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Anne Mathams

A pioneer who spent her life helping physically disabled children to excel academically

A pioneer who spent her life helping physically disabled children to excel academically

Anne Mathams, a pioneer of education for children physically disabled with cerebral palsy, has died aged 97.

A former pupil of St George's School for Girls in Edinburgh, Anne started her teacher training in 1932 at Jersey Ladies' College and completed it at Moray House in Edinburgh. While there, she taught at several Edinburgh nursery schools where she developed her ambition to specialise in the teaching of physically-handicapped children.

In 1935, she qualified as an infant mistress and worked as an unattached teacher in Edinburgh primary schools, becoming headmistress of Stanwell Nursery in 1936, St Leonard's Nursery in 1939, and Moray House Nursery in 1941 where she lectured in nursery school methods.

In 1948, Anne was asked to become the first headteacher of Westerlea School in Edinburgh, which was being established by the Scottish Council for the Care of Spastics, now Capability Scotland.

Westerlea was the first residential school in Scotland to offer an education to pupils who previously had no place in the Scottish education system and during her time there, with very little money and precious few resources, she pioneered this area of education, devising ways for physically disabled young children to become part of the system by designing special equipment to enable them to read and communicate.

In this venture, she was supported by parents, dedicated teachers, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists and house staff.

She also devised and delivered a postal course, using original material, to housebound cerebral-palsied children for whom no local education was available. Many of her former pupils went on to develop careers. In addition, she lectured widely and Westerlea was visited by educationalists from all over the world.

For several years she was chair of the Edinburgh branch of the Nursery School Association and gave specialist assistance in the assessment for adoption of young babies. She also worked with parents with social problems. She was a founder member of the Scottish Council for the Care of Spastics; a member of Capability Scotland for many years; and although she retired from teaching in 1978, she continued to maintain an active interest in its aims and activities. She maintained a close link with Moray House and in 2002 was elected an honoured member of the college's former staff association.

In 1936 she became a member of the Educational Institute of Scotland and in 1972 was awarded a fellowship in recognition of her specialist work, augmented in 1979 by life membership.

In 2000, she was bestowed with the Elsie Inglis Award which honours women whose lives, work and actions represent women's achievements.

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