Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Multiple sclerosis: small steps

Local MS Society branch shows the way

Publication of a smart, confident brochure by the North West Region of the Multiple Sclerosis Society gives further testimony that, whatever the MSS national body in London is doing to investigate Conductive Education as a serious service-delivery initiative in the United Kingdom, people on the ground want something done, now.

Last month Conductive Education World announced that the Multiple Sclerosis Society is to spend £2.5 million over three years on researching ‘symptom-relief’’:

There is real hope of developing much more effective treatments… Many MS experts believe that in our lifetimes MS remains long-term but is largely treatable…. It seems likely that early diagnosis and intervention with a combination of drug therapies, physiotherapy and exercise, good diet, counselling and quality social care will be the answer.

Better drugs plus the mixture as before, but no acknowledgement of Conductive Education, though, it was hardly as if the Society was unaware of this approach or the enthusiasm for it amongst its members at branch level.

Pilot project

Meanwhile in Liverpool, a partnership between the Neurosupport Centre and the North West branch of the MS Society had run a pilot Conductive Education program. The actual conductive service was provided by one of the new private-sector Conductive Education consultancy services, László Szögetczki’s Independent Conductive Education Services, and involved six people with multiple sclerosis who attended twelve three-hour sessions over six weeks.

The pilot project was reported last summer in the North West Region's newletter, in both paper and electronic editions. At the end of last year it was further briefly reported in Recent Advances in Conductive Education. This report’s Abstract read as follows:

A support-centre manager describes what was involved in setting up a pilot programme for people with multiple sclerosis: a casual meeting led to investigating how to access the system; identifying a conductor to do the work raised the need for institutional support and practical arrangements; participants had to be identified, a course of sessions inplemented and participants' responses' sampled. On the basis of this programmatic approach a wider intervention may ensue.

Now the Region has published a further account, in the form of a booklet or pamphlet. The booklet elaborates a little on the informal qualitative evaluation of this pilot experience. It presents the personal reflections of three of those who participated: a husband/carer who was one on the two volunteers who helped run this project, a gentleman with primary progressive MS and a lady with secondary progressive MS. Common to their response were (differently expressed) awareness that this was something more that treating a disease, and enthusiasm to continue and extend the Conductive Education experience.

More than that, the booklet comes with a five-minute DVD that extends and amplifies the material in the booklet (including contributions from László). Like all such films the need for visuals does rather result in emphasis upon the motoric but all in all this is an eloquent statement of the depth of feeling for Conductive Education amongst those who took part in this project, and strong advocacy for taking this work forward.

Just the mixture as before?

The opening words of the MS Society’s booklet remind readers about an important principle, and how the Society considers that it should act in accordance with this.

It is government policy to provide patient-centres services that will enable people with long-term neurological conditions to maintain their independence and wellbeing and lead as fulfilling lives as possible.

The MS Society fully endorsed this approach and a key aim for us is to involve people affected by MS in everything we do. One way we achieve this is by encouraging people affected by MS to get involved in the planning and development of their local services. Often the result is to bring about real improvements and lasting change.

The Conductive Education Project in the North West seems an ideal exemplar of this principle in action. It is also an excellent example of the wider promulgation of a Conductive Education project. So far there has been a newsletter item, a brief journal article, this booklet and its accompanying DVD.

But what happens next? Is anybody listening?


Neurosupport Centre

Be prepared to wait, this can be very slow to download

Independent Conductive Education Services

RACE will be on line from this summer

Anon. (2008) Conductive Education, North West Voice, Summer, pp. 4-5

Kelly, M (2007) Conductive Education and multiple sclerosis: putting a toe in the water, Recent Advances in Conductive Education, vol. 6, no 2, pp. 47-48

Multiple Sclerosis Society (2008) Conductive Education Project (booklet + DVD)

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Conductive and conducive

Another source of confusion

School consolidation (merger) is a hot issue in the forthcoming non-partisan school board election in Huntingdon W.VA, and featured over the weekend in the Huntington Herald-Despatch where candidate Parsons is one of those against consolidation, quoting the US Department of Education in support of his position:

‘This would keep the children in the community,’ he said. ‘The US Department of Education stated 'smaller schools are more conductive to education than larger schools.'

I don’t know whether the ‘conductive’ came from the US Department of Education or was a slip of the pen (easily done) of the part of the Huntington Herald-Despatch but, whatever the substantive virtues in the question of small schools versus consolidation, neither position across this divide is surely ‘conductive to education’.

They may, however, be conducive to education. ‘Conducive’ means that something causes, or tends to bring about a result.

This confusion is quite common, wherever English is spoken.

‘Conducive education’

And the confusion also works the other way, with people writing (or sometime even saying) ‘conducive education’

This confused phrase will probably be always with us, for no better reason than mistyping or mishearing. It has appeared in sources that look impeccably authoritative, even in Education Week, in the US Supreme Court and at Aquinas College (where I am sure they never trained ‘conducers’!). Ask Google to see what it can find if you don’t believe me – and now this posting will be another hit for 'conducive education'!

Yes, Conductive Education is highly conducive, to learning and to a whole raft of linked psycho-social and motoric outcomes. But the two words ‘conductive’ and ‘conducive’ are far from synonymous, despite their outward similarity and common etymologies.

So if you were searching for 'conducive education' when you arrive here, Conductive Education is something else!

Business abroad, charity at home

Polyglot website for Moira

Moira, the long established international Conductive Education consultancy service, based in Budapest, Hungary, has recently extended its website. This is now published in fourteen languages: English, Hungarian, Arabic, Chinese, German, Spanish, French, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Dutch, Portuguese and Russian.

The site’s listing of Moira’s previous operations over the years offer concrete illustration of where and how Conductive Education services have been provided around the world across almost the whole period of internationalisation.

This now extensive site announces upcoming courses in Budapest (for children and for professionals) and products available through Moira (books, furniture, apparatus).

Moira Conductive Education Centre: http://www.moira-cec.hu/en/index.html

The Foundation for Conductive Pedagogy

Moira’s new website offers a small insight into the adequacy of state services for disabled children and adults in today’s Hungary, through Moira’s ‘Foundation for Conductive Pedagogy’.

Since 1993 this Foundation has organised free or sponsored Conductive Education sessions for underprivileged Hungarian children and adults, parents and carers, who would otherwise be unable to access Conductive Education. Their accommodation in Budapest is also sponsored by the Foundation during the time of their attendance.

The Foundation also runs special appeals. Last year’s was to buy a second-hand mini-van and have it adapted to take a wheelchair. This van was for the use of disabled poet Zoltán Vitó who as a boy years ago attended the old State Institute under András Pető. The Foundation now helps maintain the van, which enables Zoltán to get out with his family, and has helped publication of a volume of his verse.

