Tuesday, 24 February 2015

A LOST WORLD

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.

References

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


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