Monday, 16 March 2015


Still reverberating?

In the nineteen-nineties Conductive Education attracted a lot of negative feeling from many people concerned with disability and inclusion, especially perhaps in higher education.. There can be no doubt that this was one factor that diminished the enormous public enthusiasm for CE with which the decade had opened.

Negative feeling that Conductive Education was a reactionary force that had to be opposed certainly persisted into the opening decade of the present century. I do not know whether it is still active out there at the moment and, if so, how influential it might be now that national agendas have moved on to other concerns.

Quite by chance I recently stumbled upon a PhD thesis published at the turn of the century. This work was not specifically concerned with Conductive Education and I am not altogether sure whether mention of this topic contributed to its overall argument or conclusions – though I appreciate the candidate and his supervisor might not have wished to go before an external examiner without at least bringing up this topic which was still a hot potato at the time. If I am correct in wondering this, then the paragraphs quoted below offer some idea of the sort of questions that academics liked to see raised about Conductive Education.
The disability movement is highly critical of approaches to education which emanate from able bodied theorists and professionals. High on the list of such practices are approaches informed by the theory of normalisation and, to a lesser extent, conductive education. (p. 266) further highlight disabled peoples' critiques of the use they consider able bodied people make of strategies to make disabled people conform to social norms, conductive education will be discussed.
Conductive education has its origins in work done in Budapest at the Peto Institute. It enjoyed popularity, some might say notoriety, as a result of its activities being televised in the UK in the 1980's. Subsequently a number of its practises and approaches were imported and conductive units established in the UK. Conductive education has been criticised for being another example of able-bodied professionals controlling disabled people and manipulating them into conforming to a concept called 'normal'. Read (1998) puts forward the view that conductive education takes a holistic approach by endeavouring to enable a disabled individual to maximise their functional capacity by working with the individual to identify strengths and abilities and, subsequently, to build and develop them. Nevertheless, although stressing the interactive nature of the method it is still seen as being an able-bodied strategy implemented by able-bodied 'conductors' sic professionals and has, therefore, been heavily criticised, most notably by Oliver. Oliver has been unremitting in his castigation of both the approach and its supporters. His criticism is unequivocal:
So, not only is conductive education theoretically unproven but also practically unsubstantiated. I would go further and suggest that it is also ideologically unsound. Its constant, uncritical use of the concept of 'normality' and its insistence on adapting individuals rather than environments flies in the face of much social scientific and educational wisdom, and, more importantly, the expressed wishes of many disabled people who want society to change, not themselves.
Here, then, we see the twin pillars of the social model, applied to strategies to meet the 'special' needs of disabled children. Namely, (1), strategies invariably require there to be a controlling professional and, (2), also aim to change the individual, not his or her social circumstances and/or environment. In order to further promote change, professionals will often enlist the parents of a disabled child or young person as collaborators… [etc.] (pp.268-269)

It was a funny decade, the nineteen-nineties, in fashion, music, politics – and in the turn of the tide for Conductive Education. Those still around from the UK's Conductive Education of those times might appreciate the above reminder. For those who were not around then, I have no idea what it might signify.


Lawson, J. (2000) Why parents of disabled children choose special education: a study of the experiences of parents caring for a disabled child at home, who have chosen a special school, unpublished PhD thesis, University of Warwick

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