Foundation pages in English and Hungarian only (A "Konduktív Pedagógiáért" Alapítvány / Foundation for Conductive Pedagogy:

The Foundation’s Appeal in English

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

More for Ireland

Conductive Education in Ireland

Supplementary Memorandum


On 23 February Conductive Education World published a report on the debate on Conductive Education held by the Northern Ireland Legislative Assembly four days previously. This report summed up the debate in the following congratulatory terms as

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.

Further, it added:

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

As a contribution to maintaining the political momentum in Northern Ireland, on 15 April a personal memorandum, called Conductive Education in Ireland, was sent to the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, with a request that copies be distributed to the Education Committee and to all Members of the Legislative Assembly. On 15 April it was confirmed that the memorandum had indeed been circulated to MLAs, and on 18 April the memorandum was republished in the Internet, on Conductive Education World.

The present Supplementary Report responds to practical issues and questions raised from the first memorandum. In the text below, these questions (presented in small print) are addressed in Part I and some further matters worthy of attention are briefly introduced in Part II..

The two reports on Conductive Education World mentioned above may be found at:


Part I

1. Norway

Norway seems to be the ‘in’ country for good education. I know that the Health Board there pays but I am hoping to ask the Health Board to pay for the Early Intervention i.e. from 3 months to 5 years. If you have any contacts or influences it would help.

There is no Conductive Education in Norway either in or associated with the state education service and its schools. Further, as far as I know, no Norwegian educationalist has shown any interest or awareness of Conductive Education. No one in Norway is urging or has yet urged that Conductive Education should be provided through the schools system.

It is not simply that the health system pays. The Norwegian approach to services for disabled children and their families (and to responding to what choice of service-provision) is altogether different from our own. Children attend their local schools for education. Children, families and schools are additionally eligible for ‘habilitation’ services to provide specialist input. Conductive Education in Norway is successfully establishing itself as a parent-run service, state-funded, within the habilitation structure. The system is still evolving: it has been going for some eleven years now and the Norsk Forum is currently working upon a national development strategy to take it up to 2015. It has yet to impact the school system.

The services provided by the Norsk Forum have no parallel in this country and would not fit into UK structures, below or above the age of five.

The responsible parent-led organisation in Norway is the Norsk Forum for Konduktiv Pedagogikk. It can be found on the Internet at http://www.peto-senteret.n/o. The person to write to is its Chairman (a government appointee), Mr Tor Inge Martinsen:


2. New Zealand

New Zealand has an excellent record in relation to cerebral palsy and Conductive Education

New Zealand’s educational services for disabled children operate on a model immediately recognisable to the rest of the English-speaking world. Conductive Education arrived in that country due to parents’ spontaneous establishment of small, local services run by local CE associations and has achieved its goal of being integrated into the state’s educational provision by way of specialist units (staffed jointly by conductors and special teachers) attached to primary schools. The system is still evolving and what is intended as the first unit attached to a secondary school has now opened.

The local associations remain independent but unite under the rubric of the New Zealand Foundation for Conductive Education. The New Zealand Foundation’s website is at http://www.conductive-education.org.nz/.. (local associations have their own websites). For further information, contact conductiveeducation@paradise.net.nz. Conductors (trained Conductive Education practitioners) in New Zealand have their own professional association.

Certainly from afar, New Zealand appears to present a model of rational public-voluntary evolution that is satisfactory to all sides. The existence of both employers’ and employees’ bodies eases relationships with central government (in this case the Ministry of Education), in a way that has not proved possible in the United Kingdom.

3. Value-added within existing systems

Ministers would require proof that CE gives added value to education of cerebrally palsied children in a mainstream school, special unit with help, and or special school with help (usually a classroom assistant).

There has been no formal investigation of Conductive Education in terms of ‘value-added’, and there is certainly no ‘proof’ one way or the other in this respect.

At the same time there have been no evaluations of existing service-models/policy memes for disabled children and their schools in value-added terms. There is therefore no base line against which to judge Conductive Education, for example the added value to be gained from educational inclusion of various kinds, or from providing sparse therapy sessions within the school system.

The same goes for the specific placement-types mentioned above (placements in a mainstream school, special unit with help and or special school, and the help of classroom assistants). There have been a variety of experiences around the world, more common in recent years, of conductors’ working in diverse ways in mainstream and special schools and units. As far as I know, none has been formally evaluated in ways that Ministers might regard as proof of value-added (though again, I wonder about what ‘proof’ there exists for analogous existing, arrangements such as ‘outreach’). As ever in education, decisions have to be made upon other bases, such as judgement and values.

That said, England has seen a number of spontaneous initiatives to include individual conductors within primary schools. These have been parent-led, focussed upon single children in their classrooms, of limited life-span and usually joint-funded by the children’s parents (privately) and the schools involved (contributing money that would be otherwise spent on a classroom assistant). None of these experiences has been formally described, never mind evaluated, nor have formal accounts come from analogous arrangements in other countries.

More substantively, there is the well established experience of the Dynamite Project, a Conductive Education unit in a local primary school in Slough, Bucks. For further information see http://www.dynamitekids.org.uk/ and/or contact Sue Berryman at berryman.priory@sloughlea.net. In Birmingham the ACE Project, with a conductor fully included in all aspects of school life, is now in its third year. A first informal report of this work has been published and fuller evaluation and promulgation will follow in due course. It does look as if this model can meet many of the requirements of parents and children for a school-based inclusive Conductive Education. In the meantime, contact Wendy Baker at: wendy@conductive-education.org.uk and see:

Wendy Baker, Andrew Sutton, István Szücs (2007) Introducing conductive pedagogy into a mainstream primary school: an interim communication. Recent Advances in Conductive Education, vol. 6, no 1, pp. 28-32.

Dynamite and ACE are funded and managed in somewhat different ways, but both are successful public-voluntary partnerships.

There are examples of conductors’ working as ‘teacher-conductors’ in special schools in England, Wales and Australia, but little published documentation of this. What there is appears most concerned with the conductor-teachers’ success at fulfilling the role of teachers rather than how Conductive Education fares in the process.

The incorporation of conductors into exiting systems (including health-based systems) has excited attention in recent years around the world and there are likely to be continuing initiatives of this type. Such initiatives are rarely described and there has been no formal survey of review of this activity. Informal accounts suggest such arrangements to be generally well received, though the potential impact of Conductive Education might be lessened by necessary adaptations.

4. Statementing for Conductive Education

If we are to breach the argument that children with cerebral palsy are adequately catered for in special schools then we need to be able to offer evidence that this is not the case and to draw attention that on UK mainland provision is made for conductive education.

The law on providing for children’s ‘special educational needs’ in England and Wales, is that it suffices for the local authority to demonstrate that the recommended provision (special school, whatever) will meet a child’s needs as defined in the statement. After that, job done. Presumably the law Northern Ireland is substantively the same. For those seeking a Statement of Special Educational Need ‘naming’ a Conductive Education school, the proper order of engagement is first to ensure a full statement of a child’s learning difficulties and the needs that arise from these, then ask how a given school intends specifically to meet these. That is all that can be done under the present law.

