Monday, 21 July 2014


A glimpse into the past

In the evening of 1 April 1986 BBC 1 showed a 50-minute TV programme called Standing up for Joe. It would be fair to say that it caused quite some consternation:

Suddenly everyone wanted to get into the act, but few people yet knew quite what to do or say – though if there were to be money made available...

Conductive Education was in the papers, on radio and television, and local and national politicians were having their say too – all rather hard to believe now.

Less than four weeks later, on 28 April, there was a short, good-natured but confused exchange in the House of Lords, the first of many in that place on this topic over the next few years –

"Conductive Education"

Baroness Dudley. My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.
The Question was as follows:
To ask Her Majesty's Government what plans they have for evaluating "conductive education" for those suffering from motor disorders, now well established in Hungary, and what resources are being made available for backing a conductive education programme.
The Earl of Swinton. My Lords, the Spastics Society has submitted an application for central government funding towards a proposed study of conductive education, and that is at present under close consideration. There are no funds available to the Secretary of State for Education and Science from which he could pay directly for an independent programme of conductive education.
Baroness Dudley. My Lords, will my noble friend say how many people are attending the course that they have in Hungary for conductive education? Is it true that around 70 per cent. of the children learn to walk and go to normal schools within four years?
The Earl of Swinton. My Lords, I honestly do not know the size of that particular school in Hungary. I think that my noble friend's figure of 70 per cent. is right. However, I ought to point out that I also understand that the children are very much selected as to those who are most likely to succeed in walking, before they are taken to that school.
Baroness Fisher of Rednal. My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that Birmingham Education Committee and Birmingham social services are pioneering a scheme for those particular children? An advertisement for a director was placed last weekend. The funding of that centre will be by Birmingham City Council, Dr. Barnardo's, the Parkinson's Disease Society, and the Percy Bilton Fund. That scheme is to be evaluated by Nottingham University. Is the Minister aware of that project, and will he see that some resource is sent there if at all possible, especially in respect of the evaluation of that project?
The Earl of Swinton. My Lords, I was aware of the project but not of quite so much detail as is the noble Baroness, who knows more about it than I do. I understand that the DHSS was approached for funding in respect of the conductive education project in Birmingham but decided after very careful consideration that it would be inappropriate to support that particular project. It was made clear last year to the sponsors of the Birmingham project that the DES would be ready to consider a more limited scheme concerned with producing an effective evaluation of the system of conductive education as practised in Hungary and its transferability to this country. The university has not as yet submitted a formal application along those lines.
Lord Ennal. My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for the answers that he has just given. I wonder whether he or his right honourable friend can look more closely into the Birmingham operation. As the noble Earl said, it is conducted primarily through the University of Birmingham. Is the noble Earl aware that in respect of motor disorders such as cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, spina bifida and Parkinson's disease, there has been a tremendous advance by Dr. Andrew Sutton, based partly on the research that has been carried out in Hungary? Is the noble Earl aware also that funding is a major problem? Approximately £300,000 is needed in order to proceed with that absolutely vital research, affecting, as the noble Baroness said, many, many children who are in a very severe condition.
The Earl of Swinton. Yes, my Lords. I assure the noble Lord that we shall be following with interest what goes on. However, we feel that there is a lot more research needed into the subject. That is why the approach now being made by the Spastics Society is being considered with great sympathy. I understand that there is no consensus of opinion about that method of treatment. Some professionals have been very enthusiastic about it, particularly in the field of cerebral palsy and in some aspects of mental handicap and other neurological handicaps. Others in the field, including Her Majesty's Inspectorate, have reservations. They feel that although the method may be considered impressive in respect of movement, it can be at the expense of other areas of educational and social development.
The Earl of Selkirk. My Lords, will my noble friend give the House some picture of the nature of conductive education? It is a subject with which I am not very familiar.
The Earl of Swinton. My Lords, conductive education has been developed in Hungary, where it is used as the main basis for the early education of physically handicapped children and as a method of treating or re-educating adults with major handicaps. The essence of the method is to treat children and others like normal individuals with the object of educating them on general subjects, but incorporating into the general subjects lessons on how to eat, walk, sit and solve problems. Children are allocated to one particular "superperson", who is a cross between a teacher and therapist and is known as a conductor, who takes them through the whole process of education as they grow older.
Baroness Fisher of Rednal. My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that Birmingham City Council is pioneering the scheme and not Birmingham University? It all arose through one of the children in the city who is now in Budapest. The city itself felt, after visiting the centre, that it was a useful exercise, as the noble Earl has said, to see whether the scheme could be put into operation and then evaluated. However, it is not a university scheme.
The Earl of Swinton. My Lords, I bow to the superior knowledge of the noble Baroness in respect of what goes on in and around Birmingham. I am sure that she is absolutely right.
(HL Deb 28 April 1986 vol 474 cc1-31)

Thirteen hard years later

In May 1999, another debate in the Lords

Add another thirteen years to that...

... and you are almost up to the present day. What might such discussion sound like now? Certainly nothing like those of 1986 and 1999. Not only has the whole social situation changed, at home and abroad, but even the very language in which such matters are discussed is quite different.

The only thing that remains unchanged is that the great bulk of children and adults and families who might potentially benefit from radical change in how their services are construed and delivered are experiencing much of the same.

So it goes.

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