Saturday, 28 February 2015


(4 May 1928 – 10 January 2015)

Elemér Hankiss died last month. He was 86.

I never actually met him. That was careless of me and I know that I missed a great treat. I had been aware of him for some years through conversations, correspondence. and other written exchanges with Emma McDowell. She had known him from her days as a student and held him in the highest regard.

Hearing about Hankiss

Emma started talking to me about András Pető a long time ago. When our talk turned to the social situation, both within the Pető Institute and in wider Hungarian society, she often invoked Elemér Hankiss. She had first known him in in Szeged where he was a brilliant young lecturer in English literature. She kept in touch with him when shs moved to Belfast, Northern Ireland, where she was writing her PhD thesis on comparative literature, using the structuralist method that she had learned from Hankiss. Back in Budapest he become an outspoken and critical sociologist. In Belfast Emma's thesis had to give way to her new role of full-time 'conductive mother' to her son George and her PhD was never finished. It was in this new role, seeking out whatever she could find to shed light upon Conductive Education. that she again sought out her ertstwhile mentor in Budapest, in the year of the collapse of communism, the 'change'.
Elemér Hankiss was extremely appreciative of the work done at the State Institute for Motor Disorders but he suggested that it suffered from a fundamental institutional problem that went back to András Pető himself. This was a common problem within an 'unhealthy' Hungarian social pattern: traditionally paternalistic but distorted by the threatening Party-rule, causing an unfree, suffocating atmosphere within talented work-force (the more talented, the worse for them). Hankiss himself had worked under this within the Academic Institute of Literature. Accordingly and ultimately, the leader – here András Pető and his successor – must represent the source of that 'good/bad' mixture.

This triangulated with what I had been hearing, and have continued to hear from other sources. Under András Pető there was little 'sideways' communication between staff (they didn't dare and they did not trust), and their emotional force could only be expressed directly to the children. Nobody could have a personal opinion about the work, or ask questions. The socialisation of conductors into their work led to their doing only as expected and never stepping outside narrowly defined ways.

Mári Hári – it was suggested – had preserved this regime as unchanged as she could manage. It suited her that András Pető's ethos should continue to run right through the staff, with anyone who could not take it either dropping out or being cast out from the Institute, never to return.

Such conversations with Emmaserved to illumine my own observations and my developing conclusions about András Pető's institute – and about features of the the spreading conductor diaspora. That 'atmosphere' has pearsisted over the generations and even permeates conductors trained elsewhere, long after András Pető and Mári Hári have gone. Fascinating micro-sociological material!

I do not of course say that all conductors are the same in this respect but there is a certain insecurity that can limits what they do, not sticking their necks out, or venturing original or personal opinions in public. Some may not even feel free to describe how they work