The mainland position is that whether or not a child then receives a statement specifying Conductive Education will be a matter of how well the child’s statement is constructed and argued by parents or by their legal and professional advisors. Then it is up to the Tribunal.

There is no real Conductive Education in Scotland so the matter does not arise.

A further factor to note is that the adaptation of Conductive Education to existing systems in the United Kingdom means that there is no single ‘Conductive Education’ to which a single blanket answer is applicable. This diversity of Conductive Education services is only just arriving in Northern Ireland. Thus, a statement requesting transfer to a state school with on-site conductor-consultancy may be more favourably received than one requiring full-time out-of-district CE school placement.

5. Conductor-training in the UK

Teacher-training of conductors. Details as to the conductor-training course – a brochure would do that. Established when? How many places per year? Cost? Details as to number of schools and places offered in UK – and any other country

Brochure and other materials on the conductor-training course at the National Institute of Conductive Education, where the course is based, can be obtained from Lesley Barker at training@conductive-education.org.uk. The course is validated by the University of Wolverhampton. Further information at http://www.wlv.ac.uk/default.aspx?page=11260

The course awards Qualified Conductor Status and a BA Hons (Conductive Education). It is not ‘teacher-training’. If students wish to become teachers in that sense then they may go on to take a postgraduate qualification as can any other graduate (as one of this year’s graduates will be doing).

The course began in 1997. It is a three-year university first-degree course like any other such. This summer there will be twelve students graduating, bringing the total number of graduates to sixty-three. Graduate employment is very high and former students work around the world. Tuition fees are standard university fees, the costs on top of which are up to the students. Usual grants are payable. Application is open to anyone, from anywhere and a relatively high proportion of students come from overseas. There is a scholarship scheme from Canada (on average, about one new student per year), and the Norsk Forum encourages young Norwegians to apply (average of one or two a year). All other students attend at their own initiative. There are no formal arrangements with any organisation in the UK.

There is still time to apply to begin the conductor-training in September this year and applications are also open to start in September 2009.

6. Conductive Education and the ‘cerebral palsy-spectrum’

Details as to at what point on the ‘cerebral palsy spectrum’ you believe that children need Conductive Education to optimise their life chances

I cannot answer that question, not least because, given the nature of the cerebral palsies, I am not altogether happy about the idea of a ‘cerebral palsy spectrum’. The cerebral palsies, though often seeming to epitomise the applicability of Conductive Education, do not exhaust the conditions where this approach has potential benefit. Given that Conductive Education is of its very nature ‘educational’, its use cannot adequately be defined by medical diagnosis (an obvious analogy is with the education of the deaf). Better therefore to use a developmental term and speak ‘motor disorder’.

That aside, there is a very wide range of ways in which conductive pedagogy might be applied in the family, and in a variety of settings, ideally in accordance with the wishes of the families and young people involved. The simple answer to the question as posed is that all children with motor disorders might potentially benefit from Conductive Education’s being accessible in some way and at some point(s) of their life (including in adulthood), as could their families, their schools and other bodies that work with them.

Increasingly common in England and overseas, is to develop Conductive Education services for children with ‘dyspraxia’.

7. Without Conductive Education

Are there any particular deficits that will be inevitable if the child has what we might term ‘mainstream spec education’ as opposed to Conductive Education?

My personal hypothesis is that one such deficit common to many such children might be learned dependency/helplessness.

8. Long-term cost-benefit

Have any costings been done about the long-term savings to the public purse from the enhanced independence resulting from Conductive Education?

There have been no such studies, anywhere. Then there has been only one example in the western world of a service’s being able to develop a service that provides a range of programs to sustain long-term Conductive Education for children and their families – in Israel. This has been possible in the United Kingdom only when managed and in part provided by a child’s family. George McDowell of Belfast is the only adult whom I know on the island of Ireland to have received such a conductive upbringing.

There have been no formal reports yet on the human outcomes at the beginning of adulthood of such childhood-long conductive upbringing, other than individual vignettes, though a larger collection of such stories is on the way in Israel. The numbers involved worldwide are certainly too small for population-based projections on cost-benefits.

9. Academic research

Any sources of evidence (academic) relating to the benefits of Conductive Education?

Accompanying this Supplementary Memorandum is a copy of a research review written for the Norsk Forum around a year ago (paid for by the Norwegian health system and made freely available for others to read).

It will be seen that most academic research into Conductive Education is concerned less with benefits than achievements of (largely in-child) outcomes following relatively brief intervention. Achievement in the school curriculum has not been a particular concern.

Basic hypothesis-raising research into the nature and purpose of Conductive Education has not been done, research methods have been severely criticised and for all the academic investigation summarised in the accompanying review, remarkably little has been learned. Possible future funders of ‘research’ into Conductive Education need to pay considerable attention to such questions if they are not to mount yet further inconclusive studies.

Part II

The above queries were framed, having in mind the apparent interests of decision-makers in the field of the education. Here very briefly are some rather wider issues.

1. ‘Joined-up working’

This is a cornerstone of policy around disabled children, their families and schools. Conductive Education provides a highly developed example of a ‘joined up’ professional practice (the Latin origin of the word ‘conductive’ denoting ‘bringing together’, ‘joining up’) and the ‘conductor’, that is the Conductive Education practitioner is a joined-up professional. This approach incorporates and integrates emotional/behavioural benefits with the academic/intellectual. Contrary to widespread belief, the goals and outcomes of Conductive Education are not primarily motoric: conductive pedagogy is a psycho-social intervention directed primarily towards psycho-social ends.

Ensuring self-worth, motivation, determination etc., is a vital part of the development of children and adults with motor disorders. Recognising this is essential to understanding questions raised above, such as value-added, training, cost-benefits and research. Change in the child is linked inevitably with changes in the family, also integral to considering these issues. Tying all this together is the process of ‘conduction’.

For further information, contact as@nice.ac.uk.

2. Public-voluntary partnership

This is a constant feature of successful Conductive Education provision in different parts of the world as outlined above.

3. Israel

Norway and New Zealand have been mentioned as examples of how Conductive Education has been incorporated into two very different existing systems. A different model for this again is offered by Tsad Kadima in Israel, a model of a public-private partnership with strong community- and family-involvement that is in a field of its own. For surther information, see http://www.tsadkadima.org.il/english.asp. To obtain further information on Tsad Kadima, write to Rony Schenker at ronyschenker@yahoo.com

4. Eligibility for Conductive Education

Who might benefit from Conductive Education input? This includes not just children with motor disorders but children with other motor problems too, their families, and schools, centres and other services that work with their families.

It also includes adults and their families/cares and services. ‘Adults’ here refers not solely to people who have had motor disorders throughout their lives (such as adults who have cerebral palsy) but also people who have later-onsetting conditions such as, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s, and the effects of stroke.

