Friday, 16 May 2008

A hard call to make

Is this a problem for Conductive Education?

It looks like the start of the end game may have come in the struggle to maintain the Xavier Special Education Unit at Whites Hill State College in Queensland, Australia, which the College's website describes in the following terms:

Xavier Special Education Unit (3 months – 18 years)

Xavier Special Education Unit provides education for children and babies with motor disorders such as developmental delay and cerebral palsy; it is the only centre in Queensland where all programs are based on the principles of Conductive Education.

The quality of Xavier’s programs means it enjoys a reputation for excellence, not only within this state, but nationally and internationally. Children attend from many areas including the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast and many suburbs of Brisbane and surrounding areas. Several families have moved from interstate and country areas and some from overseas, to place their children at Xavier.

What is going on here?

For a detailed account (admittedly from one side in a long and probably bitter dispute), see:

No doubt those who are interested to know the other side of this arguement will have no problem in finding the contrary position.

And what is at stake?

Clearly, a long-standing service with a dedicated and appreciative client group sees a possible end of a much-valued resource in the upbringing of children and their families' well-being. Something humane and effective risks being lost.

But is this, as stated, Conductive Education?

No conductors have been continuously involved in this program. There is of course no a priori reason to consider that Conductive Education is possible only with the full-time involvement of conductors. Xavier affirms that it operates according to the 'principles' of Conductive Education but what in fact is meant here by this misleading, misunderstood and misused term? Have they been able to create a conductive upbringing notwithstanding? If so it would be really interesting to know the mechanisms, the real pedagogic principles, involved.

Xavier's informaive website may help you towards forming your own judgement on this:

Does such distinction matter?

At one level of course it doesn't. Some families may lose a resource that is very important to them and it matters not that this is in the Antipodes or wherever. We are all diminished by this. They deserve all the solidarity that they can find.

But can they look to the CE movement for solidarity over this?

This may be the wrong time to be asking legitimate questions about the relative 'conductiveness' or otherwise of a particular service. But the principled question involved here is terribly important for anyone who rallies around the banner of 'Conductive Education' – what is and what is not to be counted here? Unfortunately, at any time and even in the most general terms, such questions tend to lead to dissent, to friends' falling out and therefore instead to a general shrugging of shoulders and looking the other way. Perhaps if these questions had not been so studiously avoided, the history of Conductive Education in Australia might have taken a different path and the situation there today might turned out rather different.

But that's as may be. We are where we are. Just yesterday, Thursday 15 May, families at Xavier started a blog to help put their case:

This post is all about our and our children's experiences at Xavier. What differences has Conductive Education made to our lives?

It will be very interesting to see how things develop and what arguments are deployed. At a different level, Conductive Education is also at stake here. That too has to be defended.


  1. I have read both postings on the Xavier school and can appreciate the points of view. The efforts and hard work of the staff at Xavier are not in dispute here as far as I can see, it just highlights the problems associated with those services offering 'the principles of CE' rather than the 'real thing' and begs the questions - What are these principles? Does any other profession accept offering the principles of their work, (especially in the education and health fields)? What is the three year training for if not to provide a thorough grounding in CE and enable good practice? I'm sure what is happening in the centres/schools offering 'the principles' is beneficial to those receiving it but....

  2. It seems that finally it happens what was expected in the last 2-3 years.
    Parents and professionals in Xavier tried and still trying to save their school. I like to ad that teachers and health professionals had the best intention there to accomodate the needs of children with different disabilities.
    I worked "close by" in the Focus CE centre Auckland, NZ and we had and have young babies, children who came over with their parents from Brisbane to us to receive "real" conductive education.
    I don't like to use the word "real" but I have to as there are different kind of practices available now wordwide. E.g.: using the principles of CE.
    I believe it is highly important for the sake of the "real" conductive education that we are clear what it means: First of all conductive upbringing, consistency and continuity in teaching and learning, not just the presence of the conductor but her/his ability to develop a conductive learning environment, to built trust with the children-it takes time- his/her knowledge, and motivation to lead/guide children to achieve their best.
    Who will jugde what is their best? A skilled conductor will do, who has expectations and will work constantly together with the child to achieve his/her best in groups.
    We are talking about the
    "unified system of knowlegde" as I read in the paper above, it is CE when we apply it in its complexity.

