Oak Lodge was established by the old London County Council and opened on August 28th 1905 as a boarding school for deaf girls aged 11-16. It was in a rather beautiful old house next to Nightingale Lane and surrounded by lots of trees. The house used to belong to the curator of Kew Gardens. There were
lots of old oak trees in the garden, so the school was called Oak Lodge. There was another school for Jewish deaf children next door, actually on the site where we are now, which had started in 1899. There was no contact between the two schools for the first 50 years – there was a high wall separating them. All the staff at that first Oak Lodge were women and they were all hearing. They never used Sign Language. It is interesting to look at the old records and see what the girls were taught – they learned English, Art, some P.E., a little Maths, but lots of cookery, needlework and laundry – they were really being prepared to become servants and domestic workers. Many came from poor homes where they had not been well fed and illness was common. The school thought that an important part of its job was to give the girls plenty of fresh air and better food to help them become stronger.
In 1939 the Second World War started, and it was decided that the school must move. It was too dangerous in London because of the bombs. All the pupils and staff moved to a camp near Bognor. In 1940 there were bombs near the camp so they decided they would have to move again, this time to Northampton. It must have been a very difficult time – looking at the old school records for one month in 1940, there were over 100 alarms because of bombs. At the end of the war, in 1945, everyone returned to London, but first they had to repair the Oak Lodge building because 2 bombs had hit the school during the war.
In 1955 Oak Lodge changed and the girls did not board any more – it became a day school. There was another school for deaf boys in Anerley, near Crystal Palace. This closed in 1957 and the boys transferred to Oak Lodge, so from that time it was a day school for about 60 boys and girls. There was still no Sign Language used by the staff. The old school was very different from today – staff were very strict. If anyone was naughty they were hit with the cane. The punishment book from those days makes for interesting reading. One entry from 1948 says: “rudeness and impudence – 2 strokes “.
In 1965 the Jewish school closed and then in 1968 both schools were demolished and the present building – the new Oak Lodge – was built. There were 40 pupils, boys and girls, and the hostel started for children to sleep here Monday to Friday each week. There were just 6 full-time teachers with 3 part-time teachers of art, mime and music. It is interesting to read that the whole school cost just £241,000 to build, and all the furniture and equipment cost only £23,000.
There was still very little signing in the school though I know the children signed amongst themselves. There were no deaf teachers.
In the new Oak Lodge, for the first time, deaf children started to take and pass real exams – that had not happened before. The school became very successful. 1977 was the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Year. Two schools in all of London were chosen for her to visit as part of the celebration, and Oak Lodge was one of those schools. Preparations went on for months – rooms and corridors were painted, new tarmac in the playground, and they even built a new toilet in case the Queen wanted to use it during her visit! She stayed in the school for about 40 minutes, met children and staff and signed the visitors’ book. The Head Boy had just finished work experience at the factory where the Queen’s handbags are made and he talked to her about that. Everyone was very proud that Oak Lodge had been chosen.
Oak Lodge today is a very different place compared to 100 years ago, or even just 10 years ago. Many of our teachers and teaching assistants are themselves deaf and a significant number of our pupils are hearing impaired with speech and language difficulties. This has been a very important development for Oak Lodge – we feel we are very much a part of the Deaf Community. Our pupils and staff sign very well, and indeed many of our pupils now have Sign Language qualifications just like the staff.
Pupils have the chance to take exams in a wide range of subjects, not only at GCSE level, but we also use other types of exams including the new NVQ qualifications. We also place high priority on other kinds of learning – how to travel on public transport safely, how to find out information for themselves, how to make good decisions, what communication to use in what situation, etc.