A society within a society

Emma of course well knew the general social background against which András Peto's institute had developed, from her own earlier life in Hungsary, and she had picked up snippets about András Pető himself hrough personal contacts. Below I offer a selection of what she has communicated with me about this over the years , and about one of the leading Hungarian sociologists of the twentieth century –
The women employed by Pető at first included 'refugees' from the Proletár Diktatúra [the Dictatorship of the Proletariat] who could not obtain employment anywhere else because of their 'undesirable' background.
Such a one was my friend Ida, a university colleague of my Aunt, who explained it all to me. Her father and her fiancé had both been army officers. They died in the war. Her mother had no pension and was dependent on her. She was a young, intelligent, handsome, sporty, teacher-qualified girl, who became one of András Pető's favourites, but she left as soon as she could (after about eight years) because the 'atmosphere' was better at the physiotherapy department that she was head-hunted to, and from where she eventually retired.
Ida said that at the beginning there were all sorts of deklasszált elemek [declassed people] working for Pető, méltóságos asszonyok [honourable ladies] and the like... Declassed  people had been declared persona non grata, stripped of all social position, denied work or any form of relief. It was illegal to employ such people – except as casual physical labourors – but it was also illegal and punishable for anyone not to work. Desperate for work with any dignity at all they would accept minimal remuneration, often only basic rations, and were totally in the power of those who did offer them employment. They felt lucky because Pető gave them work. He was their protector. It was 'white collar' work, and food was also provided (mostly while at the same time teaching the children to eat). You would not have met any of these, neither did I, because after '56 (and in the years leading up to it) the original, cruel, harsh regime had softened.
Historians reckon that the worst period lasted for less than ten years but it was enough to destroy the normal social system of a 'just-democratised' society, never to recover, or not starting to recover until the present.
Hankiss had started as an English literature scholar, that is how I got to know him at Szeged University, and he had quite a followership among students and post-graduates from then on. He was always 'dancing on ice' and got removed from direct university teaching as well as – later – from his position as researcher in the Irodalomtörténeti Intézet (Institute of the History of Literature). The latter was (and I think still is) housed in the vicinity of the Villányi St Institute, on the Gellért Hill. We had chats a few times there; I even joined the post-graduate seminar that he was allowed to run for a while. This was in the period when I spent most time in Budapest with George (mid- to late-seventiess) and it may have been then that I told him about the autocratic atmosphere at the 'Pető' under Hári, and we may have discussed how it reflected the wider outside atmosphere and the character of 'typical' Hungarian institutions. 
Elemér Hankiss analysed this in his books (already published, daringly, before the change, i.e. in the late seventies and early eighties). He analysed how people's free associations, networks, trade unions, church-based social activities, non-Communist youth work etc. were all systematically destroyed, or driven into the exclusively private sphere (families) by the Party programme, and how by the seventies this had made Hungarian society 'sick'. In his popular essays Hankiss analysed the particular sick atmosphere of late Socialism (two of his best known collections being Társadalmi csapdák ('Social Traps'), 1979, and Diagnózisok ('Diagnoses'), 1982, thereby constantly putting his own existence in peril.
Quite a few of his books have been translated into English...

A Hungarian hero of his time

Under Socialism Elemér Hankiss steered very close to the wind in what he wrote and said. In the first three years after the change he was President of Hungarian Television. Then he left Hungary for a time and served as a professor in leading institutions in Europe and the United States.
His analyses of present-day Hungarian society (and by extension of other societies that have been similarly traumatised during the twentieth century) are both entertaining and thought-provoking. If you regard Conductive Education as Hungarian, as empirically in many ways it is, but find yourself sometimes prone to illiberal thoughts about 'Hungarians', have a look for example at these articles:
Hankiss, E. (2008) Doom and gloom, Hungarian Quarterly, no 190

Hankiss, E (2007) Transition or transitions? The transformation of Eastern Central Europe, 1989-2007, Hungarian Quarterly

When Hankiss was elected Chair of Hungarian TV (was it in 1989?) I went in to the Szabadság tér TV Headquarters to see him. (No appointment was needed.) I congratulated him – he was very modest, as usual – we were all incredibly happy in those days. I hadn’t seen him for some years by then (but read everything that he published, wondering how he could, because he wrote ’dangerous’ stuff, brilliant, analytical social criticism in enjoyable style...
At our next meeting at TV Headquarters, 'in freedom' times, I told him how we were getting on with George and how the Institute was now discovered as achieving incomparably better results than possible in Britain (he was always a fan of the English). I asked him to help a little bit with publicity. He said that he had no say in the work of the various departments, they all had their own budgets etc., he was just a sort of political head, a 'thank you' perhaps, and expressed that he was much astonished at that. (He was later removed from his Chairmanship, accused of being too impartial, even a 'friend' of the remaining communists; he was the subject of heated arguments in the next couple of years.) However, at least one particular report on the Pető Institute was made soon afterwards, sprearheaded by a female reporter whom he introduced to me.
I recently saw him interviewed on TV, still as witty and clever as ever, a bit of a Maverick, too... He would be able to analyse the special atmosphere that characterized the Institute during the various stages of Communism, and for some time beyond. To what extent it was common with ALL state institutions, offices, etc. during the enforced Communist (Party-led) regime, and what was, and remained purer in it, can be separated. Especially striking was the contrast with the Hungarian National Health System where a special kind of corruption reigned, a sort of 'protectionism' where a compulsory 'gratitude-payment' was perceived as necessary and was gladly tolerated by the state. This was not then so within 'Pető'. I still saw this inheritance intact while the generation that learned their vocation under the first two leaders were the tone-givers. Some of them are still acting as conductors and I know them to be still like that [2009].