    I value undoubtedly the work of teachers and health professionals who are in contact with CE and who believe in it and working towards to use the principles of CE to provide a more comprehensive intervention for children in their care.

    But we must be clear for the benefits and interest of children & parents and very much for the sake of the next generations of conductors what the real conductive education is.

    The closure of Xavier will be a big loss for the parents and who worked there for many years, decades - it is very sad.

    There are parents in Brisbane who put a lot of effort to set up a conductive centre there, with experienced conductors. Their intention is to create a centre like in Auckland. Most of them attended in the programme there for terms or year/s and they know the differences.
    They have lot's of difficulties, and I hope finally with the help of the conductors in Auckland they will be able to achive their goal-a conductive centre in Brisbane.


  3. Hello! I'm Jody Florance the President of the Parents & Citizens Association at Xavier. I would like to inform the Conductive world of a few points which may or may not give credence to the quality of Conductive Education at Xavier.

    The first point I would like to make is that we do have a full time conductor on staff who works with the children and other staff members as part of Xavier’s trans-disciplinary team.

    Secondly, the term “principles of Conductive education” is used out of respect to the establishments where the majority of staff members are Conductors. Xavier has dedicated more than 20years to “CE” despite not having a full time conductor on staff for the majority of those years, our staff have a wealth of knowledge, experience and expertise.

    The quality of “CE” at Xavier is the product of our consultant, senior Conductor Judit Szathmary (a hard task master)who established and continues to support our "CE". Judit spends blocks of time at Xavier doing professional development, working with the children and Parent in-servicing. The team at Xavier then implement and develop the recommendations knowing they will be scrutinised upon her return.

    Staff from Xavier have attended and presented at numerous International Conferences. Unfortunately we couldn’t present ou paper last year as our fight for survival consumed us.

    Things are quiet here at the moment as we are waiting for the governments official decision about the future of Xavier. The predicament we are in is complex and I will keep an eye on this blog should any question arise that I can shed some light on.


  4. It is an exciting time for us all, despite of all the painful grief Xavier has to go through in trying to salvage their little gem of hard earned creation and also it is a great opportunity to explore some of the questions which occupied my mind since I first had to work outside of the Petö Institute.
    Phew… it was hard work starting in a special school in Oxford paid by Oxfordshire Education Authority. I was the first conductor on their payroll and I believe maybe the first one with a proper work permit in England.
    When I was a young girl I extensively read English literature and I undoubtedly fell in love with (in a poetic way of describing Britain) the foggy Albion.
    I loved the culture, the freedom of speech, the easy access to books which were not available in Hungary at my time when I was growing up and if I wanted to read about certain philosophies, scientific discoveries, different religions and healing techniques I had to buy those books on the black market smuggled in form Austria and I had to pay a very high price for them.
    Despite the very different clearly defined and sophisticated social structure, I found the Brits forward thinking, open-minded, liberate and highly entertaining. At the same time I had to face some real set backs and great opposition to the work I studded at Petö and which I cherished and believed in so much in my heart.
    It was 1986 when my plane first landed in England and I had tears in my eyes, which was quite unusual for me. It was the same when I first visited Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. I was standing at the lake, the rain was pouring down on me and mist was covering the lake… I had tears running down my cheeks for no apparent reason.
    I was so alone in my work and I had to live up to this great responsibility fate or maybe my own innate calling placed upon my shoulders.
    Since then, Conductive Education has spread and grown in England and worldwide. I had the opportunity to meet some of the key people who desperately tried to bring this system to the west and some of them unfortunately are no longer with us.
    I met some great minds during my travels and despite that they were not trained in Conductive Education at the Petö Institute, they managed to bring quality and recognition to the worldwide conductive movement, to the conductive community and also to each and every one of you who are now working abroad.
    They were the ones who prepared the grounds for the conductors to have the opportunity to sow the seeds of the real thing if there is such and make it grow. I am still awaiting from the ‘real conductive community’ to work together and to produce the goods in clearly defined guidelines and publications which we are proud of and committed to.
    When I started in Oxford my colleagues had real difficulties to understand the meaning of the word pedagogy (it wasn’t used as much as now days) and we had endless discussions whether it was the right way of translating Petö’s Conductive Pedagogy into Conductive Education. Is it right to call it Conductive Education or should it be called Conductive Pedagogy? The rest of the questions I will leave for a later date once we all could agree on the first one.

