Friday, 19 September 2008


Ready or not

In Buddy Holly's immortal words:

Everyday it’s a-getting closer,
Goin’ faster than a roller coaster

Or, as an amiable American economist put it on BBC Radio 4 yesterday morning:

That’s not a light you see at the end of the tunnel. That’s the headlight of an approaching freight train on the same track.

I stopped reading the newspapers during the summer, too depressing by far – not just for the economic realities but for the haplessness of those who reckon that they understood what is happening and what to do to stop it. Talk, all talk. This week, at the rate of ‘a bank a day’ it seems at last to be generally sinking home that this is not just any old recession. This is of the order of the Great Recession, something that I know only from the history books, and therefore do not really ‘know’ at all.

At the end of the eighties and the beginning of the nineties I was riding the great Conductive Education bubble, and I really did ‘know’ what happened when the then economic bubble, of which we were but one tiny manifestation, burst around us. I with others experienced first-hand the effects of economic down-turn on individuals' and organisations' hopes and plans for Conductive Education. I learned the pain and the cost of having to cut and change to survive. I remember what was lost. Thereafter, despite the jollies and gravy trains of latter years, for many aspects of our society, including Conductive Education, the recession never really finished – we just got used to new expectations – and a generation grew up knowing nothing else.

This week

This week, however, I have started switching on the main news bulletins again, to catch the headline reported facts of the crash. I don’t really know what to make of these so I soon turn off again, to avoid having to listen to the commentariat who clearly understand them in a fundamental way as little as I do. I haven’t gone back to the newspapers, though. Such glimpses that I have of them suggest that they are filling up with feature articles on how to live on less, grow-your-own, economy clothing, budget meals… not quite yet what I remember growing up in the forties but heading that way.

It’s Friday morning now. The early-morning radio news reports that another major US financial institution has the skids under it, and that Russia’s financial system is also on the slide…. Nowhere, nothing is immune.

It’s the economy, stupid

Conductive Education World last made explicit mention of the ebbing economy six months ago. These six months have been a very long time for world economics. Since then I have been listening out for signs of economic pain from within the conductive movement, looking out for concrete signs of our own economic crash. So far, nothing special to report.

Over recent years the international conductive movement has had to cut back to the bone, and sometimes right on into it to the very marrow. Maybe now it has become so steeped in penury that it is better prepared to meet hard times than it was in the plenteous late-eighties – certainly more so than are today’s fleshy and feather-bedded public services that surround and so often distain us. Maybe the associations, centres, families that around the world drive much of Conductive Education are now so lean, so mean, that most will survive the general economic debacle with very little further deleterious effect upon their activities.


Yesterday someone who runs a tiny and exiguous conductive program in the United Kingdom recounted to me, as people often do, a wontedly frustrating conversation with a local public education official. No, this official was no longer particularly concerned to have Conductive Education’s effectiveness demonstrated to him. Indeed, I have the sense that in lots of places around the world officials are increasingly twigging that so many (most?) of those familiar established services that they themselves are responsible for, in health, education and social welfare, face the self-same evidential problems as does Conductive Education. So some progress there, then. No, the official reached for another stake to hammer into Conductive Education: what he wanted was demonstration not of of Conductive Education’s effectveness – but its cost-effectiveness. So far, though, so unsurprising.

Then, or so it was reported to me, the official went on to state how many children with cerebral palsies are being educated within his bailiwick. Providing them all with Conductive Education (as he understands it) would be financially impossible. What concerned him was not really cost-effectiveness at all – but cost.

There it was, stripped of all the flannel, all the guff, the honestest statement that you could ever hope for from a public official.. There’s just not going to be the money around to direct into Conductive Education, and we’re going to have to accept this.

Quantum leap

Conductive Education World has frequently suggested that changes building up within the international conductive movement over recent years have created pressures that will bring about a new, exciting stage in the development of Conductive Education, as ad hoc internationalisation gives way to something truly global (summary example: Sutton, 2008b).

Such discussion as there is tends to dwell upon ‘micro-issues’, such as generational change (younger people want to move up, older people have to move on), Conductive Education’s abrasion against its immediate institutional environments, and its own internal contradictions. These are all valid considerations and certainly stretch pressure present ways of structuring our practices and our institutions (and our theoretical assumptions too) but, as many have shown, we can live with all this without adopting fundamental change.

Now however, like every other practice and institution in the world, and our individual lives too, Conductive Education will be unable simply to hold on tight, muddle through and end up with things pretty much how they were before. Like in everything else, a new order (as yet unforeseeable) will have to emerge to match the circumstances of a new era (as yet unforseeable too). This will not be easy, and it may not be universally for the good, but let’s not be too gloomy about it. As the management cliché goes: it’s not so much a problem as a challenge! Exciting times indeed, with Conductive Education potentially better placed than most to find a way through.

And let’s be clear about the underlying reason for this change.

It’s the economy, stupid.

Notes and references

‘It’s the economy, stupid’

Attributed to James Carville, Bill Clinton's political strategist in the 1992 Presidential Election, displayed on a sign at Clinton’s campaign headquarters, a simple formula to keep people focused on the central issue of the campaign.

Every day

Sutton, A. (2008a) Economic recession, or even depression, Conductive Education World, 18 March

Sutton, A. (2008b) A short history of Conductive Education, Conductive Education World, 11 January


  1. Cost-effectiveness? That's the trouble with too many educated people, too clever by half.

    The expenditure of public monies is one that is increasingly, and quite rightly, demanding accountability in terms of its cost-effectiveness.

    However, had the 'public education official' paused for a moment's consideration, he would have realised that 'cost-effectiveness' of this or that mode of education should be audited over a lifetime. The education of a child is not about its 'now' but about its 'future' and any test of cost-effectiveness of education that measures only the 'now' misses the point entirely. For a child who might otherwise require expensive support into adulthood, conductive education might well prove to be a saving on the public purse when considered in the round (care, health, housing etc as well as education) and over a whole life - and therefore more cost effective than the 'public education official's alternative.

    I would be very interested to see any figures whatsoever that attempt to assess the lifelong cost of providing, say, care to a person with daily care needs.

    However, we should beware of thinking of adults with disabilities - even those with the most costly needs - as being only a 'cost'. The 'disability economy' has been variously estimated as between £60 and £80 billion pounds a year - an economy on which vary many non-disabled depend for their profession and their livelihood (me included).

    A very simple saving to ' the public purse' would, of course, be to reduce the ever-spiraling number of able-bodied 'public education officials'. I jest, perhaps. And yet I trust that the ''public education official" would not object to the principle that his department be subjected to the same cost-effectiveness test that he would apply to disabled children?

  2. By the way, a proper cost-effectiveness audit would need to take into account the cost of education, care and other supports provided by parents and families, lifelong. I have seen somewhere, recently, attempts to measure this cost.

    Would that life were as simple as the simple-minded 'public education official' whom you quote.

  3. A real problem is that that bureaucrats usual 'manage' (i.e. are enslaved by) budgets that are annual. Officials are only very rarely riding a strategic plan that extends over several years. The might share rational people's understanding of the long-term nature of childhood and education but that is not what they are paid to do. Their job it to serve the machine.

    You can add to that the likelihood that noadays they will soon have moved on (often up) to another job and the effects of their actions this year will just have to be left for some other poor soul to sort out.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm not going soft on the apparatchiks, but they are human beings too, with jobs to hold on to, mortgages to pay and maybe private-school fees to worry about too (whoops!). They may regard themselves as victims of the system as much as do the rest of us!