5. Types of provision

Contrary to some popular and professional imagination there was never a single way to provide Conductive Education (that is as a full-time school). Around the world Conductive Education is now provided in ways that include:

through schools, units attached to schools, at least one college of further education, clinics, parent-and-child groups, individual sessions, at least one rehabilitation hospital;

full-time, part-time and sessionally;

as consultancies, in courses and staff-training for existing institutions;

for children and adults with motor disorders, from soon after birth to the frailty of old age;

with families and carers,

in the public sector, through voluntary bodies (local and national), in the private sector, and by personal arrangement in people’s homes.

Conductive Education ‘joins up’ many aspects of the human condition. It may therefore fall under the rubrics of education sector, health sector or social affairs.

6. Where is it?

There are currently approaching two-hundred known Conductive Education projects in most of the countries of Western Europe, North and Central America, in Russia, the Middle East, Australia and New Zealand., of a vast range of sizes and in various stages of development. Starts have been made in South America and Sub-Saharan Africa.

To date international diversification has been mainly in the developed economies. Two of the four BRIC nations, Brazil and Russia, are demonstrating the first concrete progress (working Conductive Education centres), and the other two, India and China, are showing interest.

But for twenty or so years, with noble exceptions, Conductive Education in Ireland has been a black hole.

7. Ireland, North and South

Putting aside the historical reasons for Ireland’s laggardliness in this area, it is now the twenty-first century and things in future could be very different. There is a range of possible ways of applying Conductive Education, and conductors show a new flexibility and readiness to adapt to new social and cultural contexts – and there would be little problem to build up the beginnings of an indigenous work force of Irish conductors.

The question of an All-Ireland service has been frequently broached over the years. There is much to commend this approach for two small, immediately adjacent populations, but two notes of caution have to be addressed from the outset;

people do not simply want Conductive Education services, they want Conductive Education services that are local and accessible;.

Conductive Education in ‘new’ countries has to adapt not only to social and cultural factors but administrative and funding structures too, which in some respects at least may be very different on different sides of the Border.

Given these two considerations, there seems good reason for informal cross-border collaboration at the present stage of development of the Conductive Education movement in Ireland.

8. Time and patience

Development of Conductive Education services takes time, at least the span of time that it takes for parents to bring up their child – and then, should the new adult wish it, into autonomous life beyond.

Hardly anything new here either for those establishing and evaluating a new educational philosophy!

In other words, Conductive Education became known around the world only since the mid-nineteen-eighties and in the grand scheme of things, it is still early days. Over the last twenty-or-so years Conductive Education has expanded remarkably, both quantitatively and qualitatively. To look for clear answers at this point may at times be to seek what is not there but this should be no reason necessarily to suspend human judgement or defer decisions.

Andrew Sutton.
22 April 2008

Email: as@nice.ac.uk
Website: http://www.andrew-sutton.blogsot.com/
Mobile: 0798 097 9106

Ignorance and fear

An everyday vignette from CE practice

I was recently talking with a conductor who was telling me about a meeting that she had been to that was also attended by a 'physiotherapy manager'. The manager lady had been most positive. She said:

I don't know anything about Conductive Education so I don't have any nasty preconceptions about it.

That's nice, but what does it show? That the lady had come to the meeting to represent a physiotherapy department where to know anything about Conductive Education was de facto to think 'nasty things' about it.

Then the conductor noticed that I was writing down what the 'manager' had said:

Don't put my name on that!

I can see why my conductor said this, I know the world that she comes from, but how can people in Conductive Education communicate about their problems, never mind act to do anything about them, if such an important everyday event cannot even be discussed, for fear of...?

Fear of what?

It doesn't matter what, fear is fear.

I shall be returning to both themes introduced here, in later postings on Conductive Education World.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Live political process

Time for change in Northern Ireland

Just over a week ago I was approached by Brendan McConville, for twenty-years now a leading Buddy Bear stalwart, asking me to help maintain the momentum of political attention to Conductive Education in Northern Ireland. He asked me to write an encouraging letter to the First and Deputy First Ministers of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Dr Ian Paisley and Mr Martin McGuinness, with the request that copies of my letter be passed on to every member of the Legislative Assembly.

The request was lent urgency by Dr Paisley’s immanent retirement from the post of First Minister. In response, this Tuesday the following email was sent, along with an accompanying Memorandum.

Letter to the First and Deputy First Ministers

15 April 2008

The Rt Hon. Dr I R K Paisley MP MLA, First Minister
Mr Martin McGuinness MP MLA, Deputy First Minister

Dear Dr Paisley and Dear Mr McGuinness,

Conductive Education in Ireland

Following the quite remarkable debate in the Northern Ireland Assembly on 19 February, I write to ask you to pass on my congratulations and to praise all MLAs for their most heartening political intervention. From the viewpoint of Conductive Education this was truly an ‘eloquent, vivid, to-the-point and heartfelt’ debate, as reported at the time in Conductive Education World:

I write also to implore the two of you to use your good offices to ensure that the momentum of this powerfully expressed goodwill is not now lost, and that true change in the fortunes of Conductive Education may come about as a result.

I salute the remarkable collective statement of support made last month by MLAs of all parties, something from which the Conductive Education movement worldwide can draw strength and respect. I look forward with hope and confidence to the long-awaited concrete official support in providing an effective range of Conductive Education services across the island of Ireland.

As contribution to the continuing discussion of this important issue by yourselves, the Education Committee and MLAs as a whole, I am pleased to append a critical statement on Conductive Education in Northern Ireland, with the earnest request that you make this further available to the Education Committee and all MLAs.

Finally, may I add my best wishes to Dr Paisley for a long and busy ‘retirement’, and add my personal hope that within this he maintains his valued and longstanding personal support for Conductive Education and all that it can achieve.


Andrew Sutton
BA, MPhil, EdD, DipEdPsych
Founder President
Foundation for Conductive Education

Memorandum: Conductive Education and Ireland

Conductive Education in Ireland

to the
First Minister and the Deputy First Minister,
the Education Committee
and all MLAs

The Irish status quo

I understand that the official position on Conductive Education from the Northern Ireland education service is along the lines that this approach is not needed because there are no complaints from parents of children with cerebral palsy who are at mainstream schools with help, special units and special schools.

Local authorities have the duty to inform parents of available educational services that might potentially benefit their disabled children. In England, where there has been a rather more intense history of parental action over Conductive Education, this duty remains honoured more often in the breech than in its spirit. Whatever the legal status of non-compliance with this expectation, however, its moral status is more than dubious.

Official stonewalling over proper consideration of Conductive Education services exemplifies vested interests’ blocking popular demand to consider fundamental changes in the way that things are currently done. To suggest, as I have heard, that there are no complaints from parents of children with cerebral palsy in mainstream schools with help, special units and special schools, is a facile and cynical defense. Such a position depends upon the vulnerability and powerlessness of families who have never experienced the possibility of informed choice and flies against both common experience and such research evidence as currently exists on this issue.

