Pirates of Peto have much still to prove

8th July 2005 at 01:00
Conductive education has been ill-served by some Scottish education professionals, says George Currie

It was both strange and exciting to visit the Peto Institute again after nearly 20 years. Back in the 1980s, I introduced conductive education (CE) to Scotland and recommended further investigation of it under controlled conditions. To my considerable dismay and anger, I watched it pirated and abused by those who saw in it both political and career clout.

Academic pillaging, plagiarism and professional scavengers plagued CE for several years. In summary, it became a kind of child abuse in Scottish education, such was the fate of the cerebral-palsied child. I believe CE does not really exist in Scotland, only some pale and superficial practices, token gestures, protected by powerful PR exercises in the media and defended by biased parties who have feasted well on their own ignorance and arrogance.

Children have been ill-served by these so-called professionals. Scottish education remains blighted to this day, governed by these academics who are terrified of change and thus still enjoy the fruits of administrative power, control, authority and responsibility.

These quite disgraceful individuals, who cold-bloodedly used these children, clouded the real issues of CE raised in such programmes as the BBC's acclaimed Stand up for Joey.

Around this time an upsurge in CE took place when the Iron Curtain came down and the Hungarian practitioners fled westward, flooding Europe in pursuit of the mighty dollar.

All this resulted in eastern European practice mixing with various nationalistic belief systems protecting their vested interests. Overall, it was a diluted practice system seriously compromised by personal advancement and political control. Too many people had too much to lose.

These issues still have a tendency to cloud over the fundamental, and quite genuine concerns, about CE. Then, as now, the Hungarians singularly failed to produce compelling substantial "proof" of this approach for the care and protection of such children. Time and again, they were asked for evidence and failed to produce it.

But have things really changed? There was no doubt that remarkable improvements took place with individual children; let there be no doubt about this. But to get professional evidence in support of the principles was, on the whole, very frustrating indeed. All this resulted in some local authorities backtracking on recommending CE to children in their care.

Today, the Peto is a well-run business with sophisticated, modern PR principles, altogether a very impressive organisation and building networking with the world, and an excellent central point for all the national organisations. A healthy sign of activity was the very busy cafeteria used by people from all over the world.

It has a very elaborate library, demonstrating that the paper industry in CE is huge. Vast tracts are written with detailed studies being done on minute parts of CE. The reference bibliography booklet in itself is so substantial that it alone costs 1,000 forints (3.90 euros). It contains work done by professionals from the four points of the compass over many years.

Yet running through it appears to be a strong element of repetition with the same points being made time and again by professionals writing in many languages. There appear to be many "world congresses" devoted to CE - always a good excuse for a knees-up parading and masquerading as official business. It looks good on a CV.

But, in serious terms, what is really needed is a fundamental examination of it all, not least because it is slipping down the reality pole and being relegated now from the first to the second division. It seems that CE has gone from being the method for cerebral-palsy children to being one of many available in the market place. It is no longer the flavour of the month.

In its time it shattered the complacent world of cerebral palsy, a mixture of snug and smug. Even the mighty but hidebound Spastics Society felt honour bound to change its name to Scope, such was the pressure for change and progress to escape from the charge of being old-fashioned and out-of-date. Now it seems that the same charges could be levelled against CE, which would in turn bury the fundamental concerns expressed in the first place.

The challenges facing CE therefore are twofold - to convince the world of its primary principles and to place itself in the modern world. But beneath all this is the dark world of power and patronage in which totally inappropriate individuals are allowed to cruise in the seamy side of our profession and are subsequently placed in authority over the decision-making process. At all costs, the system must be protected, even at the expense of children.

It has happened in the past, it is happening now and, if unchecked, it will continue in the future. The future is not bright.

George Currie was a lecturer in special needs at the former St Andrews college of education.

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