Tuesday, 12 May 2015


Des temps perdus

Gill Maguire has just reminded me of Dawn Rogers' long-term struggle to access Conductive Education, and in particular money to pay for such a service:

(includes link to a 199o video featuring among others Dawn as a child)

And the recent UK General Election, still reverberating, reminds me of the days when Dawn's name used to turn up quite often in Hansard's reports, when Parliamentary questions and debates about Conductive Education were quite common, not just in the UK, reflecting the active public campaigning of the time and the widespread public interest. Here is an example, from the Christmas Adjournment Debate in the House of Commons, on 20 December 1989 –
Mr Andrew Mitchell (Gelding) Time is short and I am conscious that there is another Opposition Member hoping to speak. I shall confine my remarks to three related subjects which I believe should be discussed before the House adjourns. They are conductive education, the Peto Institute in Budapest, Hungary—which is the home of conductive education—and my constituent Dawn Rogers, who has been at the Peto Institute for 27 months and is having great difficulty obtaining public funding.
Conductive education—it is not yet sufficiently well known in this country—is a method of educating children, and also some adults, with motor disorders, which are disorders of the central nervous system. That educational system is based on what I believe is known as a "whole person approach". Its aim is to enable children with a motor disability to participate fully in mainstream education. The professional input comes from one person, the conductor, who incorporates the skills of many different groups including those of physiotherapist, occupational therapist, teacher and nurse.
The treatment is intensive and relies upon considerable parental involvement. The children are taught more or less from the time they wake up until they go to bed. The aims are to provide education in a structured and rigorous way so that children can have greater control over their bodies and join in everyday life without artificial aids and appliances.
In a moving article in The Sunday Times written almost two years ago, Rose Shepherd described her visit to the Peto clinic and how the British contingent used to arrive there with what she called all the paraphernalia of handicap. It is a great contrast with the Hungarian approach, which is to get the children on to their own feet and up and about as soon as possible.
Conductive education was developed and devised by Dr. Andreas Peto. His philosophy was very simple—that a motor disorder need not be a sentence of immobility for life, but a learning difficulty that can be overcome by skilled teaching. In other words, skills that are automatic to a normal little child can be taught and acquired. There are no miracle cures, but the Peto Institute can claim a 70 per cent. success rate—defined as "autofunction", or the capability to attend school and eventually live an independent life without the need for special help and equipment.
Such treatment is not generally available in Britain. Anxieties among educationists perhaps prevented an advance until relatively recently, when those anxieties were in part laid to rest. The Government have provided Birmingham university with £326,000 to carry out research into conductive education, and the Departments of Education and Science and of Social Security are jointly funding a survey by the Spastics Society.
The Government's announcement last week of a £5 million grant to the Peto Institute over the next four years is extremely welcome. The grant will go towards the capital costs of the new international Peto Institute in Budapest, a commitment that will make available spaces at the institute commensurate with the number of British children able to go there. At present, 11 British people are being trained on a four-year course to be conductors. About 600 children have attended the institute and the United Kingdom makes more use of it than any other country. I welcome the Government's announcement of that additional funding during the Hungarian Prime Minister's visit here this week.
In addition, as part of a programme of exchanges between the Peto Institute and the Birmingham foundation, a small number of British children receive training in Birmingham from Hungarian conductors and United Kingdom trainees.
Such exchanges beg the question why we cannot move a little faster towards securing the availability of conductive education in Britain. I accept that conductive education already influences professionals involved in educating handicapped children. I also accept that the introduction into the United Kingdom of the Hungarian model of conductive education on any significant scale will have to await the availability of a group of British conductors trained and taught at the Peto Institute. I applaud the Government's support for the Peto Institute and for conductive education. I urge Ministers to speed up as much as possible the provision of such education in the United Kingdom.