    Maybe it is a great opportunity and the time has finally come that we all start openly discussing the real issues we have to face globally in following Professor András Petö’s footsteps and trying to establish a clearly much needed multifaceted provision and support for children and adults with neurological conditions and for their families.
    Thank you for taking the time for reading my decadent blurb.
    With much love and respect,
    Judit Szathmáry

  5. Conductive Education is not brain surgery… it is far more complex.

    A comment to Norman Perrin with reference to his analogy about brain surgery. The Brain Surgeon has the highest professional ranking however, achieving a positive outcome for the patient is reliant on a team of professionals which include but not limited to; nurses, anaesthetist, cardiologist, pathologists, Intensive Care Staff, Occupational Therapist, Wardsmen, Administrators…

    We should all be valued for our role in the evolution of Conductive Education Internationally and those who do it well should be recognised and supported.

    Xavier has credibility as a result of unwavering commitment to Conductive Education over decades. We are currently in a very delicate position and are at risk of losing something we believe in. The Xavier community is determined to get what we want and we will fight, as we have done for the past 12 years.

    We would appreciate the support of the Conductive world. It’s interesting to note that the strongest support comes from people who have actually seen Xavier in action.

  6. Ah,yes, now I remember why I have not been reading much on the internet discussion of conductive education over the last 3 years or so. I decided it was never really helpful re sharing ideas and things that will help students, mostly seemed more about judging people and programs rather than helping. So I went with what I really want to do - work with children/people with disabilities and have mostly stayed away from discussions like this.

    However, now that we (Xavier) have finally managed to get a website and blog up and running (thank you to an enthusiastic parent), I do feel that if Xavier is going to be discussed I should at least perhaps give you some factual information. Also, I must say thank you to Amanda for her words of support, particularly when they may not make you popular in the CE community.

    I am Annette Demack and am at present "Head of School" at Xavier. For the last four years we have had a Hungarian trained conductor working with us full time. We have for many years had ongoing excellent support from Judit Szathmary and her Conductive Education Support Services. This has been regular support with physical presence for some time on an annual basis. In the early days Education Queensland employed two Hungarian trained conductors who were at Xavier on a regular basis.

    One of the good and bad things about our school is that we have always been a free service within the array of options offered by the government in Qld schools. This of course is also a "rub" with continual 'battles' to maintain this pedagogy.

    In the end I have to be rude enough to say that I no longer care whether what we offer is considered "true CE" (whatever that may be) or not, that is for others who wish to debate and judge. What I do know and care about is the quality of program we offer and the difference it makes in the lives of children and their families. This program is based on Conductive Education as we have seen it, read about it, been trained by Conductors in it, attended conferences to learn more about it, watched film, video etc. Through all of this we have become passionate about this pedagogy and have sought to offer it here in Brisbane. We use the name because the credit should to go to this pedagogy and not somewhere else. (although perhaps some in the area don't want credit for what we offer)

    If we had waited for a Conductor to run this program it may never have got underway and if each time a Conductor left we had stopped it, where would that leave the students? We have continued to work away since 1986 and I believe we offer quality programs "based" on Conductive Education. Do with that as you wish but I will continue to fight for what I believe is best for the students at Xavier.

  7. Not a comment but a question really. Do you have any evidence for or against the use of C.E. in children with Downs Syndrome? Thanks for any help