Sunday, 31 August 2008

Make no little plans

They have no magic to stir a man’s soul

These are the words of David Burnham, the man largely responsible for Chicago’s stunning lakefront, through his famous Chicago Plan of 1909 for rebuilding the city following the Great Fire.

He was also responsible for laying out San Francisco following the Great Earthquake there. Trust him: he has a track record!

Losing the vision…?

When Conductive Education first came out of Hungary, some twenty or so long years ago, many of the pioneers saw this as the basis for a Great Plan to sweep away moribund established orders in special education and therapy/rehabilitation and lay the foundations for a brave new world.

This vision certainly stirred the blood of the men and women involved: the families of disabled children, some disabled adults and even a few professionals. This vision and the passion that it engendered was something that the media and the politicians could sense, and even share.

People made big plans, literally so in the case of new ‘institutes’, but also strategic plans for service organizations, and training and other infrastructural systems. These too stirred the blood.

And where are things now? Lots and lots of little projects sprinkled around the world, fighting to hold on to their little niches against a still generally unreconstructed and unsympathetic system that shows no sign of fundamental change. As for the grandiose institutes once envisaged, maybe the blueprints survive to gather more dust in personal archives but the only bricks-and-motor manifestation is the quarter-finished National Institute in Birmingham, England.

Now the talk everywhere is about how Conductive Education has to change, to fit in with how things are around it. Of course, all things have to change, including Conductive Education (its providers as well as its practitioners). But this alone is hardly the blood-stirring vision to rally the troops, attract new adherents, and catch the admiration of politicians and funders.

No doubt many things are needed now to reignite the one-time widespread public and professional enthusiasm for Conductive Education, and the serious academic interest (most especially in education) iabout what it is and what this implies. But nearly a hundred years after David Burnham’s Great Plan (the Centennial celebrations are next year) one need only look at Chicago’s lakefront to be reminded of his central message for Conductive Education:

Think big!

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Legal precedents in the United States

And a small step in reporting CE conferences

I am at the Chicago conference where I hear something so good and useful that I thought that I’d blog it in the break straight away, without waiting till I get home.

This was a joint presentation by Patti Herbst and Thom Thompson called 'Practical and legal considerations unique to Conductive Education'.

Patti is Executive Director (and founder) of the Center for Independence for Conductive Education, in Chicago. Tom Thompson is an attorney with DLA Piper US LLP.

Their presentation comprised alternating expositions about how parents might manage appeals against their children’s IEPs (Individual Education Plans). There are different terminologies elsewhere in the English-speaking world for analogous documents (for example Statements in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, Co-ordinated Support Plans in Scotland) but, specifics of the different laws apart, this was all so hauntingly evocative of my own experience in England over the years.

The combined presentation was impressive partly because of the presenters' confidence and assurance about what had to be done, built out of considerable experience of doing this sort of thing over the years. Partly too, however, this was because of the excellent ‘literature’ that they handed out, in the form of a spiral-backed booklet. This is a collection of nine tabulated ‘legal authorities’ (that is judges' published decisions) in precedential cases in the United States running from 1982 to 2005, along with Patti's tips on how to approach all this in practice.

If you are in the United States and considering ‘due process’ proceedings against your local school board about a decision involving Conductive Education, then this collection will be very useful to your attorney. Get one. If you are running a center in the US you might also like to have a copy to hand for advising parents, and to structure and develop your own thinking.

Outside the United States, of course, these judges’ decisions have no direct precedential value (say, in an English court of law). But they may be enormously useful for people looking for arguments to use and for ways in which judges, even in a different jurisdiction, have made their minds up and arrived at their decisions.


Patti Herbst. I have to add a brief note on Patti Herbst. I first met her at the Columbia College in New York a few years back. I do well recall her impassioned and articulate railing about her son’s having to waste so much time each day at school on a bureaucratically imposed academic curriculum of no relevance to his life and future, when there was so much other, more useful learning to do! This afternoon, during her presentation in Chicago, she came out with a beautifully honed and distilled statement of the same position:

The inclusive classroom can be the most restrictive environment in the world for the child with a disability.

Tom Thompson. You can contact Tom Thompson at


Herbst, P., Thompson, T. (2005) Practical and legal considerations unique to Conductive Education. Booklet presented at the 4th ACENA Conductive Education Conference, Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, 29 August

To obtain a copy, contact Patti Herbst at There is a small charge payable: worth every penny!

And by the way...

...this blog is a first for Conductive Education, reporting on something at a conference on the very day that it happens. Another time, should the opportunity arise, I shall try reporting on a presentation in real time, as it's actually happening, from within the hall, using my mobile. This, however, will have to wait till I'm back home in the UK and it's cheaper!

Either represents quite a step forward for a sector where most conferences don't even produce published proceedings to show that they ever happened (see Gill's recent blog on this topic). Other Conductive Education bloggers do please note and emulate.

Full conference report

Next next week, when I'm back in England.

Well, can you believe it...?

New centre and more new conductor-training

The following news item for the Isle of Wight County Press is published here in its entirety.

