Wednesday, 17 February 2010

The substantial and the political

Which takes precedence?

So much involved in Conductive Education has two faces: the substantial and the political.

I responded to Norman Perrin's interesting letter this morning first of all at the political level*. I should not, however, as can so easily happen, let the political push the substantive away to one side.

His first substantive point (i.e. one relating to children and their upbringing) related to 'statementing', that ludicrous and repressive, prescriptive and bureaucratised assessment process that has helped destroy special education in the United Kingdom. He wrote:

I do not think we have ever entered into a proper debate on the choice of school by reference to pedagogy.

I do not consider these people to be employed for 'debate' (nor, I suspect, do they, or their masters!). I consider them to be there to be told some basic facts, empirical and legal, then go away and incorporate these into their immediate plan. This will not necessarily amount to any higher-order understandings, for either both side, but at least families might be able to bludgeon their way through to getting a mite more of what they want.

Here is one ployone that I used to advise to parents. Where asked about 'needs' take the word to mean what it means and list a few psychological ones, like the need to be motivated, through success, the need to develop a positive attitude towards overcoming the persistent and wearisome difficulties, the need not to learn dependency and helplessness etc., etc. Then it is up to the CE service to say what concretely it will do to provide for those needs. It is also up to the local authority to say, should it wish, why this child does not have such needs, and it is up to the alternative provision that the local authority suggests to say the same. Plenty there for savvy lawyers to get their teeth into!

I do hope that this possibility has not now been closed off!

His second substantive point refers to something that has come after my time – the crazy reorganisation of patchily dysfunctional public services according to the strange, blame-sharing cult of 'multi', to ensure that henceforth the whole kybosh might be dysfunctional across the board. Since I am now mercifully out of this then I should have nothing really to say. On the other hand, maybe some future government might regard this arrangement as another aspect of 'our broken society' that needs fixing. Since Conductive Education has a long 'history' with the cult of multi, going back in the UK to Ester Cotton in the nineteen-sixties, perhaps this is a good point to flag an interest, in the hope of clearing this up once and for all in our little part of the wood, as part of the bigger problem.

Something else to come back to.

Norman's third substantive point refers to that other social blight, born on well meaning but incompetent fuzziness, and pursued since for all sorts of reasons, that I shall epitomise here in the words of its own evil, destructive obscenity: 'stranger danger'.

Nothing much needs saying here. Norman answered the specific instance that he reported with the same gesture (metaphorically) as the English archers made to the French at Crècy and Agincourt. That was Norman the citizen, human being and grandfather. Such a pity that Norman the charity boss and school-provider was over such a barrel that he had to call in (and presumably pay or) the JCB in the first place. I can understand why he had no choice.

I have seen that courtyard. Architecturally, it is as dreary as anything that its period of building could manage. But socially, what potential. What an act of social and educational vandalism, then, to destroy this potential, imposed by what is still nominally an 'educational' inspectorate.


  1. Just to clarify, Andrew: when the work on the central courtyard is completed it will be a much more pleasant and enjoyable place for children to play in than the current tired and "dreary" (as you describe it) space it had become.

    The work has been planned, not by Paces itself, but by Steps, the community day nursery who obtained a grant for the work. We are all grateful to them for doing so.

    My beef is that regulation has been the master of design, rather than its servant. I regret the segregation of adults from children and the restriction on how we can envisage inclusive use of a space that is already safely at the heart of the building and to which access is generally quite (if not wholly) restricted to those who work on the Campus.

  2. Andrew,
    Thank you for this posting. It provides much needed and useful information for a wide range of readers.

  3. Thanks for that corrective, Norman. OK,tired, not dreary!

    Such a shame, though, as you say, that the play of that generation will have to be segregated. What lessons will they learn from that. I am sure that you and steps will be doing your level best to assuage the side-effects of all this unthought-through cosseting of our children.

    Amd thak you, Judit, for saying that.