Saturday, 23 February 2008

Eloquent, vivid, to-the-point and heartfelt

CE debate in Northern Ireland Assembly

The Hansard record of the Debate in the Northern Ireland Assembly on 19 February is now published on the Internet.

This ninety-minute debate was about the most eloquent, vivid, to-the-point and heartfelt display of enthusiastic support for Conductive Education by elected representatives that I have read from anywhere in the world.

Members from all parties were united in their positive advocacy of Conductive Education – and in their rejection of the responsible minister’s familiar response.

The Debate concluded:


That this Assembly supports conductive education and commends the Buddy Bear School, Dungannon, to the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister and the Minister of Education for financial support and assistance.

This Debate makes a most valuable contribution to the discussion of Conductive Education services, not just in the United Kingdom.

Shame that the conductive movement in the United Kingdom as a whole (and most places elsewhere) has no mechanisms to act upon this.

Wider questions

The specific instance debated here is a local one, manifest around one specific centre, its particular social context and its peculiar history. It represents, however, more general questions posed by the conductive movement across the United Kingdom, and in many other countries too, without resolution of which it is hard to see that Conductive Education alone can make much progress.

As usual the question must arise of why, oh why are existing official bodies (almost everywhere) so categorically opposed to countenancing Conductive Education and so ready to defend the status quo. As Ken Robinson put it in this debate:

I have to say, at the outset, that systems should never become a barrier to giving a child in need the life chances he or she deserves. Systems do not exist for their own benefit, or to justify the employment of officials administering them. They exist to address real educational, health and social issues, and they deserve to exist only for as long as they do that. If a system ever gets in the way of delivering that need, then it must be scrapped, and we must go back to the drawing board.

And on a wider canvas still than just Conductive Education, why, oh why does the establishment of existing institutions and professions unite around the often now explicit denial that motor disorders – including cerebral palsy – constitute a developmental disorder requiring special pedagogy for its full correction and compensation. What could everyone be so frightened of here?

In the Debate at Stormont Assembly Member George Savage had spotted this:

To the best of my knowledge, no special training is provided to equip teachers to educate children with cerebral palsy.

A simple statement of fact that applies far more widely than simply Northern Ireland but, to express this in the language of rights and entitlement, what 'special' can a child and family expect to receive for so-called 'special educational needs' when the state had failed to develop and provide special educational substance appropriate to meeting such needs through its own teaching profession.

In her long and discursive response the Minister (like ministers in most places) eschewed both these fundamental questions. She made a strong plea for her belief in equality but, if the special-pedagogic needs children with developmental disorders resulting from impairments of hearing and vision are acknowledged and provided for, surely refusal to deal with developmental motor disorders in the same measure is a fundamental breech of the human rights of the children and their families who suffer the discrimination that accompanies this.


Private Members’ Business: Conductive Education Northern Ireland Assembly debates, Hansard, 19 February 2008

Previous posting on this topic:
‘Standing up for Mum’, 21 February 2008

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