Complementary medicine coup for Island

David Newbie

An Island-based complementary medicine centre is joining forces with the world famous Peto Institute in Hungary to set up a conductive education centre on the Isle of Wight.

The Shen clinic, which is based at Westridge near Ryde and in Holyrood Street, Newport, will also be developing a degree-level training programme on the Isle of Wight in conjunction with the Budapest Institute, which is based on their revolutionary methods of treating debilitating conditions affecting the nervous system.

Peto specialises in the rehabilitation of conditions relating to damage to the central nervous system such as cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s disease, strokes and multiple sclerosis.

The Shen Clinic — which is well known throughout Europe — is associated with new evolving systems of acupuncture not seen anywhere else in the world, which are being applied with encouraging results in rehabilitation for damage to the central nervous system.

Shen Clinic director Dr Mike Lambert said: “This offer of a collaboration with the Peto Institute is a remarkable opportunity for both the Isle of Wight and the Shen Clinic.“It will allow us to work daily alongside some of the most talented practitioners in Hungary in dealing with debilitating conditions that exist among us right here on the Island, where it is likely we can make a contribution in real terms.

“It is our aim to set standards for traditional medicine of the 21st century through integrating the principles of health and education both of a bygone era and those of the evolving knowledge and technology of our times.“We now live in a world of such phenomena as quantum physics, particle and entanglement processes, which makes the workings of modalities such as acupuncture and homeopathy much more understandable.”

Well, do you believe it?

The prosperous South Coast has a long tradition of involvement with Conductive Education. Conductive Education Support Services and the Rainbow Centre can both trace their origins back to the early days of the conductive movement outside Hungary while the new charity Whoopsadaisey is still in the process of raising the money to get its services started. All three will be interested to learn of these ambitious new plans in their locality, particularly Rainbow which is continuing its fundraising activities to establish its own undergraduate-level conductor-training.


Newbie D. (2008) Complementary medicine coup for Island, Isle of Wight County Press, 28 August 2008

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Expansion in Western Australia

Limitation now is employing sufficient conductors

This Friday, 22 August, Carlson Street School in Perth, Western Australia, will open its new Conductive Education Centre.

This is announced in the latest issue in the school’s newsletter, which also reports on operations in the school’s Conductive Education program.

Evidence-based grant

Last year the school received an official grant of A$ 200,000 over three years to promote and develop Conductive Education in the early years, a program described as ‘applying the principles of Conductive Education’. It will be interesting to see sometime what these are and how they are applied. Such a grant apparently is not usual in Western Australia, having been made following publication of the ‘strong evidence-based recommendations’ of a study by Heather Jenkins of the Curtin University of technology that recommended that ‘the program of Conductive Education is continued for children with motor disabilities’.

Many people around the world would be very interested to know how to collect the sort of ‘evidence base’ strong enough lead to a A$ 200,000 grant so that they might arrange for their own. The report is unpublished: for further information, contact the author direct at

The school is now preparing a submission for this grant to be extended and expanded after 2009 to cover expected waiting lists.

Shortage of conductors

The school has built up a significant waiting list for its Conductive Education programs. A major issue now is not having enough conductors, especially within the school itself. Apparently Australia’s immigration laws require special permission to advertise for workers from overseas and this has to be applied for now to be effective for September 2009.


Carlson Street School


Heather Jenkins (2008) Evaluation of an early intervention strategy based on the principles of Conductive Education to assist students with mobility disorders (unpublished report), Curtin University if Technology

Previous item on progress and plans at Carlson Street Sutton,
A. Sutton (2008) Major expansion in Western Australia: a giant awakes, Conductive Education World, 30 May

Tuesday, 19 August 2008


Birmingham declaration has implications for all

Text of address to the Foundation’s 

Annual Awards Ceremony

Franz Schaffhauser
Rektor, International Pető Institute
20 June 2008
Dr Sutton, esteemed professors and colleagues distinguished guests, proud family members, graduates!
First of all I should like to thank the Foundation for Conductive Education and the National Institute of Conductive Education for their kind invitation. I feel very honoured and privileged to be here on behalf of the Pető Institute.
Being a small country, Hungary has introduced only a few ideas to the world but Conductive Education is one of them. Its primary aim is to work hard to build a personality, to foster intentionality, self-control, success and dignity. We teach dysfunctioning individuals to learn and to shape their ambition for self-development. Together we explore their potential in order to set goals that they will see as their own demands. According to the essential principle of Conductive Education, not only do the educators have impact on the children or adults but they in turn affect the educators as well. In the course of education motor-disabled individuals and conductors develop simultaneously as a result of concerted activity.
I think it is now for our organisations to open a door and become enriched by exchanging ideas and sharing recent developments with each other.
Let us face some significant facts and events of the near past and let us try to examine these with a critical eye.
In the nineteen-fifties and sixties András Pető and his institute were quarantined by the ideologically narrow-minded and politically blind communist regime. The Institute, in fact the whole world, owes it to British society, to the British parents who took the development of their children into their own hands, and not least the Government of the United Kingdom, that this isolation was ended. In the nineteen-eighties your initiatives proved really productive when the Pető method attained the forefront of professional interest worldwide, Conductive Education became an opportunity for many families in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, and the names of András Pető, his true student Mária Hári and the Pető Institute were introduced to the world. It is impossible to overestimate the importance of this initiative, which at that time received our support and then, building upon original joint interests and collaboration, an institute offering conductive practice was set up and conductor-training launched. 
The real community of interests seems to have suffered damage when science, normally cultivated in your country in a critical, free and responsible spirit, presented its first results related to Conductive Education, while you chose to follow your own less restricted, non-dogmatic practice when the contents of the training were to be determined. At that time the Pető Institute too was not immune from dogmatic preconceptions, either in terms of scientific research or conductive practice. Now eighteen years have passed since fundamental change in Hungary's political system and we are still struggling with a number of after-effects of dogmatism that are still reflected in attitudes.