Practical action in Ireland testifies to continuing parental demand for Conductive Education on the island of Ireland, despite everything. The Buddy Bear Trust School operates as a recognised, inspected school (the only such in all Ireland) and continues to exist despite an apparent closed shop on the part of Schools and Libraries Boards. During its now long existence, however, many other kinds of Conductive Education service-provision, not simply ‘schools’, have been developed, in England and around the world, under the auspices not just of education but also health and social affairs, in the voluntary and the state sector. In a very small scale some of these are beginning to be represented in Northern Ireland.

The Lighthouse Trust Summer School, a small-scale, cross-border philanthropic project, has run for years in Donaghadee. This is an annual Conductive Education ‘summer school’, testifying both to the continuing desire amongst parents north and south of the Border and to the potential fruitfulness of all-Ireland initiatives in cutting across vested interests in both state and charitable sectors in this field. A more recently incorporated charity, the Sycamore Centre for Conductive Education, is planning its first Conductive Education summer school, to be held this summer in Belfast. It hopes then to extend a range of sessional services, for both adults and children with disabilities, with especial concern for the needs of carers.

In the Republic Conductive Education’s situation has been one of the most unfavourable in Europe. Entrenched vested interests in the voluntary sector have worked actively against parents’ trying to establish Conductive Education services and, despite several bold initiatives over the years, only one survives, the Cork Centre for Conductive Education, in Bandon.

After a fine early start in the late nineteen-eighties, Northern Ireland has fallen way behind leading international standards in incorporating what is increasingly seen as a major advance in the care and welfare of disabled children and adults and their families. The Republic is simply backward in this respect.

Cutting-edge countries

Some countries are much further down the line.

Thus, New Zealand, widely acknowledged for the advances of its education service, has well established Conductive Education units in primary schools in most major cities, run as state-voluntary partnerships, and has opened its first Conductive Education unit in a secondary school.

Israel has an extensive range of public-voluntary Conductive Education services that provide a wide range of services for children from first identification through to young adulthood – most importantly, in close partnership with their parents.

In Norway the ‘habilitation’ service is run by that country’s health service, and Conductive Education in response to parental demand and generously funded by the state. Strategic planning is now under way to structure national developments in Conductive Education services for children, adults and carers, through to 2015.

March of Dimes is the major service-provider for the disabled in Canada. It has registered ‘Conductive Education’ as a trademark in Canada and is committed to integrating and developing Conductive Education services across the whole country.


Official attitudes towards Conductive Education in England occupy an intermediate position (things are less developed in Wales and Scotland). Local authorities do of course vary but in general Conductive Education is reluctantly tolerated, though few public bodies or national voluntary organisations go out of their way to support it actively. For the large part, public bodies remain reluctant to follow Government policies of ‘joining up’ in the linked areas of providing specialist services for disabled children or, most fundamentally, the proper exercise of informed choice in partnership with parents (and older children).

The situation in England has been sufficiently open, however, to permit development of a wide range of Conductive Education services. Thirty organisations (mostly but not all in the voluntary sector) currently provide a surprising range of service-delivery models for children and for adults, and in most cases for their families too. Increasingly too, Conductive Education services are provided to existing institutions as well, such as state primary and secondary schools. Almost all Conductive Education services in England have explicit commitment to inclusion and have developed their practice in diverse ways to facilitate this.

Most importantly, degree-level training (BA in Conductive Education) of ‘conductors’, that is Conductive Education practitioners, was established in 1997 through partnership between a charity, the Foundation for Conductive Education, and the University of Wolverhampton. The course takes students from all over the world and its graduates are correspondingly snapped up by organisations world-wide. This university course recruits its students in the same way as any other higher-education course in the United Kingdom, and is subject to the usual funding arrangements for its students and their teaching. Overseas students depend on the usual wide range of personal funding arrangements but March of Dimes in Canada has established a trust fund to support Canadians studying on this course, and students from Norway enjoy grants for this course as part of the evolving national strategy for Conductive Education in that country.

Two students so far have come from the island of Ireland, one from the North and one from the South. Having graduated and then worked in a Conductive Education centre in New York, both are now back in Northern Ireland, working to establish a Conductive Education service.

Ireland in context

Finally, I add that this Foundation, which I founded and serve as President, was initially established explicitly to serve the whole of the United Kingdom. A few years ago the Charity Commission agreed that the Foundation may also operate on a worldwide basis to reflect its participation in the international activity now under way to establish Conductive Education in different countries. This movement now embraces most of the developed economies (and some of the less developed), is largely fuelled by parental demand, has often been opposed by existing professional and state provisions, and has advanced mainly though the judgment and intervention of elected politicians, local, regional and national.

After a strong early start in the late nineteen-eighties, Northern Ireland has fallen way behind leading international standards in incorporating what is increasingly seen as a major advance in the care and welfare of disabled children and adults and their families. The Republic is simply backward in this respect.

Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic may in their different ways be rather ‘late’ in accommodating to Conductive Education but their trajectories follows a general pattern met elsewhere and it is never too late to begin again. It is a sad irony that the Foundation’s collaboration is bearing such concrete fruits in Norway while things remain so undeveloped at home.

Andrew Sutton
BA, MPhil, EdD, DipEdPsych
Founder President
Foundation for Conductive Education
15 April 2008

Political momentum

ON Wednesday 16 April I received an email from the Office of the First and Deputy First Ministers, reporting that my Memorandum had been circulated to all MRAs.

If you would like to drop an encouraging note to Ms Caitriona Ruane, Minister of Education in Northern Ireland, her email address is:

All this alone will hardly maintain political momentum, This will be chiefly down to those working to develop Conductive Education, in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic who are working finally to break the Irish log-jam.

Brendon has asked me to write a further letter, to the Northern Ireland Department of Education, outlining the benefits of Conductive Education, which I shall do.

Dr Paisley’s successor is Mr Peter Robinson.


The Assembly Debate of 19 February 2008
Andrew Sutton, Eloquent, vivid, to-the-point and heartfelt, Conductive Education World, 23 February 2008

Current centres of CE activity in Ireland
Buddy Bear Trust School

Cork Centre for Conductive Education
Sycamore Centre for Conductive Education
No website yet but for further information contact:

Lighthouse Trust Summer School

Philology, philosophy, action

It helps to watch your language

On Monday I published a short invited article in the inaugural issue (vol. 1, no 1) of a new quarterly Internet serial, Interconnections Journal:

Andrew Sutton, 1984, 2008, 2050, Interconnections Journal, vol. 1, no 1, April 2008

There’s nothing new in what it I wrote, nothing that I have not hammered enough for years in my regular Opinion column in Special Children magazine, but it is nice to be asked to say it again, in 2008. The opening words of this article are as follows.

Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote: The limits of my language mean the limits of my world, and every week on Radio 4’s Today programme John Humphrys determinedly challenges government ministers and other worthies to explain what their clichés and gobbledegook actually mean. For without real meaning policies are unrealisable, and they and their perpetrators are just that little more unaccountable. That goes for all of us...

In other words, if the words that you think with are rubbish, then your thinking will probably be rubbish too.