Children who attend the Peto Institute receive funding from several sources. There are no central figures, but I am informed that there are approximately eight long-term students at the Peto Institute, of whom six or seven receive support from their local education authorities. There are no more long-term places available. In the past there has been some uncertainty about whether local education authorities could fund students attending the Peto Institute. That has been cleared up by an amendment to the Children Act 1989. I understand that several education authorities, including Coventry, Devon, Birmingham and Fife have helped such students and there may be others who have done so. Alas, my constituent is one of perhaps only two who are as yet unfunded.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth), the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science, and his officials, whom I met earlier this year to discuss whether any additional means of support could be made available to my constituent. I am also grateful to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security, who has taken a considerable interest in the subject as a whole and in my constituent. My right hon. Friend made clear to me in a recent letter that the Government believe that it is right for parents who consider that the Peto Institute offers services to their disabled children which are not available in Britain to seek support from public funds.
The structure of education in Britain inevitably means that parents must appeal to local education authorities for funding. The remaining budget of the Department of Education and Science is tiny, as funds are funnelled through LEAs. Therefore, my constituents must seek support from Nottinghamshire education authority. So far, we have been unable to persuade the authority to assist. I appreciate how difficult it is for the authority to consider such cases and to grant funds, and I understand that such decisions are not easy. Nevertheless, I appeal to it to reconsider, because this is a one-off case.
My constituent's family have remortgaged their home, sold their business, their caravan and many personal assets and taken out bank loans to be in Budapest with my young constituent. Their reward has been to witness the outstanding progress of their nine-year-old daughter. The local community, too, has been extremely generous. I pay tribute to several organisations in my constituency which have sought to help.
I hope that, in reconsidering, Nottinghamshire education authority will bear in mind the following points. I make them in the spirit of this time of year in the hope that it will seriously consider helping. My constituent has already been at the Peto Institute for two years and three months, so no new decision need be made about where she should be educated. At most, she has an estimated 18 429months to go at the institute. If the local education authority were to assist, it would not open the floodgates. Alas, no new long-term places are available at the Peto Institute. Miss Rogers is one of the lucky ones who has made it there in time.
Since the local authority first considered the case, the Government have changed the law in the way that I outlined earlier. Much else has changed, too, including a greater acceptance of the methods of conductive education. The Government have given their explicit approval, as evidenced by their support for the Peto Institute announced in the past week.
I intend no reflection on the quality of Aspley Wood and Fountaindale in Nottinghamshire and the professionalism of the teachers and staff there. My constituent has attended the Peto Institute for the past two and a quarter years and the length of her stay there is finite. Her family have demonstrated their absolute determination to help their daughter. I believe that the authority should assist. Its education committee must be moved by the examples of dedication and self-help which her family display.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House will remember the case of Sebastian Clarke in Birmingham, his fight for funding and his eventual success. My constituents can look to that example with hope. I hope that the LEA will consider what it can do to assist my constituent during her last 18 months at the Peto Institute...
Sir Geoffey Howe (Foreign Secretary) My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell), in an eloquent plea, described the importance and impact of the Peto Institute and the work that has been done by it in Hungary. My wife and I, since our visits, have taken a close interest in the institute, and, by good fortune, one of my former private secretaries recently came back from a stint as ambassador there. The institute is not often absent from our minds. I had the opportunity to talk to the Hungarian Prime Minister about it last week and to give him an advance intimation of the substantial amount of money that has been made available and to which my hon. Friend referred. We regard it as an important institute, and we regard its impact in this country as of great value.
I noticed my hon. Friend's particularly eloquent plea for his constituent Miss Rogers. We certainly admire the way in which her family have done what they have to keep her at the institute. I shall certainly do what I can to draw my hon. Friend's plea to the attention of the Nottinghamshire education authority, but I cannot give an undertaking beyond that.
I believe that all the people mentioned above still walk amongst us – but it really does now all seem a world away...


– (1989) Adjournment (Christmas), Hansard, HC Deb, 20 December, vol., 164 cc. 394-436


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