On the other hand, Pető's original, authentic ideas were safeguarded, fostered, systematised and represented, consistently and when necessary harshly, by the management and the entire staff of the Pető Institute. You will certainly believe me that this has had an unfavourable impact up to these days, particularly on the practical training of conductors. The Institute and the management were concerned for this effect and tried to protect Conductive Education against any external influence that may have lessened it in their interpretation. To this end, students of Pető’s College were not allowed to meet therapeutic teams or communities and had no chance whatsoever to learn how to work in such a setting. Conductors undertaking to work in teams alongside professionals representing different approaches met with disapproval. 
Following a promising beginning then, barely had the system of our personal and institutional connections been established and the training commenced, when the negative effects of the previously mentioned circumstances started to appear; to emerge moreover as a tendency. To the management of the Pető Institute, your own free way of thinking and more flexible approach, sometimes even your mere interest, seemed almost provocative and those working in the administration and especially the training system of conductive education responded again with reservation and self-isolation. Then the problem culminated in a question that induced conflicts: Who is the authentic representative of Conductive Education? Who is entitled to stand up for it on international level? Essentially the conflict came to a head in connection with the right to continue training and to grant conductor qualification.
The point of view that we now take is clear: every institution that asks for and gets national or international accreditation must know what conductive pedagogy is and be able to provide high-standard practical training attached to theoretical instruction. You certainly share our opinion that those aspiring to be important actors of the Conductive Education scene must be very familiar with conductive pedagogy and capable of carrying out research in theoretical and practical areas in this discipline, to effect measurements related to Conductive Education processes and to present evaluations for scientific criticism. 
Here I would like to express our appreciation, as to the best of our knowledge you were the very first to formulate the aforementioned criteria and have adhered to these with remarkable consistency.

We think the work and research you are pursuing is crucial and progressive and deserves recognition. It is obvious from the figures, that in the international literature treating conductive pedagogy, its international status and the Pető Institute itself, British authors have so far excelled both in terms of quantity and depth. 
In summary, we may state that, after a favourable start and a dynamic progress, our relationship has not always been serene; collaboration has sometimes been interrupted or even suspended. As for our part, we would like to put an end to this fluctuation. 
At this solemn moment, taking this festive occasion, I would like to announce that we are willing to re-establish closer links and indeed interested in re-uniting forces with you.
On our end, we undertake to prepare our College and its institutions for collaboration with your organisation and other international factors in order to renew Conductive Education. Why could it not be British and Hungarian conductors together who pioneer the innovation and animate others to accomplish successful renewal? 
Dear Graduates! 
I would like to take this opportunity to extend my congratulations to you all. I also would like to express my appreciation to the hard work of all the members of the university, your fine teachers, and also the members of the staff who have all contributed toward your successful education.
Graduation is the reward for all the late nights in the library and the long hours studying and working. From now on, no more exams, no more apprehension. Still, I hope you will not stop being students, and go on learning. You must remain fit, both mentally and physically, to be able to execute this most challenging profession. 
You have achieved your goal, and now you are ready to begin another chapter. Now you really start real life. You may face unhappy things, hindrances, obstacles and complications. So it is important to have determination and optimism and patience. Success is defined in a myriad ways, and you will find it. People will no longer be grading you, but will come from your own internal sense of decency which I imagine is quite strong.
Please always remember that you are carrying a treasure. This treasure must be guarded with caution and respect, for the benefit of many thousands of children and adults with motor impairments.
My heartiest congratulations on this day that means so much to you and to your families. May your future be worthy of your dreams!
I am pleased to publish this text here for wider consideration. I can no longer of course speak for the Foundation but I would like to record my personal response.

First, and I am sure that many, many around the world will echo this sentiment, I am delighted at such a frank and open public statement from the head of the Pető Institute. I can feel assured that relationships with the Pető Institute will now be conducted on the same lines as with any institution of its nature and status, something that can act only for the good of Conductive Education as a whole. And at the very least I hope that one effect of this will be that other organisations within Conductive Education will follow suit and aspire to the same high standards of discourse, again for the betterment of the whole.

