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TX: 12.04.04 – SPECIAL SCHOOLS – PART 1 – ROYAL SCHOOL FOR THE BLIND IN LIVERPOOL

PRESENTER: WINIFRED ROBINSON

THE ATTACHED TRANSCRIPT WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT. BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, THE BBC CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY

ROBINSON
The Government supports the integration of children with special needs into mainstream education. But some long established schools, meeting the needs of children with specific disabilities, are still going strong. This week John Thorne will be visiting some of those schools across the UK, starting with the Royal School for the Blind in Wavertree in Liverpool, the oldest of its kind in the world.

ACTUALITY - SCHOOL NOISE

THORNE
Final rehearsals for the end of year school show.

This is the Royal School for the Blind in the Wavertree suburb of Liverpool, one of the few specialist schools for children aged between 2 and 19 suffering from multiple disability visual impairment, known as MDVI. In the appreciative audience is the school's headteacher for the last 13 years Joe Byrne.

BYRNE
It certainly was the first blind school in the Commonwealth and certainly the longest running in the world, so we started officially in 1791 and so we're now in our 212th year.

THORNE
Originally where Lime Street railway station now stands it was first named the School for the Indigent Blind. Objectors said it would only produce blind fiddlers to fill the streets of Liverpool. But George IV gave 50 guineas and the royal patronage helped a blind merchant seaman, Edward Rushton, open the school.

It was the cruelty of the slave trade that spurred Rushton to help the blind.

SINGING

As a seaman who'd witnessed slaves suffering from red eye - a form of conjunctivitis that led to blindness - being thrown overboard in chains to drown.

SINGING

BYRNE
Rushton came back to Britain and was horrified at what was going on and vowed that he would never go on this journey again. But the anti-slave campaigners convinced him to go on another journey and to record everything that happened.

THORNE
On his second slave ship journey, from the Ivory Coast to Jamaica, Edward Rushton befriended a slave called Quamina smuggling him fresh water to try to fight off the red eye blindness. But in the Caribbean the ship was wrecked in a hurricane. Edward Rushton rushed down, tried to unlock as many of the chains of the slaves as possible, he managed to undo the first two before the ship went down. One of the slaves was Quamina.

SINGING

Now Rushton wasn't a very good swimmer and just at that point swimming towards him over a barrel was Quamina who grabbed hold of him, pulled him up on to the barrel, Quamina slipped off the barrel, pulled Rushton over the barrel and Rushton was washed ashore and survived but Quamina had lost his life in saving his new friend.

ACTUALITY - SCHOOL NOISE

THORNE
Today the charity school has some of the most up-to-date facilities an MDVI school can hope for, including a special feature just outside the canteen.

BYRNE
This announces their arrival.

GONG NOISE

THORNE
A wonderful sound, that gives them an appetite does it?

BYRNE
Well indeed, or maybe a warning we're here. And then as we get to the door into the dining room because the children aren't able to read a menu they can press a large switch here and here we go.

VERBAL MENU
Today's dinner is pasta bolognese and garlic bread and jelly and ice cream.

THORNE
Garlic bread and jelly.

BYRNE
That's it - pasta bolognese, garlic bread, ice cream and jelly. So there we go - each child knows what is on the table, so to speak.

THORNE
Everyone eats together in the canteen - carers, teachers, children. Simple communication is a major achievement for some of the students.

ACTUALITY
Vicky, can you tell me what's for dinner today?

Ice cream.

Ice cream? Is that one of your favourites?

Yes.

Oh well done, well done.

THORNE
The school is very proud of its tradition, its history. Its original purpose was to teach the blind to wind cotton, to line hats or make cabbage nets to help the blind earn a living with some dignity. But that has evolved.

BYRNE
It became clear probably 20 years ago that this group of children, who we now refer to as the multi-disabled visually impaired, needed a very specialist education and the school really saw that that was the way that we should go.

HARWOOD
I'm Daniel Harwood, I work in the Royal School of the Blind and I work with Bob's class.

BYRNE
We want to talk about some of the hard work that you do in school, what do you do when you go on your mobility lesson.

HARWOOD
I use a cane, look at all the traffic, like a bus, wagons.

BYRNE
And do you learn to go to different places?

HARWOOD
Yeah.

BYRNE
Tell us some other places.

HARWOOD
Somerfields, town, café.

THORNE
Daniel is in the senior school but some of the primary children arrive not only blind, perhaps deaf as well, but also unable to stand up on their own. One six-year-old girl took two years to stand unaided. Then the school started to teach her to walk with a walking frame. Joe Byrne told me the story.

BYRNE
This little walking frame had a handle across the front that she used to grip on to and push forward. And gradually over a period of six or ninth months, it sounds very cruel, but we started to dismantle the trolley around her, without her being aware. And she would stand on her own and take a few steps gripping on to what in essence was just a cut off of a brush tail, to be honest. And then gradually we cut the brush tail down and eventually she then started to walk just holding this tiny piece of wood in her hand.

THORNE
That's when the little girl's family was invited to the school on a pretext and the headteacher met them in one of the classrooms.

BYRNE
I called through the little girl's name and said - Can you come down to the next classroom please? The door opened and out came this little girl who by now was eight and a half and she walked the entire length of the corridor, down towards her parents and the family and you can imagine, the family in tears, myself and all the staff in tears and I'm filling up now even talking about it.

ACTUALITY - SCHOOL

THORNEY
At the Royal School it's been two centuries of education. Today nearly half the pupils are weekday residents, it's a constant struggle for the independent charity to fund the ongoing refurbishment that will maintain the school's role as a centre of excellence. And the show must go on as the children told Mr Byrne.

ACTUALITY
Can't wait for the show?

I know and my mum will be there.

Your mum will be there?

Yeah. Who else will be there? All the mums and dads?

Yeah.

So will you all do your very best?

Yeah.


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