The worlds of ‘special needs’ and ‘special educational needs' are riddled with rubbish words, junk vocabulary enabling only junk thinking (not least the unthinking use of the word ‘needs’!). This is certainly the case in the United Kingdom and I suspect that its influence taints things elsewhere in the English-speaking world. Conductive Education arrived in that world with a fairly firm linguistic conceptual base, though almost at once was shot in the foot by adoption of the inexact and confusing catch-all descriptor of ‘Conductive Education’ itself (rather later, in the German-speaking lands, an if anything worse choice was made – ‘konduktive Förderung’).

Now, buried in new cultural contexts, Conductive Education risks absorbing not just the words of new cultural environments but the concepts that they signify, communicate and generate. The meaningless word 'support’ is one that I particularly deprecate, yet I have even begun (more than once now) to come across the statement ‘Conductive Education supports children…’

I though that this is what standing frames etc do.

Plod speaks, thinks and acts: a national disgrace

Education and ‘special needs’ are hardly unique to the tendency for junk jargon. The day before my own article was published a report from the Plain English Campaign published a report strongly criticising the police for what it called ‘Ploddledegook’ (not the first such criticism directed towards this particular sector):

Do you speak Ploddledegook? The police force jargon that should be banned, This is London, 18 April 2008

Sloppy speech, sloppy thinking, failure to see the wood for the trees, lousy uncritical practice: look at the incident, widely reported in the media this week, that threw such dismal light on… well, on lots of things. If you want to see how low the United Kingdom has sunk in burying sense under balderdash, have a look at this gem from Scotland:

Melanie Reid, Police charged Down's syndrome boy with mental age of five,
The Times, 17 April 2008

At least, following widespread outrage, the Crown Office has now apologised to the young man and his family.

Melanie Reid, An apology at last for family of Down’s boy accused of a racist assault, The Times, 18 April 2008

The upper echelons have demonstrated some sense but what does this whole sad shambles say about the educational level (yes, and the intelligence and shear common sense) of the ’professionals’ and the 'managers’ who actually provide public services? I cannot see that without these important elements the worn old panacea of ‘more training’ can alone work the oracle.

‘Professionals’,‘managers’? I should be careful: I’m using their words and in danger therefore of slipping into their ways of thinking. I should have written more accurately, perhaps saying ‘semi-professionals’ and ‘bureaucrats’, to describe their actual social roles. The 1984 Newspeak that I have derided in my recent article in Interconnections Journal is so pernicious: it has even slipped with all its vacuity into the Crown Offices apology:

The family were aware that the Procurator Fiscal was exploring the possibility of dealing with this case in a way that would have provided additional support to Jamie.

First blog by student conductor

The first of many?

It's always risky to declare a first. There may be others that I do not know of. If so, I should be very grateful to know about them, and to give credit where credit is due.

This blog is another to add to the growing score of those caught in the Conductive Web. In meantime, view the new blog direct at:


The Conductive Web

Current CE blogs worldwide

Monday, 14 April 2008

Communication problems...

...and one possible solution

When I woke up on Saturday morning, Google was waiting ready to present me with two new Conductive Education postings on the blogosphere. The two communications were very different from each other. One was written by a conductor, describing pedagogic/upbringing work with a young man whom she has known for years, the other by a mother of a cerbrally palsied twins, at the very start of the her career as the parent of a disabled child. The former seems at her conductive prime, the latter does not yet know enough to feel secure in choosing the conductive way. Both care, both communicate, neither knows the other and thousands of miles lie between them.

Together these two coincidental postings represent a terrible information gap that works to the detriment both of Conductive Education and to those who would potentially benefit from getting it.

The conductor

The conductor is Susie Mallet in Germany and Google was alerting me to a new and extensive posting on her English-language blog. I will not attempt to summarise it here except to say that it is part of the developing body of her communications that, to my knowledge, comprises something altogether new in Conductive Education, a conductor honestly and critically reporting what she does.

Read it and judge for yourself:


The mother

Billie Wright-Ericson describes herself as a ’31-year old chick’, She is also a school psychologist and her twin daughters aged three and a half have cerebral palsy. Her blog is a lively commentary on her family’s life – and in her latest posting Conductive Education emerges as a choice. Her posting, with the wondefully hope-filled title of ‘The possibilities are endless’ follows a busy day for daughter Eden. It opens like this:.

This morning we had our first meeting with the multidisciplinary clinic at the Programme Program for Exceptional Families in our area. Eden's physical medicine doctor oversees this program, and we decided to give it a go. The appointment lasted for over three hours, as we rotated through five teams of specialists, including the doctor, nurse, PT, OT, speech therapist, orthotist, equipment supplier, and social worker. There are usually a neuropsychologist and a nutritionist there as well, but they were out today.

No comment needed here, I think. The ‘team’ listened carefully and will soon send the family send a treatment plan to cover the next six months. You can see and judge all this for yourself too:


But, adds Billie…

We are also going to look into hippotherapy (therapy on horses), swim classes, and Euro-Peds or Conductive Education this summer. The E-P or CE will depend on whether we can manage, without significant disruption to our overall happiness and emotional well-being, to fit it into our schedule. It is all a delicate balance.

Meanwhile, the posting continues, ‘we have a boatload of new equipment’ (one of the lively comments to to this posting calls Eden ‘Gadget Girl’).

Did you catch Conductive Education in there? Judge its status for yourself. Don’t blame this determined, concerned and intelligent mother, look at the information and models available to her in 2008.

Coincidentally, the self-same morning Google alerted me to a third blog posting, one that offers something towards a potential solution to the problem that I discern here.

Bringing them together

The Internet is so clogged with useless junk about Conductive Education that anybody who tries to rely upon a simple search (or even many advanced ones) will end up as much misinformed or deceived as enlightened. This is hardly a problem unique to Conductive Education but we do have a particular problem that is no junk-filtering mechanism through which information can be subject to criticism, where people can question, answer, disagree and demand justification for what is said. Would-be users like Billie are entirely on their own.

There is no panacea here, no magic bullet to solve the junk problem in communicating Conductive Education. Forums go only part of the way but in recent years anyway seem little taken up. Blogs look to have considerable potential, and may be potential users would be fascinated by Susie Mallett’s – but how in the normal run of things will they find it? And how can they judge the worth of such material unless it forms part of a growing body of description, comment and criticism from both fellow conductors and users of Conductive Education services?

The Conductive Education Web

One way to bring conductors and users together on the Internet was proposed to me in my third alert that morning, by linking them conveniently together through a sort of one-stop shop that shows any visitor something of what is is being discussed in the field of the Conductive Education in Cyberspace. Earlier last week Norman Perrin announced that he has just used Pageflakes technology to open such a site. Already it presents information on seven active Conductive Education blogs, in English, Portuguese and French.

Now, my third alert on Saturday told me, he is opening up a second front, with a listing of Conductive Education forums. Let us hope that this venture will breathe new life into the forum sector.