Franz Schaffhauser’s concise overview of the dynamics of the ‘history’ between the Pető Institute and the Foundation that I used to direct is a fair one. Yes, British society, British parents and even the British Government played a vanguard role in breaking through the Iron Curtain and bringing Conductive Education to the world. British society here included its media and Diana, Princess of Wales. British parents led the first exodus to Budapest and were subsequently to the forefront of the movement to establish small autonomous Conductive Education centre here, an important model for services in the period of internationalisation that followed. British politicians of all parties responded to the popular enthusiasm and, with the Foreign Office very much in the lead, eased the way for the unprecedented East-West collaboration across the ideological divide, that had ben established by the Foundation and the Pető Institute.

Such a promising beginning. Then, as Franz Schaffhauser reports, a wildly inappropriate model of research put ammunition into the hands of the enemies of Conductive Education. Further, dispute over the ‘ownership’ of the system brought a bitter and alienating legal conflict. The Cold War between the Foundation and the Peto Institute persisted for a decade. The media lost interest, parents began to find solutions and new problems nearer home and, paradoxically, the end of the real Cold War in 1991 meant that the Foreign Office no longer had cause to drive other arms of Government into involvement with Conductive Education.

History now, all history – but it is never the end of history. There is so much still to do, such debts of honour to the past and such obligations to the future. Insofar as some of Franz’s generous and complementary remarks might have been directed towards myself, I personally look forward, to take up his words, towards re-establishing closer links and indeed re-uniting forces.

An era has ended, out of which many individuals and institutions already have their own ‘histories’. Franz Schaffhauser has closed a door and opened another. There will be many around the world keen to explore the opportunities for genuine collaboration that this might offer.

Notes and references

Foundation for Conductive Education, Award Ceremony

The pivotal media contribution in creating British (and later world) interest in Conductive Education was Standing up for Joe, first shown by the BBC on 1 April 1986. The contribution of its producer, Ann Paul, was recognised at the same ceremony:

Sutton, A. (2008) Standing up for Joe: Anne Paul's pivotal contribution to Conductive Education, 24 June

Terminological exactitudes

Can we begin to agree some basic terms?

The English term ‘Conductive Education’ is now used around the world to denote a wide range of activities aiming to implement aspects of a system developed in Hungary, unsurprisingly in the Hungarian language.

Conductive Education

In the Hungarian there are two terms in common usage, encompassed two related but distinct processes:

konduktív pedagógia (‘conductive pedagogy’), covering activities, skills, personal attributes etc., relevant to teaching according to a particular educational philosophy ( a ‘conductive’ one);

konduktív nevelés (‘conductive upbringing’), the long-term task of bringing up children, in the family, in schools etc. and in society, according to this philosophy.

Sometimes the English term ‘Conductive Education’ is used to indicate ‘education in its widest sense’, incorporating the cross-generational transmission of values, behaviour, habits etc at home, in society and at school, along with the specifically academic content of formal school curricula. When this is the case then the English term 'Conductive Education' is being used synonymously with the original Hungarian konduktív nevelés. It is only rarely used in this sense, however.

Often the English term ‘Conductive Education’ is used to refer to specifics (or supposed specifics) of conductive pedagogy. This is confusing and incorrect and has probably come about because most English-speaking people, including most relevant professionals and academics, have little or no apparent concept of pedagogy or pedagogic science in any context. Without this concept it is hard, no impossible for them really to discuss this system, its practice and its training (that rarely stops them, though!).

The English term ‘Conductive Education’ is therefore often used in a blurred generic sense, incorporating aspects of both conductive pedagogy and conductive upbringing. Moreover, in the contemporary international spread of the system to new social contexts, the English term ‘Conductive Education’ has suffered further meaning creep, to cover not only pedagogy and upbringing but also issues relating to the implementation of the conductive system as a whole (administrative, organisational, regulatory, financial, ethical etc}.

No similar portmanteau expression seem to have arisen in Hungarian (here as elsewhere, correction would be very welcome).


Many English-speakers (and others) now simply refer to aspects of all three as ‘the conductive’. This word too has been much misunderstood. The original Latin root word, conducere, has often been interpreted in terms of how teaching should ‘lead’ development. The image probably comes from Vygotskii and may not therefore have been known to András Pető. Mária Hári, however, did interpret and explain the word konduktív in the sense of ‘leading’. That does not mean that she was right.

The Latin verb conducere means more than simply ‘to lead’ or ‘to guide’ – the verb ducere does for that on its own, without the prefix con-. Conducere means ‘to bring together’ (in the present British child-care terminology, ‘to join up’) and refers here to intervention that teaches motor-disordered children to integrate psychological functions of motivation, attention, movement, speech etc. into a unified and effective whole. This is achieved by means of a pedagogy that is channeled through a single, unifying, conductive pedagogue, a ‘conductor’.