A missed opportunity

More than once Emma offered me (no, urged upon me) the chance to meet Elemér Hankiss when next I was in Budapest but by then my visits were becoming ever more brief and occasional, and I let this opportunity slip hoping for better days. A missed opportunity for me.

Among other things I should have enjoyed and probably benefitted from talking about the reasons for my diminishng contacts there, general and specific. And a missed opportunity for Conductive Education. His intellectual force and authority might have have helped blow away a few cobwebs, at home and abroad. The questions about what was specifically 'Pető' and what just Hungarian had been a discussion point between myself and Mária Hári. It had been quite clear to her: 'Not Hungarian: just Pető!' Further discussion of this would needed a sharper and differently positioned intellect such as his.

And I would have liked to float the notion that the 'atmosphere' that he passed down through his followers, whatever its drawbacks, was (and perhaps still is) an active ingredient in the perceived effectiveness of conductive pedagogy and upbringing – not to mention conductor-training... Another time.

Thank you, Emma, for permitting me to share your above recollections a little more widely, along with some of my reflections upon these.


Personal correspondance with Emma McDowell, between August 2009 and January 2015.

Thank you Emma for sharing this with me over the years and permitting me to quote from what you have written.

Sutton A. (2009) Social background of Conductive Education: in a country very different from our own, Conductive World, 8 August

Friday, 27 February 2015


Conductors and users 
Project Stand by Me

Gathering public momentum over the last month or so has been a new venture from Judit Szathmáry, Amanda Elliott and friends, based in the sunny south of England but with no apparent geographical boundaries in its scope, Project Stand by Me.

Further information is coming together on the project's website and on Facebook:

Judit Szathmáry Founder/Director introduced the project–
Project Stand By Me is my lifelong dream and vision that I have kept in my heart for over 35 years!
Ever since I became involved with Conductive Education at the age of 18 when I started my training at the Pető Institute, I had a strong desire to create an outstanding service in an incredibly beautiful environment providing a seamless provision from childhood to adulthood for children and adults with neurological problems and for their families.
Project Stand By Me’ is the legacy of the life work of Dr András Pető, a Hungarian Physician (1893-19670). A reminder of his outstanding ideas and the significance of their existence in the world of humanity.
Our aims are to preserve the qualities and unique features of our work, following our heartfelt calling to help, guide and lead humanity to become more, against all the odds.
Project Stand By Me is a community of like minded and light hearted individuals who have a calling and a desire to bring their special gifts, qualities, talents and wisdom to the project, ultimately creating an amalgamation of supporters and partners to manifest a powerful mastermind.
Everybody needs someone to stand by them. This project is the platform for experiencing and enjoying the power of giving, receiving and paying it forward.
The personal positions of those who are involved with Stand by Me, both as 'management' and on the Advisory Panel, offer indication of the general orientation of this new body within Conductive Education:

  • Sally Harvey – Chair
  • Judit Szathmáry – Founder/Director
  • Amanda Elliott – Founder/Head of Services
  • Roger Harvey – Treasurer
  • Kate Poley – Trustee
  • Sophie Szathmáry-Dixon – Trustee
  • Samantha Smith – Trustee

Advisory panel
More members of advisory panel:

A song for Judit


More than the sum of small achievements

Welcome back to the blogosphere, Lisa Gombinsky, after too long away – though it does sound like she has had some very fulfilling things to do, and some others as well, and more coming up. 

Dog bites man

Lisa's re-entry to the conductive cyber-arena is prompted specifically by a forthcoming event, a conference presentation –

Life Without Limits

Neuromuscular Conference
16-17 April 2015
Auckland, New Zealand

Conductive Education for People with Neuromuscular Conditions
Goals and Outcomes of Rehabilitation

Lisa Gombinsky


Too often when people receive a diagnosis of a neuromuscular condition they are told that ‘nothing can be done’, and sentenced to a psychological purgatory of despair and hopelessness. However, in Conductive Education we believe that there is always something that can be done – that there is always a next step – regardless of the nature or the stage of an individual’s condition.

