Morale at Craighalbert has suffered following a critical evaluation submitted to the Scottish Office last March and still unpublished. David McNeill, the previous chairman, unexpectedly resigned in November. Many of the staff are reported to be unhappy with conditions of service, and the evaluation found a high turnover that inhibited training and the ability of the centre to demonstrate its methods elsewhere in Scotland.
Lillemor Jernqvist, Craighalbert's director, told The TES Scotland that the seminar offered a chance to "restore the vision which the board had at the founding three years ago and which may have been lost".
There was now a chance for "confirmation of the original purpose of the centre", which was built with the active support of Michael Forsyth, then education minister, to provide children suffering from cerebral palsy and other motor problems with the form of conductive education pioneered at the Peto Institute in Hungary.
In the light of the evaluation carried out by Gilbert MacKay, research co-ordinator at the Jordanhill campus of Strathclyde University, such "confirmation" may prove a tall order. Mr MacKay's report, of which the TES Scotland has a copy, says "that there is no evidence from the first three years of Craighalbert that a national centre is required".
He points out that there has not been high demand for the centre's services. It currently has 37 pupils from seven regions. Education authorities told Mr MacKay that in some parts of the country parents expected services to be available locally. An extended visit Craighalbert would disrupt family life.
Some parents and staff were unhappy that the centre had enrolled pupils with other disabilities, including some with intellectual impairment and visual and hearing problems. Mr MacKay concluded: "If the centre is to gain credence with professionals in everyday contact with parents, it will have to adhere to the guidelines it issues."
Staff "were faced with external expectations that they were fully competent when in fact they were in the process of training and development". Mr MacKay noted "sustained and significant concern from some of the authorities that have placed children at the centre and, in some cases, severe criticism concerning the curriculum on offer and the ways in which it is implemented". Children were apparently left waiting for considerable parts of the day.
Mr MacKay said that parents generally thought their children were doing well, despite his finding that means of providing information and instruction to them were "relatively inflexible and likely to be insufficient. Staff and parents alike noticed a decline over time in the support the centre offered parents. "
Dr Jernqvist described the report as "a development document". Some of its recommendations were welcome and others were not but it was useful in offering guidance.
She accepted that compared with other centres for special education Craighalbert is generously funded, with the Scottish Office paying 60 per cent of running costs. "If we can't make a success of things here, there is not much hope elsewhere," Dr Jernqvist concluded.