Many writers and speakers have offended against these particular terminological exactitudes and I have to confess to my own past sins of missing all three of these distinctions in the past. From time to time I may still do so – ingrained habits can be hard to shake off.. If we wish globalised Conductive Education to hang together as a coherent whole, however, we ought all to be working towards a consistent and coherent vocabulary to describe what we do. We could all do better.

Does this matter?

Yes it does, and it may be having real effects on you.

Academic researchers (usually evaluators) have usually investigated ‘Conductive Educatio’, with little or no account of what the expression is being used for either in the often limited literature that that have sought out under this rubric or even from the programme that is subject to their attentions. Thus, an evaluation of a several-week programme of conductive pedagogy (an ‘intensive block’, say), however good the conductive pedagogy provided or the research design and techniques deployed, can in no way amount to an evaluation of conductive upbringing. The research results will none the less be churned back into the growing mixture of reports described as ‘evaluations of Conductive Education’.

Many apparently clever, well trained and (by the standards of the most of the programmes that they are evaluating) well-trained people, have devoted so much meticulous attention to the specifics of their actual evaluation and manage. How is it that they have so often kept their gaze steadfastly averted from the most basic question of what it is they mean when they say that they are researching Conductive Education? Of course the reasons for this lacuna are more complex than simply a matter of linguistic philosophy. The matter of the actual meanings of the words that researchers use, however, does often play an important part – and may be more transparent and therefore open to question and debate than are some of other issues that might be involved.

If well situated academics, with all their advantages in accessing and scrutinising information, can get things so disastrously wrong, then pity the poor parents, the grass-roots professionals and all other people, like the politicians and the media that have cause to deal with 'Conductive Education'. They really ought to know what it is that they are talking about when they turn their attention to this, form their own opinions and then make sometimes very important decisions. They will have heard about 'the conductive' or 'Conductive Education' through whatever means, maybe also that it is ‘a good thing’, to be obtained at all costs (or ‘a bad thing’ to be resisted at all costs). They may have little chance, however, of tracking down what these words might actually mean (and the Internet is now less help than hindrance in this). No wonder so much snake oil is successfully sold.

I’m with Ludwig Wittgenstein on this one: Die Grenzen meiner Sprache bedeutet die grenzen meiner Welt (‘The limits of my speech mean the limits of my world’). The world of Conductive Education is limited by so many factors, many of them quite beyond our control. Here’s one that conductivists might just possible do something about by being rather stricter about the words that they themselves use, and rather less tolerant of the misusages of others.


Wittgenstein, L. (1922) Tractatus logico-philosophicus, p. 148

Postscript on ‘Peto’

Recent years have seen spread of the spoken expression of ‘Peto’ as a synonym for ‘the conductive’, to cover equally aspects of the pedagogy, the upbringing and the wider social phenomenon. Along with this comes the expression ‘the Peto’, to refer to the Pető Institute in Budapest.

Note that this is almost invariably spelt like the English surname, not the Hungarian.

There is a directly analogous usage in Hungary now, referring to the Pető Institute as a Pető.

To avoid confusion with Peto, the Peto and a Pető. I have adopted the personal convention of always referring to Pető the man by his full name, as András Pető.

Friday, 15 August 2008

'Conductive Education stands on three legs'

Summary of keynote address for Chicago conference

The so-called 'principles of Conductive Education’, so often met in the English language accounts of this system, represent a fundamental misstatement of Conductive Education. They have nonetheless spawned a world of their own within in the professional 'literature' of Conductive Education, with even conductors trained in the actual tradition sometimes adopting them to describe their practice. The 'principles' underlying Conductive Education are broader and more fundamental and are most importantly manifest in terms of what Mária Hári described as the 'in-between time'. Indeed it is hard to see how 'Conductive Education' in any real sense can exist without this.

One way to understand what is ‘Conductive Education’ today is through its historical development. For the present purposes this will be simplified as follows:

- what András Petõ brought to Conductive Education
- what Mária Hári brought to Conductive Education
- the internationalisation of Conductive Education – and beyond!

All three bring essential ingredients to the current mix. All three are needed to account for Conductive Education today – but might there be further major change in the offing?

The first period of naïve and ad hoc internationalisation may now be seen as no more than transitional to what may be yet to come. Globalisation of social, cultural and economic forces affects almost every aspect of our lives. Conductive Education will be no exception, with big implications looming for the question 'What is Conductive Education?' and potential changes of corresponding magnitude in the future directions of practice, theory, research and politics in this field.


Issues raised in this presentation have been widely addressed in lectures and publications over the years, sufficient years for the writer's understanding itself to have developed considerably over that time. For recent and continuing attention to such topics follow Conductive Education World.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

James Forliti speaks out

Father’s up-front statement in BC

James Forliti has written a long and heartfelt personal testimonial for Conductive Education in his local (Vancouver) newspaper The Province. It will be interesting to see what response he receives.

NB this is quite a long article. Click on the [2] at the bottom of the page so as not to miss the end.
Read more about James’s crusade in British Columbia in his blog, the title of which says it all!

Note and reference

Forliti , J. (2008) Dad's discovery changes his son's world: different approach to education could help many parents The Province, 10 August

Conductive Education on Canada's west coast: is there room in our schools for something that works?