'I like the way that conductors aren’t trying to be miracle workers, they work with what you’ve got, they show you where you have more potential. There’s no rules, it’s just about what you can do' (man with Muscular Dystrophy, age 34)

At Integrated Neurological Rehabilitation Foundation people are taught strategies and techniques for managing the disabling physical and psycho-social aspects of their condition. Individuals work towards rehabilitation goals, maintenance goals, and impairment management goals in a casual community setting. The general focus is on empowering people and on helping them feel motivated, supported, and orthofunctional as they work to achieve their best personal levels of independence and the most positive and proactive ways of managing their condition.

'I’m encouraged by the positive attitude of the staff at INRF because they are focussed on what I can do while being mindful of my limitations' (man with Muscular Dystrophy, age 41)

This presentation will explore the role of Conductive Education in the management of neuromuscular conditions, will look at the goals and outcomes of rehabilitation for people with degenerative conditions, and most importantly will discuss why the creation of an orthofunctional attitude is the main goal of our practice.

If it were more common for conductors to present at conferences outside the immediate world of Conductive Education, then it would not be newsworthy. I hope that this weighs well in lLisa's balance.


Gombinsky, L. (2015) Life without limits – Conductive Education on the international stage, Conductive Magic, the Phys. Ed. Studio, and Me, 27 February

Wednesday, 25 February 2015


French doctor starts her own

Fanny Grau a French general physician has opened a conductive micro-centre in the town of Clerensac, to provide an education for her own son, and others.

The town mayor has provided accommodation for this and fifty volunteers helped prepare the centre for its opening on 5 January.

The new centre is one of the six now forming FEPEC, the federation of 'private' (i.e. non-state) CE services in France:

FEPEC has a long, hard mountain to climb –

'The President [of FEPEC] has met someone from the Department of Health,' adds Fanny Grau, who hopes that solutions will be found. For even if the project is of recognised to be of general interest as recognised by the tax authorities, the educational centres are private by default as the state does not recognise the education.

Bonne chance à tous...


Local newspape article by Baptiste Manzinali ('Experiencing Conductive Education in Clarensac'):

Manzinali, B. (2015) La pédagogie conductive expérimentée à Clarensac, Objectif Gard, 24 February

Tuesday, 24 February 2015


Remember Ozymandias

Conductive Education comes, sometimes it stays, sometimes it goes. If it goes, what trace does it leave behind?

This question applies both to families and adults who 'have tried Conductive Education' and to institutions that once took an active interest in the field. In both respects it is an important question with implications for the future of things that are happening now. And even what has happened in the past might offer some interesting points for the present and the future. Unfortunately, as so often happens (not just in Conductive Education' ventures that lead nowhere tend ('dead ends', 'failures' if you wish to put it in such ways) to attract little written record, and therefore vanish from history, a shame because their experiences might be as instructive as some apparently more successful – or even more.

This posting relates to just one example of the aftermath of a one-time CE project, this one in a local-authority day special school in England.

Claremont School in Bristol

Recently I chanced on line upon a brief personal reminiscence by a former pupil at Claremont School –
I went to Claremont back the 80's, I started when I was 3. I found the experience very difficult, on the whole it seemed very institutionalised. At that time children went to Claremont that would now be put in mainstream school, to be honest I think it was just a sign of the times, and staff worked within a very fixed paradigm of a disabled child's potential.
I did visit with a friend I made at Henleaze Junior School about five years ago, and I was pleasantly surprised by how wonderfully different the school is now, the atmosphere was wonderful, vibrant and alive. The facilities were amazing. It was healing to make that visit, how times change. :)

Someone from the school responded to this as follows –
Hello Carly, We are pleased to hear you liked the fantastic changes that have happened at Claremont since you were here in the 80's. Back then the school focused on the 'Conductive Education' approach to teaching. It's a lot different now!!

Oh dear. What did actually happen at Claremont School in the name of Conductive Education?

I myself first heard mention of Claremont School in this context in around 1980. Ester Cotton mentioned it as one of the places where a conductive project had been mounted according to the understandings of the time, but she aid very little about it. At the time I found the lack of information odd, as it sounded like this had uniquely been a whole-school approach, primarily educational in nature, running for some years within the public sector, and with direct contact with Mária Hári and the then State Institute in Budapest.