You can find Norman’s own explanations of these at:


The Conductive Education Web itself can be found at:

Norman is one of the longer-established conductive parents in the English-speaking world and the inability of those outside Conductive Education to grasp its essence has been a long-standing bête noire of his.

Starting a pedagogic literature

Communicating the nature of conductive pedagogy and upbringing to the world has been a problem that the existing institutions in Conductive Education appear unable to resolve. I suspect that there exists a substantial population of would-be users out there who would avidly consume appropriate material, concrete but with some theoretical justification, if only they could find it.

But can conductors deliver the goods on this? So far as a profession they have not as a whole been forthcoming in bringing their personal practice to public understanding, even for fellow conductors – never mind for clients and potential clients, other professionals and academics/researchers. Without a ‘pedagogic literature’, who can then blame ‘outsiders’ if they then so often get the whole process hopelessly wrong?

There may be conductors who do not subscribe to the substance, tone or presentation of Susie Mallett’s blog. Fair enough, it’s a free world (some of it, anyway) and they are free to do what they like about it. One thing that they could do is join in, blog for themselves. They might copy her content, style and presentation – or go for something completely different to suit their own substance, tone or presentation. It may be a bit optimistic here to echo Mao’s ‘Let a thousand flowers bloom’ slogan but I think that it’s clear what I mean. It’s so easy to do, and it’s free.

Will it ‘work’ and if so what ways will work best? Who knows – but the conductive answer is to try it, observe the effect, then modify what you are doing on the basis of the experience… does this sound familiar?

Parents, researchers and academics, other conductors, friends of Conductive Education and those whom Mária Hári used to call ‘the enemy’ (you know who you are!) – it is not as though there is no audience out there! Maybe Norman Perrin’s nets might help catch some of it.


Susie Mallett, Plinths or parties, wall bars or hills and dales? Conductor, 11 April 2008

Billie Wright-Ericson, The possibilities are endless, Micro Preemie Twins: the story of Holland and Eden, 10 April 2008

Conductive Education Web


This is not to imply that communicating the nature of Conductive Education is the job of conductors alone. Perhaps the communication and explication of Conductive Education is too important to be left to conductors or to any other single special-interest group within the conductive movement as a whole, but more of that some other time. Certainly, however, within the grand scheme of things, conductors have a vital part to play in this repect, and we are all the poorer for their not doing so.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

The Soviet connection...

There is more than one 'psychology'

Yesterday, in reporting on the recent ‘news’ of the relationship between speech and human mental development, as manifest in motor tasks and ‘behaviour’, I had to admit as follows:

Unfortunately, like many others I cannot readily access complete journal articles in subscription publications, so I have to appreciate their content only second-hand.

Before breakfast this morning a well-wisher had emailed me a copy of the academic article in question.

Its introduction includes three paragraphs that help me understand what has happened at the academic level (the ‘newsworthiness’ of this finding is another question).

This thread of research began with the early work of Vygotsky (1930–1935/1987) and Luria (1959, 1961) on young children’s verbal control of motor behavior. Luria conducted a series of experiments involving a bulb-squeezing task in which children between the ages of 1.5 and 5.5 were asked to squeeze a rubber ball some number of times based on either the experimenter’s verbal commands or instructions for the child to say certain things while squeezing. These studies found that young children (3–5.5 years old) were able to successfully complete the task when the number of squeezes matched the number of syllables/words in the verbalization but were unable to succeed when there was inequality between the number of squeezes and syllables (e.g., a child asked to say “Squeeze two times,” would squeeze three times – once for every word – instead of twice). With increasing age, verbal instructions from either the experimenter or from the self gained in their regulatory effect on children’s motor behavior (Luria, 1959, 1961; Wozniak, 1972).

Other researchers using similar tasks to examine speech–action coordination in young children replicated Luria’s findings (Birch, 1966; Lovaas, 1961, 1964; Meichenbaum & Goodman, 1969a, 1969b). Birch (1966), for example, instructed children to “press” (say and do) when they saw a green light and to “don’t press” (say and do) when they saw a red light. Results from this study revealed that all of the 5.5–6.5-year-old children were able to successfully complete this task, while 75% of 4.5–5.5-year-old children were successful, and only 37.5% of 3.5–4.5-year-old children were successful. Meichenbaum and Goodman (1969b) extended this work by exploring differences between instructing kindergarten and first grade children to use overt (i.e., aloud to self) or covert (i.e., quiet with lip movements) speech to exercise verbal control over motor responses in a peg-tapping task. First graders’ benefited more from the covert speech condition than did kindergarteners. These findings support the notion that as children develop, the motoric component of speech becomes less influential in controlling the child’s motor behavior while the semantic content of the child’s speech becomes more influential. Additionally, these studies point out that the shift from the motoric to the semantic aspects of the speech being functional occurs at about the same time as Vygotsky’s hypothesized internalization of private speech from other to self, from overt to covert (Vygotsky, 1934/1987).

Wozniak (1975) and others (Balamore & Wozniak, 1984; Goodman, 1981; Tinsley & Waters, 1982), using a task that involves children tapping sequences of colored pegs with a toy hammer while listening to and/or producing various verbal instructions during or before tapping, showed that when children’s vocalizations accompany the action of tapping, performance is enhanced, however, when verbal self-instructions are given before the hammering starts the speech is not as helpful in guiding behavior. Three- and 4-year-old children also performed better on the task when they used self-vocalizations compared to when they did not. Research by Mischel and Patterson (1976; Patterson & Mischel, 1975, 1976) examining preschool children’s instructed use of self-verbalizations while trying to resist the temptation to play with attractive but prohibited toys similarly found that children are able to resist or delay longer when they used the verbal strategies they were instructed to use, compared to control children who were either instructed to use irrelevant verbalizations or given no instructions. Also noted in these studies was that children delayed longer when they were given specific things to say to themselves and when they were given cues as to when to speak, compared to children given less specific instructions.

This is a reasonable summary of a thread of investigation within experimental psychology in the United States that took some findings reported from the then Soviet Union and elaborated upon them. This thread, which I have even heard called a paradigm, was usually known in English under the rubric of the ‘verbal regulation of behavior’ (in fact a significant mistranslation indicative of wider conceptual differences between the two psychologies), This line of investigation derived from laboratory work of A. R. Luriya when he was at the Institute of Defectology and was very much defined by his political situation at the time. When this mitigated somewhat, he soon moved on. In the West the thread did not prove particularly fruitful and eventually petered out. The so-called ‘neo-Vygotskians’ never connected to it.

The enormous psycho-pedagogical tradition of which the work of Luriya and Vygotskii were important parts were not taken up in the West outside a very narrow group. It was when examining Soviet defectological approaches and achievements that I myself toyed with ‘verbal regulation’ – at which time my then student Ann Mintram (now retired in New Zeeland} said something like ’Have you heard of Conductive Education? It looks just like what you were talking about?' But that’s another story.

