A permanent home (1964 onwards)

  • Onwards and upwards

    With the teaching accommodation sorted out, attention could be turned to the curriculum. For some time there had been dissatisfaction with the Association of Occupational Therapists' syllabus dealing with practical activities. The development of "Activities of Daily Living" was essential but progress was limited by the rigid requirements of the examination system. The School made representations to the Board of Studies and, partly as a result of this, this section of the AOT syllabus was revised in 1968. Now the Peto Rehabilitation Unit (named after Sir Geoffrey Peto, one of the Elizabeth Casson Trust's original Trustees, and known as "the cottage") came into its own, allowing the students to really experience the problems of living with a disability. Dorset House students, trying out wheelchairs and crutches, also became a regular feature in the shops of Headington and even appeared in the local press.

    One area of accommodation that did need further review, though, was student accommodation. The very nature and location of the existing hostel (at the end of a private, wooded road) meant that it had had to be run on somewhat institutional lines, with students being checked in at night. With changes in society (the age of majority was finally reduced from 21 to 18 in 1970) it was clear that a more liberal, less nannied approach was needed. It was also clear that Harberton House might not provide the best environment for this. Hence, in 1969 the decision was made to sell off Harberton and build a new hostel. When 1 Latimer Road and 60 London Road (both immediately adjacent to Dorset House) came onto the market they were purchased to provide lodgings for 18 students. Garden space provided the opportunity for further building and in September 1971 (after some difficulties at the design stage) Mary Macdonald House was opened, housing approximately thirty further students.

    Another change at this time came with the academic calendar. For some time the arrangement of having two intakes of students per year had provided problems for staff (with time-tabling and workloads) and students (especially for the February intake who felt out of step with colleagues following the traditional academic year). In 1969, therefore, it was decided to revert to one combined entry per year in September. The School's two main lecture rooms were extended to accommodate this larger group.

    Bye bye, Mac

    1971 witnessed another milestone in Dorset House's history with the retirement of Miss Macdonald after 33 years as Principal. During this time she had nurtured Dorset House, taking it from a limited student-base with limited academic coverage to a School offering a more broad-based education to over 80 students per annum. Mac could be tough, but that was exactly what was required to see the institution through the uncertainties of War and to establish it as a well-respected place of education in Oxford. But as well as being a formidable administrator and teacher, she was also an accomplished academic in her own right. She wrote and edited two books on Occupational Therapy (including Therapy and rehabilitation, the first OT textbook in the UK, and World wide conquest of disabilities, based on her BLitt research), was active in committee work and was a pioneer on the international stage of OT education.

    In order for ex-students to get the opportunity to pay tribute to her achievements, a Reunion was arranged in July 1971. Alumni were contacted by post. Such was the response that a cheque sufficient to enable Mac to go on a world tour was presented to her, along with a book containing the signatures of all those who had contributed. Mac was so overwhelmed by this gift that -for once- she was lost for words!

    Miss Macdonald's successor was Miss Betty Collins who had been Vice Principal for 17 years, so the transition caused less upheaval than might have been the case. Miss Joan King, herself a graduate of Dorset House, joined to take over Miss Collins' previous post. Other changes came with the retirement of several long-serving members of School staff. Miss Hance, who had taught weaving and had become Head of the Craft Staff in the early 'sixties, retired in 1973. Mr Maggs, woodwork teacher since 1948, retired in the same year, to be followed by Mr Nott (metalwork and basketry instructor from 1949) the following year. Miss Christer sadly died in 1973, shortly before she was due to retire from her post as Warden.

    Big changes came with the students as well as the staff at this time. As with other "female professions", Occupational Therapy was -by the 'seventies- starting to open its doors more widely to male entrants. Dorset House finally caught up with other Schools in 1976. Up until then, it had been thought of in some quarters as "the finishing school for doctors' daughters". 1976 saw the first three male students enrol, one of whom went on to be a tutor at the School.

    Miss Collins' retirement in the summer of 1977 was marked by another Reunion. She was succeeded by Miss Jean Edwards, appointed as Principal Elect in the May and confirmed as Principal in the September. The following year Sir Hugh Casson decided to retire as Chair of the Governors. After a year during which Vice-Chairman George Bredin presided, John Casson formally took over the Chair in 1979, once again carrying forward the family interest.

    A time to celebrate

    1980 saw another cause for celebration as Dorset House reached its Golden Jubilee. At Reunion Day on 7 June over 100 people met to celebrate the occasion. As well as staff members and Governors, there were student representatives from each decade of the Dorset House's lifetime. Highlight of the day was a speech from Miss Macdonald reflecting on the history of the School. Sadly, this was her last talk as ill health prevented her from taking part in subsequent activities.

    One form of celebration that had been lacking in the School was the formal presentation of Diplomas. Due to difficulties in timing, these had-rather unceremoniously- been merely posted out with a congratulatory letter. For many students this felt like an anti-climax, so in 1981 the annual Presentation of Diplomas Ceremony became established in the Autumn Term.

    A new syllabus and a new library

    The same year saw a major change in how the academic programme was delivered at Dorset House. Since the late 1970s, it was clear that -as more and more techniques were added- the syllabus for the Diploma was becoming overloaded. Qualifying examinations were still being conducted centrally by the College of Occupational Therapists (the professional section of the recently reconstituted British Association of Occupational Therapists) and the scope for flexibility at a local level was generally very limited.

    In 1981, after several years of review at a national level, Diploma 81 was launched. Under this scheme, each OT school was given responsibility for devising its own curriculum and conducting its own examinations, subject to validation and moderation by the College of Occupational Therapists and the Council for Professions Supplementary to Medicine. Although this meant a huge increase in workload for the relevant Dorset House staff, the opportunity to develop programmes at a local level was warmly welcomed.

    The planning for the new syllabus for Diploma 81 brought another need to the fore. Over the years, Dorset House had built up an impressive library of books and other resources. Somewhat less exceptional was the actual library space which was cramped and unattractive. More building work was the only real solution and in 1985 the developers moved in to start digging up the lawn behind the main school building. Work was completed the following year and the library was officially opened by Lady Williams, a long-time Trustee, on Founder's Day. The library was equipped thanks to the generous £3,000 bequest of Miss Christer. Stock was moved in and the library opened to the students at the start of the 1986-87 academic year.

    1992 saw Dorset House School of Occupational Therapy become part of Oxford Polytechnic. Later in that year, the Polytechnic was conferred with university status.