Tuesday, 1 July 2008

School at risk

Age discrimination by disability charity alleged

The current issue of the UK’s fortnightly magazine Private Eye has brought to national attention a local story that has exercised local media attention for a year or so now in the East Midlands. By its very nature, the story is unlikely to receive much further coverage. What must in reality have been a long, personally unpleasant and complex experience is summarised baldly below

Rutland House is a small residential school in Nottingham for multiply disabled children. It is owned by the charity Scope, formerly known as the Spastics Society, once a pioneering national charity for the families of children with cerebral palsy, now concerned mainly with campaigning on ‘disability issues’ (there is no longer a national cerebral palsy organisation in the United Kingdom). Rutland House of one of three Scope schools that employs conductors. In 2005 Scope announced that it would be closing all its schools in favour of inclusive placements.

In April 2007 the long-standing (28 years) head-teacher of Rutland House, Carole Oviatt-Ham was sacked by Scope, following allegations that she had bullied a parent and made a child-protection referral without proper discussion. Parents of children at the school were appalled at Scope’s action and Ms Oviatt-Ham appealed to an Employment Tribunal on the grounds that she was being discriminated against on the grounds of her age (she is 61).

Now, in June 2008, Scope has settled out of court, writing to the remaining parents at the school to say:

The dismissal did not fall within the band of reasonable responses by an employer… Scope accepts that Carole did not commit gross misconduct. Scope admits that Carole Oviatt-Ham was unfairly dismissed.

In a public statement, Scope has said:

Following an internal review and discussions between Scope and Carole Oviatt-Ham, we are pleased to confirm that we have resolved the issues between the parties and have settled the outstanding employment tribunal claim. Scope admits that the acts of misconduct for which Carole Oviatt-Ham was dismissed did not constitute fundamental breaches of her contract of employment and that the dismissal did not fall within the band of reasonable responses by an employer. Scope accepts that Carole did not commit gross misconduct.Scope admits that Carole Oviatt-Ham was unfairly and wrongly dismissed.

Both parties wish to draw a line under the matter and wish each other well in future. No further statements will be made.

The out-of-court settlement included an undisclosed (and presumably substantial) cash payment, made on condition of Ms Oviatt-Ham’s no longer being able to discuss the case publicly (a ‘gagging order’). Parents, former parents and supporters of the school have been less inhibited and expressed themselves vehemently in the local press. (see comments to local press reports below).

Over the last year the number of pupils at the school has fallen from around twenty-five to under fourteen, a barely sustainable number without major financial subsidy. The acting head teacher of Rutland House is former conductor Tracy Linehan.

The Spastics Society/Scope’s involvement in Conductive Education over the years has been problematic, punctuated by cash-for-silence gagging orders on senior staff who have left suddenly and without notice:

Vice-Admiral Sir John Cox, Director, left Jan 1988

Ken Young Chief Executive, 1988-1993

Ann Robinson Chief Executive, May 1993-April 1995

If Scope fulfils the announced intention to close its remaining schools, then its sole remaining involvement with Conductive Education will be through the Schools for Parents Network, which it describes as run according to the principles of Conductive Education.

Notes and references

Rutland House School

– (2008) Scope loses its head, Private Eye, no1213, 27 June – 10 July, p. 27

– (2008) Rutland House – Scope’s letter, Nottingham Evening Post, 16 June

Greenwell, M. (2008) Mapperley Park school head dismissal ‘unfair’, Nottingham Evening Post, 16 June

Greenwell, M., Parsons, R. (2008) Charity school head teacher unfairly sacked, Nottingham Evening Post, 16 June


  1. 15 Comments have been added to the Nottingham Evening Post, 16 June, article "Charity school head teacher unfairly sacked"

    2 comments have been added to the article "Mapperley Park School head dismissal unfair"

  2. Sorry, Andrew, my mistake: not 2 comments to the "Mapperley Park school head ..." article, but 1 comment to the "Scope's letter" article.

  3. i don't like the shop SCOPE much. Their clothes are really worn out and dirty.

  4. Thanks, Norman, but never mind the precise number of responses to which particular article, it's the nature of the postings, and their unanimity, that impress. They remind me of the postings on Scope's own message board wnen it closed an adult residential facility in Wales a couple of years or so ago (I think that the mechanics of that message board were changed soon after so that this sort of thing can no longer occur there).

    It must be very difficult nowadays running a very large organisation for the benefit of disabled children and adults and their loved ones.

    And Ben, you expect too much of life: the worn, second-hand, and shabby are widely recognised as good enough for people who have no choice, no purchasing power, not 'the best' that can be provided but 'sufficient'.

    And I don't mean just old clothes.

  5. You mean old motorbikes.

    Here's another good blog.


    I'm going to get blog going again once i've figured out what it will be for.

  6. My son Thomas attended Rutland house from being 18 months old first in the nursery and then moving into the main school as a day pupil and without the support of Carole Oviatt Hamm and her staff our family wouldn't have known how to cope with a severely handicapped boy. We cannot praise them enough and we are disgusted with her treatment at the hands of scope. Scope have now got their own way and wreaked a brilliant school , the best in the midlands and north of england . When we were attending the school families travelled from Sheffield, Leicester, Manchester, Greece, Yemen, to name but a few places. What are scope going to spend the money on from selling the school buildings more office staff in London instead of hands on work with families. I know as a former parent of of child with cerebral palsy which is more important

    1. What a pity! I 've been there as a physiotherapist from Greece on 1987 with two children of our rehab center, staying and educating on conductive education and I had the opportunity to have been taught from carol and her stuff ! it was impressive, how functional was the whole system, in a residential care school or in a part time pupils and parents. U.K. has lost the BEST! so what's NEXT?

  7. Fast forward nearly five years: