Obituary: Stanley Segal
Saturday 09 July 1994
STANLEY SEGAL was a rare combination of teacher, publicist, campaigner and champion of the rights of people with learning difficulties. He pursued these and many other goals with single-minded determination but also with warmth and humanity.
It was largely due to Segal's campaigning that the Government agreed in 1968 to transfer responsibility for the education of children with severe learning difficulties from health to education authorities at national and local level. He can also take the principal credit for persuading the Government to set up of the Warnock Committee on children and young people with special educational needs in 1974. This paved the way for the 1981 Education Act and for many other influential developments in policy and practice.
Earlier still, as a young teacher in the 1950s, he founded the Guild of Teachers of Backward Children, which now flourishes as the National Association for Special Educational Needs. In 1973 he was one of the founders of the Association of Professions for the Mentally Handicapped (now known as Bridges). From 1975 to 1980, he was one of the most clear-sighted and effective members of the National Development Group for the Mentally Handicapped which advised successive Secretaries of State for Social Services on mental handicap policy and its implementation. .
Segal was a prolific writer and publicist, from the army journal he edited during the Second World War to an article he wrote for Special Children only a month ago, when he was seriously ill. Perhaps his most influential book was No Child is Ineducable (1966) - a title which said it all. Not long ago he followed it up with Are We Ineducable?, which challenged service planners and providers to put into practice the knowledge already available on how people with learning difficulties could be helped to learn and to develop.
Segal was well-informed about research developments and contributed to many national and international conferences on learning difficulties and sought to incorporate relevant findings into staff training. This was recognised by the award of an honorary professorship by Bulmershe College, near Reading, with which he was closely involved. He was also one of a small group of individuals and organisations who in 1968 raised funds to establish Manchester University's Hester Adrian Research Centre, which became the leading centre of its kind in Europe and still influences professional practice in many countries.
He was head of several special schools for children and young people with physical or learning difficulties, including the Franklin Delano Roosevelt School in Swiss Cottage, north London, but he will be best remembered for the many years he and his wife, Tamar, spent at Ravenswood Centre for Special Education, a residential centre outside Wokingham, in Berkshire, funded by the Jewish community for children and adults with what we now call learning disabilities.
The Segals aimed to make Ravenswood a model residential community, where each resident was valued for their individual qualities and given the best available opportunities to develop their personality as well as their abilities. Segal referred to Ravenswood as 'an island of sanity surrounded by a sea of madness'. He shared the vision of care in the community and worked for it throughout his life but maintained, contrary to prevailing orthodoxies, that village communities such as Ravenswood had a rightful place in the spectrum of provision, and that there were still many families who felt that such communities were best suited to the needs of their relatives. It was because of this conviction that he risked unpopularity by chairing Rescare, a parents' organisation opposed to the run-down and closure of long-stay hospitals. He foresaw the problems which would arise from lack of support and inadequate funding of community services.
Retirement from Ravenswood merely led to a higher level of passionate but informed advocacy for people with learning difficulties; he developed strong international links with Europe and with developing countries. Most recently, he founded the International Centre for Special Education at Middlesex University and was working for a northern branch at Manchester just before his last illness.
One of Stanley Segal's greatest qualities was his ability to work with other people, his commitment to collaboration between the different disciplines both at the grass roots and also at the level of ministers and government departments. He was a teacher through and through, with a deep respect for people with learning difficulties, committed to the proposition that everyone was able to learn and to develop, provided they were given skilled support and time to learn. His undoubted success as an agent of change came from his vision of what was possible, from his shining integrity as a human being and from the love which he inspired in all who met him.
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