'Superb' celebration of singing, dancing and signing as 120-year-old charity gives thanks to its inspired founder
DERBY Cathedral was packed to the rafters with past and present students of Derby's Royal School for the Deaf.
Visitors were treated to overwhelming performances by the school's signing choirs and the Derby Cathedral girl choristers, as well as dances and poetry.
Dr Rosemary Guy, chair of governors at the school, told the packed cathedral: "I have been involved with the school and deaf children for about 25 years.
"During this time, I have seen the school develop and increase children's opportunities.
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"Children as far afield as Cumbria and London come to the school.
"Some parents come to Derby especially so their child can come to the Royal School for the Deaf.
"We try to develop the whole child by teaching through British Sign Language and English in a deaf-friendly environment.
"The signs of achievement in the young people of this school are really quite remarkable.
"The motto of the school is 'I Can Do' and the pupils live up to this in more ways than one."
The founder of the school, Dr William Roe, was inspired to dedicate his life to helping deaf people when, at the age of 21, he met a deaf man called Jack.
Dr Roe founded the Royal Institution for the Deaf as a charity in 1892.
Two years later, he opened a school in Belper.
It had only 16 students and his wife, Lydia, became the first woman qualified to teach deaf children.
The school then moved to Friar Gate in Derby in 1897 after a £12,000 fund-raising push.
This building was demolished in 1974 – a block of flats now stands on the site – and Princess Margaret opened the new school in Ashbourne Road in 1973.
At the end of the 19th century, deaf people were often treated miserably, judged by today's standards, and the institution was very progressive for its time.
Deaf children were still misunderstood, even if it was well-intentioned.
An example is how the name of the school for the deaf has evolved.
The original name was the Royal Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, Derby – a title which would be regarded as offensive today.
Teaching methods are no longer by rote learning but by empowering the pupil to play an active role in their education.
Lessons usually involve small groups of five or six and involve considerable interaction with the teacher and education assistant.
Subjects taught at Derby's Royal School for the Deaf School, now the biggest employer of deaf people in the East Midlands, have also changed emphasis over the years. The old school pushed the traditional three Rs and learning practical skills for the job market.
For boys, this included instruction in carpentry, metalwork, boot repairing and gardening. Girls learned cookery and laundry work.
The current school, which now has 141 pupils, offers a broad and balanced curriculum, which allows able students to study for a wide variety of GCSEs and other external qualifications.
Where the school's catchment was once very local, now it takes pupils from as far afield as Norfolk and Wales.
One of the school's current pupils, Ellie, said of the celebrations: "We enjoyed the evening, the music was superb. I wish that we could do something similar again in the future.
"I enjoyed dancing and singing in front of the audience and I couldn't believe how many people came to the cathedral.
"The cathedral was decorated beautifully. The girls' cathedral choir was brilliant on the night and it was a privilege to sign alongside them as part of my school's deaf choir."
Year seven pupil Wasif said: "I enjoyed watching the dance and choirs singing and signing altogether. I will never forget the evening."
Bethan, another year seven pupil, said: "The night at the cathedral was the best time ever – a lovely cathedral full of happy people."
Ex-pupil Ben said: "I went to the Royal School for the Deaf Derby from the ages of three to 19 and they helped me get to university.
"I have just graduated and I am very proud of my achievements."
Another ex-pupil, Kazu, had a lot of praise for the school's work: "I joined the school when I was 15 and stayed for post 16. I am now at university thanks to the teachers at school."
Jerry Hanifin, a prominent member of the deaf community in Derby, gave a moving speech in British Sign Language at the Derby Cathedral celebration about what the school meant to him.
Mr Hanifin – described by principal Cheryll Ford, as a "great ambassador for the school" – praised its founder, Dr William Roe, for caring about deaf people and devoting his life to helping them.
He told the students to look at the sky and thank Dr Roe for all the work he had done.
Mr Hanifin then went on to tell a story about a time he had visited Derby Cathedral when a band were playing and, although he is deaf, found it to be a wonderful and experience.
He said: "My friend and I listened through our eyes. The musicians' pages were moving in unison and we could see the music."