Friday, 30 May 2008

Major expansion in Western Australia

A giant awakes?

Australian parents were amongst the earliest pioneers of the international Conductive Education movement. David and Claire Jarm went to Budapest in January 1985 with their daughter Sarah, nearly a year before the transmission of Standing up for Joe in the United Kingdom unleashed the first tide of foreign clients to attend the then State Institute in Budapest. The National Association of Conductive Education (NACE) that they helped found at the national conference held in Melbourne in August 1985 brought together parent-activists and interested professionals and officials, and was the first organisation of its kind, anywhere. Exciting times. Since then, however, developments in Australia have not gone as the early Australian parent-pioneers had hoped or planned.

There have of course been exceptions to this general picture, small groups and individuals keeping the flame alive and persisting along the long hard road. The story of Western Australia may serve as a type for this long process.

Western Australia

In 2003 the Conductive Education Association of Western Australia published a useful potted history of what had happened up till then in Western Australia. Numerous schemes had been initiated but none lasted, the major reasons for this, the Association believed, being ‘Lack of administrative support and the fact that a trained conductor has never been employed ‘. All there was to show by 2003, only five years ago now, was a single conductor (Ildiko Szivek) in private practice in Perth.

The Association contrasted the situation in Western Australia with that of New Zealand and in 1997 brought this unfavourable comparison to the attention of relevant public and voluntary bodies. In response, the Department of Education set up a working party, and this in turn led to official guarantee of funding for a conductor who also held a school- teaching qualification.

Following a few false starts, from 2002 conductor-led vacation camps were initiated and by 2003 Carson Street School (an ‘education support school’, under the leadership of John Exeter), that had been working for some years with the ’principles of Conductive Education’, had established a building fund. More significantly Carlson Street had introduced training and consultancies from conductors, sourced both locally and on a visiting basis from Queensland. Then from 2004 the school employed first one then two ‘teacher-conductors’. In 2006 the first of these, Laura Jones, reported an outline of the teacher-conductors’ emerging roles there.

The goal of the Conductive Education Association of Western Australia has been a strategic one:

The ultimate aim of the Conductive Education Association (WA) is to have Conductive Education available as an option, in Early Intervention and for School Aged children, no matter where they are receiving their education, whether it is in an inclusive or segregated setting.

The Association has been in no about of the fundamental principle driving this strategy, a principle that will chime with many in the conductive movement around the world:

We believe that one of the greatest strengths of Conductive Education is that it is parent driven. Our members, in general, are outside of the education and medical establishments giving them a level of independence that cannot be easily crushed by the usual resistance to change. This parent-driven movement subscribes to the principle that families have a right to make informed choices in their child’s education, with different circumstances and possibilities emerging (the concept of dynamic inclusion) as their child progresses up through the developmental process.

Expansion at Carlson Street in 2009

The two conductors at Carlson Street currently touch the lives of some fifty children each week, through a range of programme that include:

six sessional ‘school-for-parents’ groups (ages 0 - 5 years);
three ‘kindy’ and pre-primary groups, two full days per week (4 – 6 years); and
involvement with a full-time class for primary-aged children with severe multiple disabilities

Busy ladies! But now the school is to expand its conductor establishment more than three-fold, to cover a wide range of additional activities in the school and outside:

block placements (holiday programmes for isolated families living in regional WA, after-school booster groups for kindy/pre-primary children attending local mainstream schools, and outreach/follow-up for school-aged children previously at Carson Street School and are now in local mainstream schools) ;

further full-time kindy/pre-school and school-age Conductive Education classes

This expansion will require four conductors and teacher-conductors committed to long-term employment (minimum: one year) at Carson Street, plus an unspecified number of conductors on short-term contracts.

Expressions of interest are being invited now, to commence work in January 2009. For further information see the job advert at:

Funding

Expansion is to be funded in part by the Western Australian Department of Education and Training and partly through special project grants from three local charities, CEA (WA) Inc., the Conductive Education Centre of WA and School for Parents Inc. Judging from their websites, the charitable partner-organisations in this expansion are very much parent-led.

In the late eighties Australia had looked set to become a power in the early internationalisation of Conductive Education, alongside the United Kingdom and Israel. Subsequent experience around the world has born out the somber expectation that there are no short cuts to establishing Conductive Education. Western Australia’s experience does, however, illustrate the potential efficacy of sheer persistence. Patience pays.

Using number of conductors employed as a simple index, this will be the biggest Conductive Education initiative in Australia, by a factor of at least two. Alongside significant new initiative pending in New South Wales (see separate news item today, 'Meanwhile in Queensland...'), perhaps Australia might again prove a major force in an emerging new world order in Conductive Education.

Exiting times again.

Notes

Carson Street School
http://carsonst.wa.edu.au/

Conductive Education Association of Western Australia Inc.
http://www.conductiveedwa.com.au/

Conductive Education Centre of Western Australia (CECWA)
http://www.wacharitydirect.com.au/charities.asp

References

Jarm, D. (1985) Overseas Report (1985-6) Conductive Education News, vol.1, no 1, Summer, p. 10

Conductive Education Association of Western Australia (2003) History of Conductive Education in Western Australia
http://www.conductiveedwa.com.au/fram_history.htm

Jones, L (2006) Roles and responsibilities of teacher-conductors working within three special schools in England and Australia, Recent Advances in Conductive Education, vol. 5, no 2, pp.77-86

Jones, L. (2005) School for Parents: an early intervention option, DSA Diary (Newsletter of the Down Syndrome Association of WA), June, p. 11
www.dsawa.asn.au/Diaries/diaryjun05.pdf

Jones, L. (2008) Conductors wanted – Western Australia (advertisement), Conductive Education Job Centre, 28 May
http://www.conductive-education.org.uk/2008/2805job02.htm

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