Wednesday, 4 July 2012


Level of academic-professional discourse on CE
Yesterday the United Kingdom. Tomorrow Europe?

There are quite a few academic journals called Discourse. One is British, Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education –
Discourse is an international, fully peer-reviewed journal publishing contemporary research and theorising in the cultural politics of education. The journal publishes academic articles from throughout the world which contribute to contemporary debates on the new social, cultural and political configurations that now mark education as a highly contested but important cultural site... All research articles in this journal have undergone rigorous peer review, based on initial editor screening and anonymized refereeing by at least two anonymous referees.

The list of reviewers for each year is published in the final number of the journal for that year.
Four years ago one of these rigorously reviewed articles touched upon Conductive Education. Here is what it said –
[Mike] Oliver’s social model became the big idea of the British disability movement (but was never embraced by the US movement, which preferred to focus on culture and identity)...In education, the debates are also reflected in areas such as deaf education (Corker and Shakespeare, 2002) and conductive education (Oliver, 1989)...
In the field of conductive education, which developed in Hungary and was popular in the UK in the 1970s and 1980s, the focus is on assisting children with cerebral palsy to walk, regardless of the effort which might be required and the cost to other aspects of their physical and intellectual development. This type of education was used by members of the disability movement as a prime example of the distorting potential of normalising forces, which focus on making disabled children conform rather than developing other aspects of their abilities and adapting the environment to accommodate their needs. The contrasts between Deaf education and conductive education in terms of their underlying politics are interesting. Both require significant input of additional resources, and are therefore redistributive. However, whereas Deaf education celebrates the distinctive identity of the deaf community, and is firmly rooted in a politics of recognition, conductive education denies the distinctive identity of children with cerebral palsy, and focuses entirely on removing difference...
This article is the written version of a public lecture by Professor Sheila Riddell, Director of the Centre for Research in Education Inclusion and Diversity at the Moray House School of Education, University of Edinburgh. Is her evaluation of Mike Oliver's influence in the United Kingdom a valid one: 'the big idea of the British disability movement in the 1970s and 1980s' disability a valid one? If so, then Mike Oliver bears a terrible share of responsibility for how Conductive Education stumbled in the United Kingdom after its powerful initial surge – and the low level of critical academic attention to his position in the years since, has compounded this effect. 

Mike Oliver has retired. In the United Kingdom anyway, the influence of his formulation of Conductive Education as oppression lingers on in the professional-academic discourse. His polemical piece from 1989, already eighteen years old when Sheila Riddell's article was published in 2009. is the only source that she cited to substantiate her understanding of Conductive Education.

Advising the European Union

With the academic credentials of her view on CE  confirmed by acceptance for publication in a refereed journal, Sheila Riddell has continued to rely upon this sole, flawed and ideological source on Conductive Education in presenting her expert opinion on pedagogy – now to the EU:
Some pedagogies associated with physical impairments also emphasise the need for special treatment. For example, conductive education was developed at the Peto Institute in Budapest in the 1970s during the heyday of Soviet defectological thinking. The aim was to teach mobility skills including walking to children with physical difficulties arising from conditions such as cerebral palsy or spina bifida. Social model theorists such as Oliver (1989) were highly critical of this approach on the grounds that children with severe physical impairments needed to focus on gaining the best possible academic qualifications in order to maximise their chances of finding employment. Spending the majority of their time attempting to walk was likely to cause undue pain and distress and stymie their future life chances by depriving them of more worthwhile educational opportunities.
This expert opinion was submitted only last May to an authoritative body, NESSE, the Network of Experts in Social Sciences of Education and Training:
NESSE is a network of scholars working on social aspects of education and training. It was set up in 2007 after a Call for Tenders by European Commission's Directorate General for Education and Culture. The Institut National de Recherche Pédagogique (INRP, France) is responsible for the coordination of the network. Professor Roger Dale (Bristol) is currently the network's scientific coordinator.

NESSE's mission is to advise and support the European Commission in the analysis of educational policies and reforms , and to consider their implications at national, regional and European level. NESSE also contributes to the dissemination of knowledge on social aspects of education and training.
All right for some

One hears so often of the second-rate public services received by disabled children and adults, their families and carers. Presumably society considers such services good enough and, unless some particular scandal thrusts itself to the fore, is content to value them unchallenged on the basis of their own self-regard.