Educational psychologists

What do they know?

Parents in the United Kingdom seeking to exercise their supposed right to ‘choice’ of educational provision by requesting Conductive Education, face a host of specific problems which together usually add up to their being denied that choice. Along the way this myriad of individual denials has helped curtail the one-time promising future for Conductive Education in that country’s benighted public education system.

Educational psychologists?

These problems for the most part run deeply systemic but at the day-to-day personal level of allocating provision for individual children they often focus around what in the United Kingdom are called ‘educational psychologists’ – roughly analogous to what in most other countries are called ‘school psychologists.

To be fair to the educational psychologists on the ground, their position is an uncomfortable one. They present themselves both as influential figures within the gate-keeping system that allocates desperately short funds for specialist provision, and at the same time as ‘professionals’ of impeccable impartiality and expertise. Their employers, however, the very local authorities that disburse the limited funds and are responsible for planning and providing the often meagre local provision, are very clear that their educational psychologists are ‘servants of the authority’. And of course, the educational psychologists, as they themselves have been complaining for years, are far from adequately trained to undertake the wide range of tasks that they are expected to do.

The educational psychologists’ dilemmas

One might enter two further points in mitigation for the actions of individual psychologists in the day-to-day reality of their work..

First a technical one. Never mind the training, there is little or no psychological knowledge base available anyway, that is practically relevant to the upbringing and education of children with motor disorders, for the educational psychologists to be trained on in the first place. This is a very real problem for professionals claiming specialist knowledge in any field and could make for very poor showing under informed cross-examination in court should the claimed expertise ever be critically examined in such a forum. This technical short-fall is not of course unique to the United Kingdom, since educational psychologists’ claimed ‘scientific knowledge’ extends beyond their native shores, to at least as far as the other English-speaking counties.

Secondly, there is the ethical problem that might arise in giving supposedly independent, technical, even ‘scientific’ professional advise in a situation where there are two parties in dispute (the parents and the local authority) – with one of the parties being the educational psychologists’ own employer. This unfortunate conflict of interest was already obvious more that thirty years ago (Sutton, 1978; 1981) but a couple of high-profile sackings focussed educational psychologists’ attention upon the hopelessness of resistance and, as far as I know, the problem has not been faced up to further over the years since.

One might find both these mitigating points excuse enough for the individuals involved. I have been regularly amazed over the years how parents, seething over the ignorance or apparent pusillanimity of educational psychologists, later ‘forgive’ the individuals in question. They soon spot that their educational psychologists are required to deal with issues that they patently know nothing about, by a ‘system’ that is as oppressive to its employees as it is to its ‘clients’. I have sometimes wondered whether the educational psychologists in question have been aware of this small kindness, and what they might feel about it if they were. One might, however, feel less forgiving for the ‘profession’ as a whole, its organisation and its training bodies, for permitting this situation to persist and exacerbate decade after decade.

‘All professions are conspiracies against the laity’ (Shaw, 1911, Act 1). No insecure semi- or bureau-profession is going to be publicly open about what it does and does not know (i.e. what justifies its claim to particular technical expertise in a given field) – or about the actual ethical situation of its members’ day-to-day relationship caught as they are in the middle between the conflicting demands of their employers and their clients. One could hardly expect educational psychologists to be any different. What might they have to say about such matters, however, in the relative privacy of their own trade journal, and how does this relate if at all to their work with respect to gate-keeping Conductive Education?

By way of a survey

The activities of educational psychologists have been a persistent and often apparently decisive feature of the problematic process of obtaining public-funding support for Conductive Education. This has not yet, however, as far as I can ascertain, received public attention within the emerging Conductive Education literature (I would be pleased to be corrected on this). What, though, might be found on the ‘other side’, in the published literature of educational psychology on the now fast-evolving world of Conducting Education, not least in the United Kingdom?

I have had the opportunity to look through some seven years’ issues of the journal Education Psychology in Practice. This is published quarterly by Routledge on behalf of the Association of Educational Psychologists, the educational psychologists’ trade union in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (Scotland, as in many things, likes to do things in its own way but is fundamentally the same). Specifically, I looked through issues from Volume 17, no 4 (November 2001) to Volume 24, no 1 (March 2008).

These comprised 26 issues in all, containing in all 134 articles. The journal also has a vigorous and substantial book-review section (in my view better value than the bulk of the articles) and these 26 issues yielded reviews of 256 books.

This was a ‘quick and dirty’ exercise. I was looking for mention of the ‘big issue’ of dilemmas of allegiance (employer vs client) and for technical matters relating to the general question of how psychologists might arrive at decisions when allocating resources (to use the system’s own ghastly, dehumanising expression, ‘statementing’) for individual children. I was also looking out specifically for technical materials on the development, assessment and education of children with motor disorders (who as far as the local authorities and their educational psychologists are concerned tend to fall under the amorphous, educationally meaningless category of ‘physical disabilities’, or are lost within an even more unfocussed grouping, profound and multiple learning disabililities) – and of course I was also looking out for Conductive Education.

