Some two years after their initial meeting at Manchester’s Corn Exchange on 11th June 1823, Robert Philips and William Bateman, the founders of the original charity, opened their school for deaf children in rented premises in Salford. Eight girls and six boys were given places funded entirely by public subscriptions. Within four years demand grew and a purpose-built school was needed.
New methods of education
It was not until 1894 and after much pressure on the government from the school’s President, Lord Egerton of Tatton, that legislation was passed which extended much-needed state education to deaf children.
1880 saw the first experimental audio-phone used at the school. In the same year a landmark conference in Milan imposed wholly oral methods of education on all deaf schools. This remained in place until the 1970s.
A move to Cheadle Hulme
Close ties with the University of Manchester started at the end of the Great War when the first lectureship in Deaf Education was founded and by 1920 students from the department began their teaching practice at the school. The first audiometers were used with students in 1929 which led to them being fitted with the latest ‘multi-phones’ and later with electric amplifiers in 1934 – designed by a research physicist at the University of Manchester. A post Second World War move to Cheadle Hulme saw the students move into new accommodation. At the same time increasing numbers of deaf children with additional needs, whose needs could not be met elsewhere, joined the school.
As early as 1947, Manchester and London were beginning to launch “Partially Hearing Units”, classes in mainstream schools for children with hearing loss which meant families could send their children to schools nearer their home rather than a boarding school. These units were taught by a teacher of the deaf and rapidly spread throughout the country.
Education Act 1981
The 1981 Education Act stated that children with special educational needs such as hearing impairments should, wherever possible, be educated within mainstream schools. Technological advances in hearing aids, FM systems and other devices made it easier for mainstream schools to include Deaf children in classes with their hearing peers, and societal attitudes towards people with disabilities shifted. By the 1990s, schools saw a significant change in society’s expectations as “integration” gave way to “inclusion”. It was no longer enough to bring Deaf children into the mainstream setting; the school itself had a responsibility to include them.
Local authorities began including deaf children in mainstream provision and a special unit was opened in 1972 for students with more complex needs. By 1979 a decision was taken by the school to specialise only in those pupils with additional and complex needs. 52-week provision began in earnest in 1986, and the school’s specialist Deafblind or Multi-Sensory Unit was opened in 1990.
The Royal School for the Deaf
The Royal School for the Deaf, as we were then known, became a school for those children and young people whose needs could not be met in mainstream settings – initially those who were profoundly deaf, and later, as their local schools became better equipped to educate students with a wide range of hearing impairment, students with additional needs including autism, visual impairments, learning disabilities and complex health needs.
In order to reflect the changing nature of the cohort, our charity began to use the name ‘Royal School for the Deaf and Communication Disorders’ and focused on developing communication skills for people with a variety of sensory impairments and learning disabilities. Our provision for young adults – initially contained within the school’s Post-16 department – grew until it was decided to operate Royal College Manchester as an independent FE college, separate from the school.
Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001
The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act of 2001 led to the rapid growth in the number of students being referred to the college on campus. By 2005 such were the numbers being referred to the college that a total refurbishment of the building was undertaken. This was completed in 2007, followed a year later, by the addition of further facilities.
Ten Years of Seashell Trust: 2008-2018
2018 marked the tenth anniversary of our charity being reconstituted as Seashell Trust and operating Royal School Manchester and Royal College Manchester.
The name Seashell Trust was chosen in 2008 to both honour our roots as a school for Deaf children (the conch shell, with the shape of the cochlear or inner ear having been our previous identity) and to mark our changing student population. Today, young people with a hearing impairment still represent a significant proportion of our student body but all have additional complex needs such as CHARGE syndrome, autism and severe or profound learning disabilities. Many of our learners have no diagnosed hearing loss.
Since 2008, Seashell has seen many exciting changes. The launch of the college’s new Seashell Supported Internship has offered a crucial stepping stone for young people with complex needs who want to enter the world of work, and the school has joined Manchester Teaching School’s Alliance, raising standards for education around Greater Manchester. Seashell was proud to support ‘A Level Playing Field’ project to bring more inclusive sports options to children in youth clubs across the country, and research projects into topics such as olfaction as a communication system, music for people with complex needs and 3D printing for independence continued to improve educational provision for learners around the country.
Our Transforming Lives Appeal was launched to support the transformation of the entire campus – the biggest development since the charity moved to Cheadle Hulme in the early 1950s.
A £10million investment enabled the Trust to progress with the first significant phase in its transformation – the construction of Sir Norman Stoller Way, a community of 17 home-from-home 4 bedroom houses.
Seashell is now embarking on the next key stage in its transformation – the development of a new school.
It has always been our belief that everyone – no matter their ability or disability – deserves to be able to communicate. It is only when we are able to express ourselves, understand other people and participate in making decisions that we are able to live truly safe, happy and fulfilling lives, and developing functional communication is key to unlocking a world of opportunity.