A foundation to help people with motor disorders achieve their academic and social potential now has a base in Britain. Sue Jones reports.
When head movements are hard to control, even turning to look at the blackboard needs all your concentration and determination. If your intellect functions well but your body has a severe motor disorder, such as cerebral palsy, academic achievement can be an isolating and disheartening struggle.
The Foundation for Conductive Education, based in Birmingham, exists to help children and adults with severe motor disorders, such as cerebral palsy, dyspraxia (clumsy child syndrome), multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease, as well as people who have suffered strokes or head injuries. It promotes a teaching approach to disability that aims for high levels of achievement and inclusion into society.
Pupils with motor disorders may be capable of high academic achievement but their condition creates enormous practical difficulties. Conductive education develops ways in which they can articulate and deal with their physical special needs.
Manoeuvres that children take for granted, such as turning to look at the board, can be broken down into smaller parts and learned. The "conductor" works with the child to help them to understand and direct the techniques they are using to become more independent.
Motivation and self-confidence are key elements. Conductive education does not claim to cure physical disability but to enable people to live as confidently and effectively as possible with it.
Foundation director Andrew Sutton says: "The whole purpose of conductive education for children with cerebral palsy is to work with them, their families and their schools to ensure their fullest possible inclusion and participation in social life and academic education."
Its methods were first developed at the Peto Institute in Budapest, Hungary, and British interest grew after a 1986 BBC documentary, Standing Up For Joe, told the story of a boy with cerebral palsy who attended the institute.
Although the methods were controversial at the time, parental pressure led tothe creation of the FCE. The charity then set up its own institute in Birmingham to offer services to children and adults with motor disorders as well as facilities for training and research. In 1998 the Office for Standards in Education praised the quality of teaching and the partnership between staff and parents at the nursery run by the institute.
Some parents have also worked with the institute and their local education authority to have conductive education techniques written into their child's statement of special educational needs.
"When everyone else had given up on Eleanor, the conductors stepped in and gave her the chance to show what she could do," says one parent. "Their hard work and dedication - enabling the child, not caring for the child - was the key that opened the door for Eleanor and for us."
The institute's work featured recently in an award-winning video, Karl's Story, made by the independent company Television Junction for the Channel 4 schools series All About Us. It tells of a boy with cerebral palsy, his experience of conductive education and his relationships with his school friends.
So far the conductors working in this country have all been trained at the Peto Institute. Now the institute is working with the University of Wolverhampton to offer a three-year BA degree course in conductive education, with its first wholly British-trained graduates due to qualify in June this year.
The display at the Education Show will concentrate on information about the institute's methods and free services. These include a service for children with cerebral palsy under the age of three and their parents, an early years group, schooling at key stages 1 and 2, a new free service for children with dyspraxia to help them through their mainstream schooling, and information about skills training courses for mainstream school staff.
National Institute of Conductive Education, stand SN13
Cannon Hill House, Russell Road, Moseley, Birmingham B13 8RD, tel 0121 449 1569. e-mail email@example.com