My method for identifying relevant articles was to review the contents page of each issue in turn for titles suggesting the topics that I had in mind, read the summaries of likely-looking papers and then, if appropriate, read the article in question. This was a fairly quick process for the articles but the book reviews took much longer: there were nearly twice as many of them, they had no contents pages or summaries for them, and they were often rather more interesting with respect to both the books reviewed and the reviews themselves – so I was frequently side-tracked into reading them in full!

Realising early on in the process that I was going to find very little on the specific topics that I had in mind I went back to the beginning and started again, extending the search to answer the further question: ‘If educational psychologists don’t concern themselves with motor disorders, what developmental disorders do concern them?’ I also included ‘dynamic assessment’, as will be commented upon further below.

Scores for relevant topics represent the number of relevant articles or reviews identified, utilising the terminology used in the titles of the articles or the books reviewed. The scores were then grouped to generate some coherence.

Well, what do they know?


The ‘big issue’ (conflict of loyalties) 0
Decision making to allocate resources 0

Motor disorders 0

Deaf 1
Hearing-impaired 1

Autism 2
Autistic spectrum disorder 4
Communication difficulties + autistic spectrum disorders 1

Book reviews

The ‘big issue’ (conflict of loyalties) 0
Decision making to allocate resources 0

Motor disorders 0

Autism 4
Autistic spectrum disorder 4
Asberger’s 9

Dyslexia 11
Dyspraxia 3

Complex learning difficulties 1
Intellectial disorders 1
Down’s 2

Deaf 2
Tourette’s 2

Dynamic assessment 2

I had been assured by the educational psychologist who lent me this run of journal issues that ‘dynamic assessment’ is the big new thing in educational psychologists’ assessment practice, by which seems to be meant specifically the work of Reuven Feuerstein and David Tzuriel. There is close theoretical approximation between this work and Conductive Education, which has its own dynamic assessment processes in-built and central to the pedagogic process in the form of conductive observation. I wondered, therefore, that it would be interesting to see what educational psychologists have to say of their own experience in such activity. Nothing. The only mentions at all were through two book reviews.

All sorts of other topics were of course raised, some of which may reflect obliquely across motor-disorders, Conductive Education and allocation of resources through ‘statementing’ but if they do it is at best obliquely. Many articles were highly self-regarding but this is understandable in a trade union’s own internal publication (we can make no comparison for conductors since there is no analogous publication). I cannot resist, however, quoting the summary of one article (whether the author’s own summary or provided by the editors, it did not say). The article, it said, would outline

… a future in which educational psychology occupies a position of central importance in society’s affairs’ (MacKay, 2002)

Are we any the wiser…?

This survey was a trivial distraction during a quiet weekend in the middle of August. What have I learned? Not a lot, other than that, by the index used here (and I acknowldge that there may be other indices), for this group of bureau-professionals at the heart of allocating scarce resources for ‘special educational needs’ across the major part of the United Kingdom, Conductive Education and motor disorders are off the radar, below the horizon. Where developmental disorder does occupy their attention, it is in other fields. No surprises there.

Sad but equally unsurprising, there seems no heart-searching about the big issue of divided loyalties. Sad, and politically naïve beyond belief, because over precisely the period covered by these seven years of Educational Psychology in Practice the whole probity of the assessment system in which the practice of these educational psychologists is embedded has been called into question by the media and by the politicians. Whatever the Government proclaim the bar public opinion has formed the definite opinion that the system is discredited and inherently unworkable – to the degree to which the Conservative Party is being urged from within towards radically re-engineering the whole assessment system, including the employment base of educational psychologists (Balchin, 2007). It really does sound the sort of thing that a trade-union publication ought to be reflecting, especially if people really do dream of ‘a position of central importance in society’s affairs’!

After all, David Cameron, the Leader of the Conservatives, might be Prime Minister within two years. He has a disabled son and, when he was just a local Member of Parliament and no one could foresee his possible future position. he had his own personal dealings with the local authority assessment system Never mind what official information and advice or whatever lobbying he receives in future years, he now ‘knows’ about the obduracy of the system in as does any parent who has been through the mill. I suspect that he will remember…

In mitigation (again) perhaps the 'academic', learned-journal template that is appropriate to publication by Routledge might act to direct the contents of Educational Psychology in Practice in directions away from what might be very real concerns in the daily professional life of educational psychologists, hardly a situation unique to educational psychologists! Perhaps such concerns are all matters of active analysis elsewhere, from the possibly forthcoming political overthrow of the way of working established for generations to how to deal with yet another awkward family that rejects the allocated special school, doesn’t want ‘inclusion’ as she is spoke, and is threatening to go and get a lawyer to fight for Conductive Education..

Differences apart, in common is that the Conductive Education movement and the educational psychologists may not be able to do much about the major forces that shape their worlds. Many members of both camps might prefer the ship of fools just to sail on notwithstanding, like tomorrow will never come. This does not mean that people should not try to influence their futures, and just perhaps it might help if the two groups knew just a little about each other and could fabricate some common front…

Beats me how, though.

