Education resources for schools and colleges on the history of learning disability, 1900 to the present day

The Open University, UK Disability History Month and Access All Areas have collaborated to produce this on-line resource

With the prevalence of negative language about disabled people and increased name based bullying at school or college particularly for students with learning difficulties this resource will be useful to teachers to raise understanding and empathy amongst students.

This new online resource comprises a bank of educational activities from Year 5 through to Year 13 on the history of learning disability. It is relevant to a wide range of subject areas, for both mainstream and special educational provision. Many of the activities area also suitable for adults with learning disabilities who are interested in history. The activities cover various aspects of learning disability history, from the early 20th century to the present day, spanning life in institutions and in the community. The activities also engage with contemporary issues of equality, rights, discrimination, disablist language and bullying.

The activities are built around the film No Longer Shut Up by Advocreate (see below), focusing on the life of Mabel Cooper who was institutionalised at 3-weeks-old until she was in her 30s. Upon her release, Mabel became an active campaigner for people with learning disabilities and was awarded an Honorary Degree from The Open University in 2010 in recognition of her work. Mabel believed passionately in the importance of teaching young people about the history of policies and practices that stigmatised and separated people. She argued until the final week of her life in 2013 that this aspect of disabled people’s history in the UK needed to be known, to help change attitudes and improve people’s lives in the future.

View the film and plan which activities you will use. No Longer Shut Up timings describes scenes in the film and gives timings so you can choose which clips you want to show. The treatment of those labeled as ‘feeble-minded’ and their incarceration in institutions following the Mental Deficiency Act 1913 are a sorry part of our recent history. It is recommended that before working with these materials you read Institutionalisation: an historical perspective by Professor Jan Walmsley or a shortened version by UK Disability History Month.

You may also find it useful to read the Guide to using the education resources as well as viewing the table below, which provides links to the activities. The table clarifies which subject areas each activity relates to, and which year groups they appropriate for.

Finally, we have compiled a list of additional resources for you. Some of these resources are included in specific activities, and others are further ideas you may wish to follow up.

The activities

(Please note: activity titles with an asterisk (*) next to them in the table below are suitable for adults with learning disabilities.)

Activity Title Years 5-6 (upper KS2) Years 7-9 (KS3 Years 10-11 (KS4) Years 12-13 (KS5) Curriculum area
1 Labels good and bad* Tutor group, English, Drama, PHSE, Psychology, Sociology
2 Being in punishment* English, ICT, Drama
3a Living in an institution: how it felt* Drama, Art, Media
3b Living in an institution: work machines* Drama
3c Living in an institution: a day in the life* Drama
4 Leaving an institution* English, History, PHSE
5 Eden’s story* PHSE, English, Tutor Group
6 Entering an institution* Drama, English
7 Songs of resistance* Music
8 Changing labels* PHSE – anti-bullying work
9 Do’s and don’ts of life story interviewing* History/Geography, Local Studies, Media, English
10 Fighting for rights* Tutor time, PHSE, English, Media, RE
11 What happened when: learning disability timeline 1* History, PHSE
12 Eugenics and false science Science/False Science, PHSE, Psychology, Sociology, Politics
13 Geography of mental deficiency institutions in Great Britain ICT, Geography, History, Citizenship
14 How people have been treated: learning disability timeline 2 History, Citizenship, Tutor time
15 Learning from research: learning disability timeline 3 History, Citizenship, Factual English, ICT
16 Challenging disablist language, bullying and harassment Citizenship, RE, Tutor time, English, History, whole-school anti-bullying
17 Graphing the impact of the Mental Deficiency Act Mathematics KS3-5, ICT KS3-5 graphic representation, KS5 Statistics and Psychology
18 Barriers then and now* Tutor time, PHSE


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