Wednesday, 21 November 2007

MacPeto and the real McCoy

There was a big spead in the Daily Record on 19 November, featuring the Scottish Centre for Children with Motor Impairments (the Craighalbert Centre).

If you take what I am going to say as criticism of the care and effort taken by staff at that centre then you mistake my purpose. I know very little about their work. Certainly the individual cases described in the article present happy processes and happy outcomes for the children involved and their families. Those who would like to formulate their own developmental hypotheses from this are welcome to do so and will find Margaret Mallon’s complete report on:

It’s a nice, vivid piece of journalism, to the general public benefit of the Scottish Centre. I neither criticise this piece quâ journalism nor question the underlying reality that it reports. It would be unforgivable to judge what happens at the Scottish Centre on the basis of a feel-good report in a tabloid newspaper.

What concerns me is less the specifics of this story than what it says along the way about Conductive Education in general to Joe Public who reads it – and perhaps even cuts it out at puts it away for some future reference.

I read that this ‘unique Scottish Centre is giving youngsters with debilitating conditions… the chance to reach their full potential’, as if potential is something already there inside them, rather than waiting to be created out of pedagogy and upbringing. A fine but fundamental point, this, but it is a shame to situate Conductive Education publicly so firmly in the existing paradigm, missing such a good chance to emphasise the new.

Perhaps this is just as well, however, when the Scottish Centre’s practical and theoretical bases are described. Conductive Education was ‘divised by András Pető, who believed that a damaged brain could be taught how to make movements by repeated exercises’. Really? The children are ‘given tasks to do, such as repeatedly moving a stick from below their waistline to above their heads, an action they need to dress themselves.’ How does this all work?

…a senior team member [not a conductor], said: "It's all about teaching them repeated actions so they can take little steps that add up to big steps.

So much for conduction. So much for pedagogy and upbringing!

Does any of this matter? In itself, not a jot. The story is already on the way to being this week’s chip paper (if that’s still legal), though of course it will lie on the public record, available everywhere in the world, for years to come through the Internet. Story after story like this, however, especially if frpm purportively authoritatative scources, together erode and corrode the message that those in Conductive Education have to get across to would-be users, to congruent professionals and to decision-makers, if there is to be much chance of the term ‘Conductive Education’ being treated seriously.

I’ve given the URL for the full story above. If you haven’t already done so, visit it and judge for yourself. As for me, I look out for similar such formulations of what is Conductive Education. As they emerge I shall bring them to wider examination, as fairly as I am able, through about the only medium open to me, this blog.

Perhaps if more people were to treat such misunderstandings in similar ways…

In case you are wondering, the Scottish Centre for Children with Motor Impairments was created out of the direct intervention of Michael Forsyth, Margaret Thatcher’s little loved Secretary of State for Scotland, in response to vocal and widespread agitation from Scottish parents to do something about Conductive Education. There was a General Election in the offing, he earmarked a budget and, following long horse-trading with existing institutions North of the Boarder, the then Scottish Education Department finally announced the terms of reference for the new centre, to be built at Craighalbert. The Scottish press coined the term ‘MacPeto’ for this centre.

The Scottish Centre would ‘combine the best of present Scottish practice with the principles of Conductive Eduation’. It did this initially without conductors on its staff, though there are conductors there now. Whatever Michael Forsyth’s original intentions, his initiative appears to have precluded subsequent creation of other conductive programmes in Scotland.

1 comment:

  1. Let’s be quite honest. The article in the Daily Record is nothing more than an advertising feature to encourage donations. Perhaps one could have anticipated this in an article written for a tabloid newspaper? The more worrying thing is that there is a tremendous paucity of genuinely critical articles on CE appearing in other papers.