A paper arguing part of its point on the basis of an old opinion piece that is of no academic value itself, offering no indication of any further enquiry into the topic being judged, and with an inaccurately cited reference to boot – in a 'proper subject' this would be severely marked down even in an undergraduate essay. It all seems good enough, however, to be accepted as an academic paper in the field of disability studies. Moreover, once established uncritically there, it is now being fed into policy-making at a supranational level.

Intellectually, ethically and politically – very poor show.


Oliver, M. (1989) Conductive education: If it wasn't so sad, it would be funny. Disability, Handicap and Society, vol. 4, no 2, pp. 197-200

Riddell, S. (2009) Social justice, equality and inclusion in Scottish education, Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, vol. 30, no 3, pp. 283-297

Riddell, S. (2011) Policies and practices in education, training and employment for disabled people in Europe, NESSET (Network of Experts in Social Sciences of Education and Training)

Sutton, A. (2010) Conductive Education – like the Nazis. Bitter anti-CE campaign, Conductive World, 16 November

Sutton, A. (2011) Walking. Adolf Hitler. Public polemic. The way things were, Conductive World, 4 September


  1. I recently came across the wonderfully nonsensical phrase "educated beyond their intelligence" ( If there is any truth in this phrase, which I had hitherto discounted entirely, it applies in full measure to Professor Sheila Riddell, Director of the Centre for Research in Education Inclusion and Diversity at the Moray House School of Education, University of Edinburgh.

  2. "...conductive education denies the distinctive identity of children with cerebral palsy, and focuses entirely on removing difference..." This offends me to a degree I can barely express or contain. It is nonsense of the highest order.

    My daughter Sarah has been engaged one way and another with conductors and conductive education for getting on for 25 years and *without exception* her "distinctive identity" has been recognised, cherished, loved, nurtured and encouraged by conductors and all those working in conductive education (especially over the years at Paces) - indeed, I would say that this has been and is the very essence of what conductive education has had as its aim and hope for her and with her. As a trained and former teacher, I can think of no higher purpose or value for any system of education.

    Were I not busy enough, I might consider whether I should invite Professor Sheila Riddell (Director of the Centre for Research in Education Inclusion and Diversity at the Moray House School of Education, University of Edinburgh - to visit Paces.

  3. Professor Roger Dale

    Here are some photographs of "children with cerebral" whose "distinctive identity" is being "denied".

  4. This will not be to everyone's taste (I am not myself of a religious disposition) but it has more to say to me about (conductive) education than Mike Oliver or Sheila Riddell:
    "Love is the essence of education. Bereft of love, education is artificial."

  5. Postings on Conductive World are routinely notified in Facebook:

    Not everyone necessarily accesses Facebook. Here for those who do not, for the record, and for the search engines, are comments posted there on this

    Judit Szathmáry ‎"Intellectually, ethically and politically – very poor show" indeed.

    Gabor Fellner When I did my uni course in New Zealand it was one of the first article recommended by our tutor. I tried to explain while Dr Oliver was or still is a wheelchair user he clearly did not understand the difference between dysfunction and well.. between being an active wheelchair user. Also I tried to explain the difference between 'normalization' and learning.. The result was a 'C' :-) but CE is still around while critics are coming and... going.

    Sue Oreilly Finally, I understand the reasons for a conversation I had in 1993! It was with a woman who was the so-called "consumer representative" on the National Health& Medical Research Council committee investigating whether CE should get any govt funding in Australia and which had concluded it shouldn't (surprise surprise) So I rang this woman, Hilda something, thinking that she might speak up for consumers, and she said: "I'm the last person you sholuld speak to. I think CE is a disgraceful method, forcing kids to spend hours on end in airless rooms trying to walk". So I said: "Where on earth did you get that idea? Have you actually attended a CE class?" And she said: "From books I've read" and I said "What books?" and she said "I dont have to tell you" and I said "But youre the consumer representative!" and she said (in voice of total triumph) "Yes, but I represent children with disabilites, not their parents - what parents want and what children want are often two very different things."

    Sue Oreilly PS - my son was three years old at the time.

    All from the Old Guard, I note.