More interesting are the references to Donald Meichenbaum, in the text quoted above. Meichembaum, ‘one of the ten most influential psychologists of the [last] century’, combined what he read of Luriya’s experiments with what he already had, behaviorism, took this out of the psychological laboratory into the real world and, ecce, something quite new – ‘cognitive behavior modification’ that has had made and continues to make no small contribution to human welfare. That’s a different story too (or is it – hark back to two days ago and the item on this site ‘Freudian slip’).

Meanwhile back in the lab, the thread remained a matter of minutiae. It was intersting to see Winsler and his colleagues resurrecting this line in the West, though it is hard to see what all the fuss is about. They do seem interested, though, its potential to improve the educational process, so the best of luck to them in that. Meanwhile of course, pedagogic and psychological traditions persist in the former Soviet lands, despite everything, and most people who read Conductive Education World are exceptionally aware of the power of the word out in the real world.
This site has spent some time on the Liberal-German-Jewish contribution to the development of Conductive Education. There are two others and yesterday' posting is timely reminder that one of these, let us call it for the moment the Soviet psycho-pedagogic, has rather tended to slip from view...


Sutton, A. (2008) Freudian slip, Conductive Education World, 6 April

Sutton, A.(2008) Wheels are round, Conductive Education World, 8 April

Winsler, A., Manfra, L., Diaz, R. M. (2007) ’Should I let them talk?’ Private speech and task performance among preschool children with and without behavior problems, Early Childhood Research Quarterly, vol. 22, no 2, pp. 215-231 pages 215-231

A note on spellings

‘Behaviour’… I suppose that I have to write ‘behavior’ here, the computer certainly wants me to, as this thread of research in the West has been largely American.

Лурия, Выготский: I write ‘Luriya’ and ‘Vygotskii’, rather than ‘Luria’ and ‘Vygotsky’, because, due to my particular personal background I always have. I shall get round to explaining some further such distinctions when I am over my present glut of work, possibly in the summer (I wish!).

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Wheels are round

Psychologists' shock-horror revelation!

Saturday's edition of The Times (of London) has a pull-out section, Body and Soul, appearently aimed largely at the worried well.

Each week this section includes a feature called ‘Breakthroughs, tips and trends’, written by John Naish. On Saturday (5 April) the lead story on this page was headed ‘The talking cure’, bringing together snippets of research publications involving various examples of what, I suppose, might be called loosely ‘the role of speech’

The first of these, ‘a study showing that five-year-olds are better at dexterity-challenging tasks when encouraged to indulge in “self-talk”’, was summarised as follows.

The study, in Early Childhood Research Quarterly, adds to a body of research that shows that throughout life, talking to oneself … can carry significant benefits. The new study found that 78 per cent of children of children performed better on motor tasks when speaking to themselves than when they were silent. Their commentaries may have aided their ability to focus.

The lead researcher, Adam Winsler, says that parents and teachers should support toddlers’ self-talking habits rather than ‘thinking of them as weird or bad’….

The study had been published in Early Childhood Research Quarterly a year ago by Elsevier, not an open-access publisher, but has recently found a wider audience following a press release from the lead researcher's university. On 1 April Tara Laskowski from the Media Relations department of George Mason University in Northern Virginia, where Adam Winsler works in the Early Childhood Language and Self-Regulation Laboratory, elaborates:

Winsler’s recent study published in Early Childhood Research Quarterly showed that 5-year-olds do better on motor tasks when they talk to themselves out loud, either spontaneously or when told to do so by an adult, than when they are silent…

Winsler says that private speech is very common and perfectly normal among children between the ages of 2 and 5. As children begin talking to themselves, their communication skills with the outside world improve.

‘This is when language comes inside,’ says Winsler. ‘As these two communication processes merge, children use private speech in the transition period. It’s a critical period for children, and defines us as human beings.’

Psychologists, doncha love ‘em?

So there you have it, interiorisation (internalisation) of outer speech to inner, to fuse into verbal thinking and create a new stage in the mental development of the child, as a unique human characteristic.

All very reassuring for those who like to argue rhetorically along the lines of ‘Research has confirmed…’ (though ‘Research continues to confirm…’ might be a better and more appropriate statement of the situation) and feel that Adam Winsler and the journal that he edits offers a more convincing source for their evidence than Vygotskii, Luriya, Gal’perin and the colossal psycho-pedagogic edifice that derived from their work.
Perhaps they are right.

But how depressing that we are still stuck with such a pre-paradigmatic psychological science, that still in the twenty-first century can be reporting empirical findings to demonstrate that wheels are round – with a major UK national newspaper, plus a good selection of the American technical media, along with presumably their educated readerships – apparentlyconsidering this news.

After all, this particular wheel has for years been proving to be a practical and effective tool in all sorts of educational contexts, including one of the most arduous of all, the pedagogy and upbringing of children with motor disorders.


Naish, J. (2008) The talking cure, Body and Soul, (pull-out section of the Sunday Times), 5 April 2008, p.3

Winsler, A., Manfra, L., Diaz, R. M. (2007) ’Should I let them talk?’ Private speech and task performance among preschool children with and without behavior problems, Early Childhood Research Quarterly, vol. 22, no 2, pp. 215-231 pages 215-231

Full article available for US$31.50. Abstract on line.

George Mason University Children with and without behavioral problems, as well as autistic children, should be encouraged to talk aloud in classrooms (press release)

Laskowski, T. (2008) Preschool kids talking to themselves a good thing, research shows, The Mason Gazette, 1 April

Child Development Research Laboratory, George Mason University


I hope that I have not appeared unduely flippant about Adam Winsler’s work, though the date of the newsletter report (1 April), the first thing that I stumbled upon when I began following up John Naish's report on the Internet, did rather have me wondering whether this would be just another barmy-boffin story. Unfortunately, like many others I cannot readily access complete journal articles in subscription publications, so I have to appreciate their content only second- hand. The full formal abstract for this article reads as follows which, to be fair, is not quite how things come across in the papers.

Preschool and kindergarten teachers must make decisions everyday about how much to allow their children to talk out loud to themselves during various classroom activities. The present study examines the effects of children's private speech use on task performance for a group of behaviorally at-risk children and a group of control children during a speech–action coordination task. Twenty-nine behaviorally at-risk preschool children and 43 control children completed two versions of a speech–action coordination task (motor sequencing version and numeric tapping) two times, once with and once without speech instructions. Results indicated that the behaviorally at-risk children used more speech spontaneously compared to control children and performed just as well, and that both groups of children performed better when given instructions to use speech. Implications of these findings for early childhood educators’ decisions about children's private speech use in the classroom are discussed.

Most remiss of me, commenting from secondary sources, without site of the original. Maybe my problem here is more one of popularisation.

You never know, a serious contemporary psychological interest in this underpinning aspect of Conductive Education might still make a major contribution to both sides. There are enough Conductive Education centres in the Washington DC area to make something possible.

But it is not my role to act as marriage broker!
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