundraising from the local police and social clubs.

It was a small building with all the classrooms based around a central hall area, where everyone could meet.

Now Fox Hollies shares a campus with Queensbridge School in Moseley.

It was also hoped that this would help overcome barriers:

“Pupils from the two schools are taught to relate positively to each other in a way that benefits everyone.”

There is a sensory room as well as an outdoor space which is used for gardening and playing.

Both schools had a strong focus on the performing arts, so they thought it would be good to work more closely together.

At Fox Hollies, Luci, Callum, Nathan, Reece and Josh did a brilliant job of helping us to collect stories and photos that we could use. They really taught us a lot about the school.

MAYFIELD SCHOOL

Mayfield is the second biggest special school in Birmingham.

For some of the students, English is not their first language, which adds extra difficulties for them in learning.

Nowadays, the school is much more strictly organised and professional, but it still has a very positive and friendly feel and a strong focus on performing arts. 

Mayfield has seen a lot of change, but still has strong links to its history through the dedicated long-serving staff.

At Mayfield, we had a wonderful time working with Hassanain, Shakur, Rashaan, Eesha and Joshua. They were full of enthusiasm, collecting a large number of surveys and recording some fantastic interviews.

dame ellen
pinsent
SCHOOL

This school will celebrate its 120th birthday in 2021 and it has changed a lot over that time!

It is now a primary school, but until the early 1990s, it was also a secondary school for boys.

All the classes are named after different animals.

Everyone talks of the welcoming, friendly atmosphere that is still there even as the school has got bigger. 

A new build extension (The Ellen Building) was opened on Monday 6th June 2016. It has a computing room and cooking room.

The school has had problems with flooding, which is why it’s been hard to find any old photos.

As well as all the modern facilities, the school has some lovely green spaces where the children do forest school activities. They also have lots of space to hold fetes and parties for the children’s families. 

The enthusiasm of all the pupils and staff for the school is clear to see.

VIRTUAL TOUR OF THE SCHOOL

Thanks to Amy, Matthew, George and Nathan at Dame Ellen Pinsent school for their excellent work in collecting stories there. Despite being our youngest group, they were great interviewers.

VICTORIA
SCHOOL

The Birmingham Crippled Children’s Association helped to set the school up. Their focus was mainly on children with physical disabilities.

In the early days, facilities were very basic. They had horse drawn ambulances to bring the children to school and there was no hot water.

The new school building was built in the 1960s, although many parts of it have been extended and improved since then. 

Victoria is now part of a federation of schools and colleges, sharing a campus with Victoria College and Longwill school for Deaf Children in Northfield. Cherry Oak Primary School is also part of the federation.

For those who visit the school for the first time, it can seem like quite a maze trying to find your way round it. Everything is on one level, so it is accessible for the many wheelchair users.

They have a swimming pool, sensory room, and lots of play equipment.

The school has a very active Friends of Victoria group, who have raised lots of money to pay for new facilities and trips for the students. 

The school first opened in 1905 on Jenkins Street in Small Heath.

After only four years, the school moved to Little Green Lane, where it must have shared the site with Dame Ellen Pinsent School.

In 1964, they moved to a new purpose-built school on Bell Hill in Northfield, which was named The Victoria School for Physically Handicapped Children.

Our Victoria group were inspirational. Harry, Taylor, Josh, Aioslin, Amaan and Yash were superb ambassadors for the project in the school. They made sure everyone knew about it, collected lots of surveys and did a great job of interviewing.

DISCOVER THE SCHOOL NOW