Monday, 11 February 2008

Why that French conference?

Damage to repair

The conference at UNESCO in 2003 came three years after a party of high-ranking French special educators made an official visit to the Pető Institute in Budapest. These officials were not impressed and published a highly critical report, very damaging to development of Conductive Education in the French-speaking countries.

Notwithstanding this blow, within a year the growing interest in Conductive Education in France, Belgium and Luxembourg had led to formation of the Regional Platform for Conductive Education (Plateforme Régionale pour l'Education Conductive), to share the wide range of experiences of conductors and associated professionals working outside the education system, largely with children regarded as polyhandicappés. The conference came when the Regional Platform now felt the time ripe to bring Conductive Education back out of the closet in that part of the world.

All the same the official report from 2000 did untold damage to the spread of Conductive Education in the French-speaking countries, not least in blocking off further consideration of Conductive Education within the educational system of France. The report itself was published in a French journal and its publication was reported to the conductive world through Conductive Chronicle, an on-line newsletter that ran in the late nineties and the early years of this century.

The report from Conductive Chronicle of 29 October 1999 is republished here in full, followed by a brief afterword written today.

Official French report rejects Petö Institute

French families receiving Conductive Education in Budapest contacted the French Embassy to request that the system be officially evaluated with a view to possible transfer to France. In September last year the French Ministry of Education contacted the Centre National de Suresnes (1) to investigate and advise. A commission from the centre (2) visited Budapest, going to the Petö Institute, the Bárczi Gusztáv College of Special Education and two establishments for disabled children. The commission also took account of discussions with establishments in France and Belgium which know of CE. The commission’s report has now been published (3). It is not favourable.

The report begins with brief overview of the principles and history of CE in Hungary as the commission understood them (4). There is also a brief overview of the activities of the Petö Institute today (5, 6). Appended to the report are a summary document of the contents of the current training course for conductor-teachers (as provided by the Petö Institute, in English) and a brief bibliography of materials available in French. There follows a critical evaluation.Several questions had emerged from the commission’s preparatory meetings, particularly the percentage of success claimed by the Petö Institute, the director of which confirmed that in her twenty-five years’ career she could not recall any failure nor other difficulty connected with the method. The commission posited that such ‘quasi-total success’ might have been comprehensible at the time of Petö himself, who had selected only intelligent children, but not now, when any child ‘able to establish visual contact with the conductor’ is accepted. The commission found this claimed lack of failure contested by the two establishments for disabled children, which admitted children who had already attended and failed at the Petö Institute.

The commission also found disturbing the level of contact between the Petö Institute and other specialised establishments in Hungary, which regard it as turned in upon itself and even secretive about the content of its conductor-training course and its results. The commission found this in striking contrast to the importance granted by the Petö Institute to marketing outside Hungary.

The commission’s visit to the Petö Institute confirmed a number of concerns.

1) The ‘hyper-excitive atmosphere’, about the effects of which on concentration and fatiguability the commission was unable to elicit a response.

2) The ‘motivation and interest of the child at the heart of the method’, not always apparent in the face of repeated motor acts decided and imposed by the conductors.

3) The 'officially recognised absence of free play' during the ten to twelve hours of the residential pupils’ day,more in the case of residential pupils. Similarly, the way in which young children of six months to three years of age seen for two hours per day at the Institute, with their parents having to continue the same exercises at home for the whole of the day.

4) Repetition of obligatory motor sequences leaving children little place for choice and motivation. The obligatory involvement of parents throughout the day, recalling the excesses of the ‘Doman method’, failures being blamed on the families.

5) The promised adaptation of the programme for each child not apparent in reality, whether in class – with use of computers restricted to out-of-class activities and no adaptation of school materials – or in work with very young children, with the same sequences of gestures and motor series used with babies of three-and-a-half, twelve and sixteen months of age. Here the commission noted, and deplored in a general manner, denial of the need for technical aids and adaptations, with the following consequences:

- precocious surgical interventions;

- absence of moulded seating;

- absence of wheelchairs (considered a sign of the child’s failure), with only walking acceptable, repeated over the course of the day even with having to support the child’s trunk (example given of a twelve-years-old German child with quadriplegia and no control of pelvis or back, residential at the Petö Institute for seven years, made to walk passively with total support).

This refusal seemed, moreover, to extend to spectacles (a significant number of non-corrected squints).

6) The conductors' total authority to determine the initial needs of the child, the programme for meeting these, responsibility for of education and assessment of progress. Here the commission reported:
This dogma of a single conductor for a group of twelve children, forcefully expressed by András Petö, which answers to the refusal to break up the child between different interventions, is moreover quasi-officially honoured in the breach, at two levels:

- presence of three or four (and even more) trainee conductors in charge of the children in the group;

- presence on the fringes of the day of more specific interventions for problems of speech, fine motricity etc by conductors from outside the group who specialise in speech therapy and occupational therapy.

The commission considered:

This then comes back to multi-disciplinary management close to that practised in France, put in place following the work of Professor Tardieu who insisted on the importance of considering the globality of motor-disordered children but equally their different specific needs.

7) Finally, a method presented as source of complete well being and good fortune:

A discourse of healing is held up to families through the orientation of the Petö Institute’s journal and on its website, healing that can obtained by their applying themselves without fail, particularly with their time and financial means (7,000F a month per child for day provision), a sum to which is added the cost of the family’s stay at the Institute (33F a day) or outside at a hotel, and the running costs (food, clothing etc). This discourse of healing, it is true, is sometimes modulated and can vary according to sources from thirty to eighty percent.

In conclusion (7)

Nothing can deny the great methodological coherence of the Petö practice. But, while the clearly proclaimed objective the integration of disabled children in society, one sees reappear in modern garb, with the pseudo-justification by the neuro-sciences and in the name of a pseudo-normality, a form of denial of disability and of the specific needs of children with cerebral lesions, particularly those with motor disorders. The themes currently developed by the Institute in its documents are those of normalisation by a technique which is presented as omnipotent. One does not find, as in our own establishments, the meeting, the exchange, the bringing together of differences in specific cultures, the one pedagogic, the other medical. The notion of specialised education is in fact absent from the programme for training conductors.

Moreover, in the documents put out by the Petö Institute, it is a question of ‘passing from a life of despair to a happy life’ and offering to those who need it and their relatives ‘no more or less than the complete state of human life’. It is even a question of haling or to be able to leave one’s wheel chair in order to function normally ‘like healthy people’.The hopes aroused by the Institute’s presentation of its ‘method’ not only amongst Hungarian families but also foreign families in the Summer Schools, the major involvement demanded of them, coupled with an absence of scientific guarantees and dialogues with other professionals concerned, and finally an over active commercial policy of world conquest, in opposition to the attitude observed in the national plan cannot but create worry and concern.


(1) (CNEFEI), 58-60 avenue des Landes, 92150 Suresnes, France.Tél: (31) (31)

(2) Michel Laurent, Jack Sagot, Nel Saumont, and Eva Touaty. M. Laurent is the Director of CNEFEI and may be contacted at

(3) Laurent, M., Sagot, J., Saumont, N, Touaty, E. (1999) La methode d’education conductive Petö en Hongrie, La Nouvelle Revue de l’AIS, nr. 5, trimestre 1, 146-153

(4) It is not quite the case, as the report states, to say: ‘In 1948 Dr Petö proposed a technique… intended for intelligent spastics and athetoids…[but] at the present time this technique is proposed by the Petö Institute for anybody with brain damage…’ Compare this with the recently

(5) Inter alia the report states: ‘At the present time the Petö Institute provides an internet site provided in some twenty languages’. Not so, see

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