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How Was School?

(formerly know as 'What Did You Learn At School Today?')

About the Project

The 'How Was School?' project looks at Disabled People’s experiences of education over the last 100 years through the telling and recording of personal memories and histories of school. This truly unique collection designed and delivered by disabled people has produced an oral history resource that will serve as an archive in the public interest but will also be a practical tool for schools, colleges and other education providers to bring to life debates on citizenship, equality and diversity.

In uncovering an invisible and vital part of our society’s history, this project captures the changing educational experience of disabled people over the last century with the aim of creating a timeline of change between the old fashioned and paternalistic view of disabled children and young people as ‘ineducable’ to a more inclusive and empowering approach where disabled children and young people are valued and welcomed into their local school and communities.

It is only in the last 30 years that disabled people have had an opportunity to learn alongside their non-disabled peers in mainstream education settings. In the first half of the 20th Century disabled children and young people were routinely sent to residential institutions, often many miles from their families and communities. Some of these institutions provided an educational element, but the focus was often on ‘fixing’ the disabled child rather than embracing them.

This approach was driven by the traditional Medical Model of Disability which identifies the person with their impairment/health condition being identified as the problem, rather than the society we live in that creates barriers to disabled people participating as equal citizens.

Aims of the Project:

• We trained a group of disabled volunteers based in London to be oral history interviewers, who recorded the oral history interviews of 50 disabled people across England.
• The interviews were used to create a learning resource for schools, including lesson support worksheets with activities and teachers notes. This school pack will include a DVD resource.
• The schools pack may feature as a key resource for the proposed ‘Disabled People’s History Month’ and support elements of the National Curriculum. The resource provides an opportunity for disabled and non-disabled children and young people to learn together about the history of segregation/ inclusion and would link to the existing Citizenship work on Black history, Women's history and Lesbian & Gay (LBGT) history.
• We have created a public-access website which includes a historical timeline.
• All of the interviews, in their entirety, are housed and available to listen to in a public archive at the British Library. Find the full archive here.

Outcomes of the Project:

• The work values the experiences of every disabled person who was interviewed and their journeys at school.
• People will learn about and understand the day to day reality of life for many disabled people.
• Disabled young people will have a greater understanding of their history.

The 'How Was School' Website

Here you will find audio and video excerpts from over 50 interviews of disabled people talking about their experience of education, recorded by 10 disabled volunteers between 2011 and 2013. The full audio interviews are now housed at the British Library National Sound Archive and can be found here.

Please note: The website is a 'work in progress', we are adding and updating files continually, so please do keep visiting - and bear with us if you come across an excerpt that doesn't yet have an audio file attached to it, it will do soon! Similarly, resources are being updated and added to all the time.

With Thanks

The How Was School project would not have been the success it has been without all the people involved so ALLFIE would like to say some thank yous – firstly to everyone that we interviewed and for allowing us into your life to record your experiences – thank you for your huge commitment, time and patience,  to the disabled interviewers from London who travelled the country recording people’s stories, to the schools that piloted the worksheets at probably the busier time of the school year, to the project Advisory group for your wisdom and sound advice, to the British Library for their partnership, expertise and flexible support, to the volunteers who helped us with the enormous task of managing all of the material, to the transcript readers who have ploughed through hours of recordings, to Redweather productions for your ability to turn our ideas into film,  finally to the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation for believing in the work enough to fund us.