Maureen Hattey, née Langford, a champion for special needs children in Farnham and surrounding areas, has died at the age of 78. 

Maureen’s dedication and passion has left an indelible mark on the lives she touched.

Born in 1944 in Oxfordshire, and growing up in Muswell Hill and North London with her family, from a young age Maureen had a love of drama and the creative arts, which shaped her future endeavours. 

After leaving school, Maureen went to Southlands College in Wimbledon to complete her teaching training from where she embarked on a teaching career initially in mainstream primary schools.

In her early 20s Maureen married and settled in Croydon, where she continued to teach and started a family. She also subsidised her teacher’s salary with a part-time job at a showhouse on a new housing estate, which resulted in Maureen and her young children becoming the face of Wates, the building company, appearing in advertisements for the business.

After moving to Farnham in 1977, Maureen’s commitment to education led her to study for a degree in education studies through the Open University. She went on to achieve further degrees and qualifications throughout her life in her pursuit of excellence in education.

A significant turning point in Maureen’s career came when she joined the Child Development Centre at Charing Cross Hospital, working under the guidance of the distinguished paediatrician Dr Hugh Jolly. 

Here, she worked with disabled children, combining her teaching expertise with valuable research. 

Embracing Dr Jolly’s innovative approach of listening to children and their parents, which was novel at the time, Maureen went on to apply this ethos throughout her career to ensure children and their families received the right care and support. 

In 1989 she moved to the Ridgeway Community School, a special school in Farnham catering for pupils aged two to 19. Now called the Ridgeway School, Maureen joined as a senior teacher specialising in the creative and performing arts. 

From this point forward, Maureen dedicated herself to ensuring her students had the same opportunities as their mainstream counterparts, and she played an instrumental role in transforming the perception of special needs education from institutionalised settings to a more community-focused approach.

She was then appointed deputy head of the Ridgeway Community School before becoming headteacher in 1997. She assumed this role during a challenging time when the school faced serious shortcomings in infrastructure, facilities, teaching and leadership, as highlighted by a poor Ofsted inspection. 

At the same time, special needs education was changing. The government had a vision of collaboration between mainstream and special needs schools, and the Ridgeway became a test case for this initiative.

Maureen spearheaded a transformative journey to lift the school out of special measures. Under her leadership, the school underwent significant developments including the construction of new buildings and facilities. 

She oversaw the relocation of the nursery to a mainstream setting – Pilgrims Way School, now Highfield South Farnham – and the transfer of further education students to Farnham Sixth Form College. 

Working closely with her team, the chair of governors, Cyril Trust, and parents, Maureen achieved significant improvements in teaching, learning, and overall school management. 

Her dedication paid off as the school emerged from special measures within just 18 months. In 2002, an Ofsted inspection rated the Ridgeway Community School as “good with outstanding features.”

Maureen’s visionary philosophy focused on integrating the school within the community and vice versa. She championed her students and their families, tirelessly advocating for the support and opportunities they deserved. 

Her creative spirit shone through her initiatives, such as fundraising for a new playground and launching the school’s horticultural arm, despite having no previous gardening experience. 

She fostered collaborations with mainstream schools like Weydon, strengthening bonds and enriching educational opportunities. 

Maureen was also very proud of the relationship between the Abbey School and the Ridgeway Community School. This was a new initiative, not seen elsewhere between special schools, which needed the support of parents, staff and other stakeholders to ensure its success. 

Along with the leadership team at the Abbey School, Maureen initiated cultural exchanges where students could participate in different activities hosted by each school. This included students from the Abbey School taking part in the Ridgeway’s creative arts week, a highlight of the year for both the school and Maureen, whose passion for the performing and creative arts continued throughout her life.

Expecting nothing short of greatness from her students, Maureen’s commitment ensured they were prepared to thrive in society. When she retired in 2005, she left the Ridgeway School in a significantly better position, paving the way for its continued success under the guidance of the present leadership team.

Following her retirement, Maureen embarked on adventures around the globe with her partner, Will, until his death in 2015. 

She also enjoyed a pint – always a jug with a handle – and socialising with friends at the Hop Blossom, where former parents of the Ridgeway School would often interrupt their discussions to express gratitude for her service.

Maureen Hattey is survived by her children, Dale, Nicola and Ross. Her contribution to special needs education and her unwavering dedication to ensuring equal opportunities for all has left a legacy in Farnham at the Ridgeway School and has transformed the lives of countless children and their families.

Her funeral – which will be a celebration service at St Andrew’s Church in Farnham– will take place on Thursday, July 6 at 10am.

Jane Woodyer