I have never seen written records of this distant project, but in so far as that there was a 'literature' in English I picked up a further, brief hint of of it (no more) in Laird W. Heale's technical report of the ill-fated Wisconsin Project –
Several centers have been established for the integrated treatment of cerebral palsy outside of Budapest, Hungary. Two day programs, Lady Zia Wernher Centre for Spastic Children in Luton, England, and the Claremont School for Spastics in Bristol, England, were established in 1966. The first residential group following Pető's principles is in progress at Craig-Y-Pare, South Wales, and a more recent day program is being carried on at the Centre for Spastic Children, Cheyne Walk, England (Cotton, 1970). There is, reportedly, an institution in Prague, Czeckoslovakia, that has a program patterned after the Pető approach, but no reports have been published about it. (Part 1, page 11)

There is still something in Craig-y-Parc School. The other ventures mentioned above have long gone.

Some years later, in 1988, Jayne Titchener went to Claremont specifically to see what might remain. I shall have to hunt down her record of this.

In 2010, Conductive World mentioned my own slender recollection of what I had heard of Claremont School some thirty years previously –
Then another mystery that I met back in the early eighties. One of the earlier British establishments to have encountered Conductive Education had been Claremont School, in Bristol, under the headship of the redoubtable Miss Ram who had set out to create a whole-school conductive approach (educationally, the UK was a remarkably free country during those years, the seventies). I gather that many of the school's staff went to Budapest to see the work of the State Institute for themselves. For whatever reason this involvement had ceased before my own arrival in Conductive Education (I have been told that this had been because Miss Ram had retired but I know of no proper documentation from this time). Clairmont was (and still is) a state school, while the CE narrative that I came upon in the early eighties projected CE very much as a matter of therapists and the voluntary sector.

Who knows now what happened at Claremont – how it started, where it wanted to be going, what was its relationship with Ester Cotton and her close followers, what it was like, why it finished... The school is still there:

Perhaps it holds a relevant archive. Perhaps documents survive in the Hári Mária Memorial Library in Budapest. Perhaps not.

Look upon your own works and, well, do not despair... but do remember Ozymandias.


Carly (2013) Guestbook, Learning, achieving understanding, Claremont School, online, 30 March

Heale, L. W. (1972) Evaluating an integrated approach to the management of cerebral palsy. Final Report, Volume I, Eau Claur, University of Wisconsin

Sutton, A. (2010) A hiccough in historical time, Conductive World, 19 March

Sunday, 22 February 2015


Read it. Use it

Norman Perrin fulminates further against 'potential', prompted by something read from the world of sport:

I do wish that more would.

A book for all

If I were still teaching future conductors I should do everything that I could to be sure that they should read Matthew Syed's book Bounce.

Teaching or not, I urge it upon conductors and parents of disabled children, disabled adults, and their familiees and carers, schoolteachers of all children, and all that assorted host whose living depends upon disability and 'needs'. Then there are the bureaucrats, 'managers' and politicians, the journos and commentators, the pressure groups and the would-be opinion-formers...

I suspect that some of those few who consider my advice might think that Bounce is also about sport. It is not. It relays the supremely generalisable message of human improvability out of human agency.

And if you ever wish to explain Conductive Education, forget those so-called principles, the pseudo-science, the recourse to myth. Start instead with with the well-known, concrete psycho-social themes explored here. You may find these enough.

Recent item on Conductive World


Perrin, N. (2015) Has Bradley Wiggins 'reached his full potential"? Not If he's minded to overcome fatigue, C.E. Jottings, 22 February

Sutton, A. (2015) The word 'potential'. Confusion reveals philosophical gulf, Conductive World, 19 February

Syed, M. (201o) Bounce: the myth of talent and the power of practice, London, Fourth Estate

Saturday, 21 February 2015


So it goes

The following summary of a lecture to a scientific meeting in Newcastle-upon-Tyne nearly 28 years ago was recently trawled up from the depths of the Internet –
Evaluating Conductive Education

Andrew Sutton

Conductive Education for children and adults with motor disorders has been developed in Hungary over more than forty years. It has not, however, been subject to evaluative research. Interest outside Hungary has led to a range of attempts to establish Conductive Education programmes but their evaluation has been patchy and what their has been has not been encouraging.