Are conductivists’ experience of school psychologists any different outside the United Kingdom??


My thanks to the educational psychologist who lent me her copies of the journal. She has declined to be named.


Association of Educational Psychologists

Balchin, R. (Chmn) (2007) Commission on Special Needs in Education. Second Report. London: Conservative Party

Educational Psychology in Practice

MacKay, T (2002) Discussion paper – the future of educational psychology, Educational Psychology in Practice, vol. 18, no 3, pp. 245-253

Shaw, G. B. (1922) The doctor’s dilemma

Sutton, A. (1978) The psychologist’s professionalism and the right to psychology. In B. Gillham (ed.) Reconstructing Educational Psychology. London: Croom Helm, pp 144-160

Sutton, A. (1981) Whose psychology? Some issues in the social control of psychological practice. In I. McPherson and A. Sutton (eds) Reconstructing Psychological Practice. London: Croom Helm, pp.145-164

Monday, 11 August 2008

Evidence-based practice...

...or not, as the case might be

Busy doctors – and others – who are concerned about 'evidence-based treatment' have little or no time to research things for themselves when asked about something unfamiliar, like Conductive Education.

There are many ways to short-cut this process. One very handy medium is the Internet – but this in itself presents an enormous load of information to survey and digest.

Here’s a handy way of having the job done for you. Go to the TRIP Database (TRIP stands for Turning Research into Practice’).

Try it for Conductive Education and see for yourself what people find when they look to see what it says about Conductive Education:

Fourth Annual Conductive Education Conference

Specific programme for ACENA's Chicago conference

The conference will be held at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, on 28-29 August 2008.


8:00 - 8:45 Registration
8:45 - 9:00 Welcome/Opening

Plenary sessions

9:00 - 10:00
Keynote Speaker
Andrew Sutton, Founder/President, Foundation for Conductive Education,
United Kingdom

10:00 - 10:15 BREAK

10:15 - 11:00 Updates on the International Pető Institute
Franz Schaffhauser, Rector, International Pető Institute

11:00 - 11:45 Counting children with cerebral palsy: creating population-based networks for optimizing functioning and participation
Michael Msall

11:45 - 1:00 LUNCH

Parallel sessions on practice and service issues

1:00 -1:45 The goal -oriented task series: including the dressing tasks
Andrea Benyovszky

How to run a successful non-profit
Randal Dill, Chicago Non-Profit

1:45 - 2:30 Yoga and karate for children with special needs
Teresa Clancy and Max Kuroda

Implementing the PODD program within the Conductive Education setting
Melissa Larson and Shirley Sains

2:30 - 2:45 BREAK

2:45 - 3:30
Metaplasticity of motor control
Jim Stinear

The IEP and due-process hearings
involving Conductive Education
Tom Thompson and Patti Herbst

3:30 - 4:15
Handwriting without tears
Josephine Boggs and Gabriella Molnar
Transitioning for the child with cerebral palsy
Sue Mukherjee

4:15 -4:30

Augmentative communication within the Conductive Education classroom
Borbala Goda

4:30 -5:00
Orthopaedic surgery and children with cerebral palsy
Robert Bielski


9:00 - 9:45
Discriminating hypertonic disorders in cerebral palsy
Deborah Gaebler

9:45 - 10:30 Sleep disturbances and children with cerebral palsy
Krisztina Harsanyi

10:30 - 10:45

10:45 - 11:45 What is available for you from NCPAD!
James Rimmer


Group sessions

1:00 -1:20 Governor's State University CE Certification Program: updates
Roberta O'Shea

1:20 - 1:40 Update on the Michigan State University research project
Andrea Benyovszky

1:40 -2:00
Annual ACENA meeting

2:00 - 3:00
Group Forum
Opportunity for all to discuss and share with other professionals

Further information

There is a ’parent scholarship’ available for attendance at this event.

Previous information on Conductive Education World:

Sutton, A. (2008) First information on North Americal conference: Fourth Annual ACENA Conference, Conductive Education World, 5 June

Sutton, A. (2008) Three legs: first thoughts for Chicago Keynote, Conductive Education World, 7 June

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Sheffield: a win

PACES wins battle for premises

Very nice to be able to report a happy ending to a long and frustrating political battle.

Sheffield City Council is finally to transfer the lease of the premises in which PACES Sheffield has developed its Conductive Education services in the unique context of an all-round community centre.

Mega-congratulations to everybody involved and especially to Norman Perrin for hanging on in there so determinedly all these years.

All triumphs are a curate's egg but at least tomorrow's problems can be confronted on a higher plane!


Present and previous reports

High Green Development Trust (2008) City Council Agres transfer of lease, High Green Blog, 7 August

Sutton, A. (2008) Sheffield Wednesday, Conductive Eduation World, 25 February

Sutton, A. (2008) Sheffield Wednesday, Sheffield United, Conductive Eduation World, 17 March
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