Tuesday, 28 April 2009

If you have Conductive Education...

...what should you be called?

Maybe in part result of the untidy way in which Conductive Education has tumbled into the English language, there is no obvious word for those who conductors serve:
  • doctors and nurses have patients
  • teachers have pupils
  • social workers have clients.

Who do conductors have? The word ‘conductees’ seems unlikely ever to appeal to anyone!

This is a long-standing question to which there is no single answer. Rather, answers seems to depend upon the given context, and the roles being fulfilled there.


No, this is no good. CE involves no medical procedure and conductors are not medical personnel. Nor are they ‘therapists’ and their work is not a therapy. Correspondingly, people who come to them (or to whom they go to) are not ill, there will be no cure and, though conductors may well be caring, their work is not care in the sense of nursing care.

Just maybe if conductors are working in clinics or hospitals, as some do in Germany or Hungary, then it may be appropriate to say that they are working with patients there. I am not sure, however, whether this situation ever arises in the English-speaking countries.


When the Adults’ Department opened in Birmingham in 1990 there was immediate need to find a word to refer to the people with Parkinson’s who took part in the first groups there.

Janet Read came up with the solution. Easy really, they take part in groups, they participate in the conductive process, ergo ‘participants’.

This has stuck and ‘participants’ seems now to be a general word to indicate adults who receive Conductive Education, wherever English is spoken.

Except, of course that, for a variety of reasons, some adult work is not in groups, in which case the word ‘clients’ can seem a more appropriate usage.

There is no clear distinction, however, and small groups of clients might well be participating as a group…

You take your choice.


This is slightly complicated by the recent shift in the UK to calling schoolchildren ‘students’ rather than ‘pupils’.

No real problem, though, for Conductive Education. If conductors are working in a school they may, according to their school’s particular convention, refer to the children with whom they work as ‘pupils’ or as ‘students’. My impression, however, is that they will more likely refer to them as ‘children’.

Preschool children and those attending out-of-school activities are just that, ‘children’. Very little ones may presumably also be sescribed as ‘babies’ or ‘toddlers’. In out-of-school contexts children are hardly ‘pupils’ or ‘students‘, neither are they 'clients'.

Teenagers, adolescents, young adults

Somewhere along the line the conventions of childhood will give way to those of adulthood.


The reader may have spotted here a certain disinclination towards indiscriminate use of the word ‘student’, except of course for when referring to students.

Students include those who are studying to be conductors, i.e. student-conductors, or those studying for a masterate or doctorate on the topic of Conductive Education.

Others may also study Conductive Education, though through less formal means. A recent example is Leticia Búrigo who studied very hard indeed in the National Library of Conductive Education while her children were working in the Early Years group of NICE. By the same token, I have been a student of Conductive Education for close on thirty years.


‘Clients’ seems the readiest usage here, by connotation with social work.


This seems the easiest, most neutral generic term for use in technical literature and discussionabout the processes of conduction , development etc. in which, for example, mention of 'patients', 'clients' and the like might introduce confusing associations. Further, the term 'learner' represents upon a role within the process of interaction and conduction that counterposes readily with that of the pedagogue or conductor.

That said, I recognise that use of this word its itself unproblematic, in that learners are also actors within social transactions… It does at least though raise the discussion to a level at which such a matter can be taken further, again without the conceptual baggage and clutter that patients, pupils, clients etc. would bring to the table.

Customers and punters.

Easy-going vernacular terms in British English, the former too obviously commercial, the latter too flippantly so.


Another of Janet Read’s bequests to CE. Children, adults and families are all of course using conductive services and are therefore by definition ‘service-users’. This may sound an administrative-sounding term but it has the virtue of making explicit that a transaction is being conducted here, and that this transaction involves a human service.


Institutions that hire a ‘consultant’ for advice or training are inevitably ‘clients’, by connotation with the commercial world from which the concept of consultancy sprang. Their employees might be regarded as the same if working directly with the consultant. If this involves some sort of training course, presumably,then they are ‘trainees’.

Any recommendations?


Ask not what is ‘best’.

  • It seems likely that usage will be determined locally, to suit local situations, practices and personalities. And why not?
  • It seems unlikely that the by now vast and straggling field of Conductive Education will feel the need for a single term to describe or identify its beneficiaries.
  • I do not know empirically what is the full range of common usages in English-speaking countries around the world, to cover the vast variety of conductive access and conductive practices that now exist.
  • As ever, I am almost wholly unaware of nuances in other languages.

In English anyway, it is surely only a matter of time now that one or more of the words cited here becomes pejorative and consigned to that limbo of inverted commas that seems eventually to await all once well-meaning technical terms in disability and education.

In the meantime, does anyone know of any other terms already being used to those who ‘do CE’, or have any suggestions about how this might be expressed better?

What about the ‘doing words’?

If the above fairly represents the situation over nouns, what about verbs? What is the range there?

  • Does one attend CE, experience it, partake, participate, undertake, or does one just do it?
  • And what about conductors, do they teach, conduct, lead, or like those they work with, do they just do it?

Like Nike trainers, in both cases!

Again, suggestions, please.


  1. Sorry Andrew,

    When my comment to your posting reached 1000 words I decided to post it on my own blog.

    I hope you enjoy reading it there just as much!



  2. Thanks for your extensive elaboration. Would only that there were many more such like yourself.

    On balance, like yourself, I personally incline towards 'clients' rather that participants; like you too I am not altogether sure why.


    Your suggestion about the importance of the direct responsibility, clearly apparent for any self-employed, private practitioner, offers a good pointer, one that I should like here to take further.

    If for any reason I hire a professional person to do a job for me, a solicitor for example, I am a client and I have certain expectations as such of the nature of the contractual relationship. I pay, the practitioner provides, if I am not satisfied I go somewhere else or, if things turn out really badly, I seek redress.

    Yes, I know, the word 'client' has been appropriated (i.e. stolen) by some workers within the public sector, social workers and educational psychologists for example. If you become the 'clent' of such people through the public sector, this is not usually of your own volition. You pay, but only indirectly, through the taxation system. If you don't like what you get, you cannot go elsewhere and there is no redress.

    Clearly here, this secondary meaning of the word 'client' is altogether different.

    Even so, and perhaps here I am guilty of being a liberal romantic, there seems a powerful force in the simple market discipline of the word's primary meaning.

    Because of the way in which so much Conductive Education is funded now around the world, like it or not the implications of the primary meaning of 'client', within the present employment market for conductors' labour, are strong ones for Cnductive Eduation as a whole.

    The word 'participants' has served well but from now on I shall think, speak and write about 'clients', and emphasise the duties and responsibilities that I think accompany this word.


    I go for the word 'children' too.

    This gives the beneficiaries of Conductive Education one simple division, between adults and children, with the usual hazy transition area in between.

    This fits is well with other areas of real life and the obvious reality of two relationships:

    - with adults, in any role, direct, unmediated;

    - with children, mediated via parents, guardians or other adults such as teachers.

    I would still, though, like to know what other people think.