Such programmes in the English-speaking world have had in common a lack of professional training in the system, and absence of Hungarian participation in establishing it. Recent interest among potential consumers of the system and the visit of large numbers of families from this country to Budapest have resulted in political interest in setting Conductive Education in the UK on the Hungarian model. A new charity, the Foundation for Conductive Education has been set up to ensure this transfer, through conductor-training, the establishment of conductive groups and the initiation of the Foundation's first major project, an Institute in Birmingham catering initially for spastic children, later for adults with Parkinson's disease too. Numbers of children and adults helped will be small, and it may take some time to establish Conductive Education at the same level as it is practised in Budapest. Nevertheless, the Institute's work will be monitored from the outset. The Institute opens in September 1987.

Questions already widely asked on Conductive Education include the following: Where does the 'essence' of this system lie, what is the 'active agent' that brings about change?' Is the system selective with respect to the adults and children whom it admits and, if so, on what bases. How do its results compare with good services according to current British models? What factors counter-indicate success? In what areas of function is it successful, and where less so? Does it have deleterious effects? What are the cost-benefits? The presentation will address some of the problems both technical and otherwise that are already apparent at this early stage of the work.

I cannot remember the occasion of the lecture summarised here, though I suppose that I just might be able to find a copy of the full notes or text. No matter, I suppose, no one either then or since seems to have followed up the questions reported that distant summer's day in 1987 (not just my own, by any means). With the wisdom of hindsight it is hard to think who might later have done so, in what context, to what ends and with what funding in mind to answer them. Anyway, such considerations were soon swept aside by events. Ah, events, dear boy, events... How very true, whoever said it.

I still think that the preliminary lines of enquiry outlined above are rather good ones – then I would, wouldn't I? And that what has been done instead in the guise of 'CE research' has hardly proved productive. Still, what do I know? Perhaps there is a whole new generation of scholarly interest waiting just around the corner (and the required funding to boot).

All these years later none of the questions raised in the third paragraph of the above summary have been satisfactorily addressed. And all these years later I have seen and heard enough to raise a few further ones, perhaps more fundamental. Others may have some too.

All rather academic, really...


Sutton, A. (1987) Evaluating Conductive Education, Proceedings of the 19th Scientific Meeting of the Society for Research in Rehabilitation, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 8-9 July, 
International Journal of Rehabilitation Research, vol. 10, no 3, p. 349

Thursday, 19 February 2015


Sheep or goats?

It is Chinese New Year again. Have a propitious day and a most prosperous year.

This the Year of the Sheep. Or it is the Goat? Or the Ram? Or even the Antelope?

If you are interested...

Here is a part explanation 
A ruminant mammal, generally with horns on its head. Divided into a number of types, including 山羊 shānyáng, 绵羊 miányáng, 羚羊 língyáng, etc.
A little further investigation reveals that:
山羊 shānyáng ('mountain yáng') = goat
绵羊 miányáng ('cotton yáng') = sheep
羚羊 língyáng = gazelle 
In other words, goats, sheep, and antelopes are all different types of yáng. Since only the goat and the sheep have been domesticated, the Chinese generally divide yáng into two types: shānyáng ('goats') and miányáng ('sheep').

And here is another one –
Both sheep and goats are raised in China, but the former are only found in the grasslands on the country's northern fringes. Goats are more commonplace.
The ram – a male sheep – is a third candidate, preferred by some who don't like the meek, docile characteristics associated with the sheep.

As is often the case in questions of Chinese astrology, there are probably many more explanations, and all sorts of further complexities and qualifications.

Separating the sheep from the goats

This is so often necessary when thinking about 'Conductive Education', in any language

Last year was the Year of the Horse


Confusion reveals philosophical gulf

This word always grates for Norman Perrin. It has done so again:

As far as I have been able to tell over many years the English word 'potential' is generally used as a synonym for ability, by people who have no idea whatsoever of the distinction.

They have no idea of this because they really have no proper theory or philosophy of human mental development other than what usually boils down to unthinking and deterministic biologism: we are who we are. This goes for the most right-on would-be progressives as much as for the most hidebound reactionary: they are simply different sides of the same coin.

And horror of horrors, one even comes across this confusion, or ignorance, amongst those who practice, provide or advocate Conductive Education...

Easy solution: NEVER use this word unless you are able to define and defend it.

And Norman, do keep kicking against the pricks. If only more would...