Sometimes it’s just easier to bash a Tory than pause to think about a very difficult question.
The writer of the following article is the father of a disabled young woman, as I am, and he raises some of these very difficult questions. Like the writer, I, too, was perturbed at the line taken by the Leader of the Labour Party at Prime Minister’s Questions.
“When my daughter leaves school in two years' time, I will be delighted if Ed Miliband offers her a job. She could clear the plates from his table or wash up his breakfast things if he could spare half an hour to stand alongside her and help scrub the remnants of bacon sandwich she had missed. But if he could observe her briefly while not in prime minister's questions mode I am sure he would agree that there are few if any jobs she could do of sufficient commercial value to justify being paid the minimum wage.
“All of which makes me angry at the Labour leader's cheap shot at Lord Freud, trying to paint him as a heartless Tory ready to kick away the crutches of the disabled. It is clear from the transcript of the offending meeting at the Conservative party conference that the welfare reform minister and a Tunbridge Wells councillor were having a serious discussion about work opportunities for a group of people — those with severe mental health problems — who could not otherwise find employment. The councillor made the point that the minimum wage was unhelpful as it did not allow for the extra time and assistance that such employees need.
“No one, other than as an act of charity, is going to employ someone who takes eight hours to complete a task that most workers on the minimum wage could do in two.
“The issues are similar for people who, like my daughter, have learning disabilities. Only 6.4 per cent of such people have paid employment. Fortunately there are work opportunities for the others, but they exist only because the social enterprises that create them are allowed to operate outside the minimum wage.
“At half term my daughter will be on a work placement at a farm. Her rate will be £41 per day — that is not what the farm will pay her, it is what she will pay the farm, out of her "personal budget" provided by the county council. It is to pay for the carers required to help her to work.
“This is a perfectly legitimate debate: could the government broaden work opportunities for the learning-disabled by introducing exemptions from the minimum wage, or should employers always pay the minimum wage but receive tax relief if they take on the learning-disabled? It is not a debate we can have, however, so long as Ed Miliband is out to score easy political points by quoting people out of context.
This article was “The Thunderer” column last Friday, 17th October. At the risk of offending Rupert Murdoch, I have quoted the article in full, minus the headline. Otherwise, you can only read it if you take out a subscription to “The Times”
And the writer? “It's by this guy Ross Clark who is a right-wing journalist who earns his living writing for the vicious Daily Mail and the poisonous Daily Express gutter press” (note 1), so you can dismiss what he has to say if that’s easier.
(1) Taken from an online ‘Community Review' of Ross Clark's 2009 book "The Road to Big Big Brother: One Man's Struggle Against the Surveillance Society".
Well, I hadn't heard of it, so perhaps you haven't either.
"Earlier this year, Netbuddy – the online community .... for parents of disabled children – became part of the national charity Scope. The idea was to create a new online community for parents of children with a wide range of impairments, and disabled people who want to connect with others too.
"Our new online community has now launched, and it brings together the best of Scope’s existing forums with some of the content and features that made Netbuddy so popular."
You can read more on Special Needs Jungle.
A posting on Facebook by Andrew Sutton and Comments that followed prompted the following loose thoughts.
As an account of the functioning of the brain, neuroplasticity demolishes two strong and long-held learning and teaching positions: that, with ageing, the brain somehow seized up and that certain children were born ‘ineducable’. As illustrations, the former is neatly expressed in the saying “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” and the latter in the persistence in the UK until the early 1970s of schools for the ‘educationally sub-normal’.
As far as this lay person can tell, until as recently as the 1980s the typical neuroscientist shared that view - that brain functions were fixed and that new neurons were not created after birth. As far as education and educators were concerned, this according comfortably with the notion of IQ as fixed (and, in so far as that was so, undepinned assumptions then about teaching and learning) and with the wilder notions (and not so wild) of the eugenicists (brain capacity, intelligence, educability and race, for instance). In such an intellectual landscape (scaffolded by “research”) I, and whole generations of teachers then and later, were trained and practiced. All this, I found then and I find even more so now, a dispiriting and defeatist view of humankind and human potential.
We now know that the brain continues throughout life to change and adjust and can do so, for example, through teaching. But that takes us from neuroscience to pedagogy. I heard something of Vigotskii and Luria at Goldsmiths while a post-graduate training to be a teacher in 1969. I read something of Ivan Illich around that time too when I taught in Kenya. Nearly 25 years later I came across conductive education, Andras Petö and Dr Maria Hari. Whilst on that particular late journey, I read “Changing Children’s Minds” by Reuven Feuerstein. In these glimmerings, was a vision of human potential cast in Hope, the possibility of transformation, given appropriate teaching.
I doubt, somehow, that Andras Petö was aware in the 1950s of brain plasticity, albeit that I have read that the concept was first proposed as long ago as the 1890s. I suspect that conductive education grew out of observation, trial and error, operational practice, hard work and experience.
It would not be correct, therefore, in my view, in any effective sense, to say that conductive education is based on brain plasticity. Rather, conductive education is based on, or in or is, a pedagogy, the practice of teaching and learning, both formally and informally.
There is certainly no straight line even now (despite the assertions of the ‘brain gym’ people) between brain research and the practice of teaching and learning. Yes, the huge advances in the understanding of the functioning of the brain, such as plasticity, can help others understand, as a possibility at least, what conductive education asserts – that transformation is possible. But it cannot, perhaps one should add “as yet”, offer much to pedagogy or to the every day business of teaching and learning conductively.
That is not to imply, in any way, that educators, conductors or teachers, should ignore neuroscience. Far from it. In 2002, the OECD published “Understanding the Brain: Towards a New Learning Science”, a collaboration between “the two research communities” of brain research and the learning sciences. The work is already ‘dated’ in some respects. One wonders what collaborations elsewhere might have been reported since? It would be very interesting to know.
Next week, on Tuesday 21st October, Action Cerebral Palsy's 4th oral evidence session of the Parliamentary Enquiry into Cerebral Palsy at the House of Commons will include evidence from neuroscientists. I shall look forward to reading the report of it.
The Children and Families Act was widely reported to have broad cross-party support as it made its journey through Parliament. Somewhat surprising (and disappointing, if I read it correctly) then to see a major principle of the Act potentially undermined in Labour's pre-manifesto.
The following comes from a recent weekly briefing prepared for Action Cerebral Palsy by the Whitehouse Consultancy, just before the Party confrence. The issue included the following:
Labour publishes pre-manifesto
The Labour Party has published (but not yet publicly launched) its pre-manifesto document. The document is the result of three years of dialogue with stakeholders and the public and was agreed upon by the Party’s National Policy Forum, Chaired by Angela Eagle MP.
Commitments on education policy relevant to Action Cerebral Palsy include:
The pre-manifesto will serve as the basis for Labour’s final General Election Manifesto and will be discussed during the Labour Party Conference next week.
The policy item in red strikes me as a major overturning of a fundamental key provision of the Children and Families Act 2014 (and therefore of the Act itself), to give priority to parents’ wishes in the choice of schooling for the education of their child.
It seems to me no more nor no less than a return to the previous presumption in favour of inclusion.
One complication is that compared with 2010, when a presumption in favour of "inclusion in mainstream education" was tantamount to a presumption in favour of local authority run schools, now, with over 50% (see note below) of secondary schools being independent academies (and 10% of primaries) such a manifesto commitment would seem less deliverable. The Act also made possible the exercise of parent choice of non-maintained special schools, with which the Special Academies have much in common, more than either do with special schools still maintained by local authorities.
There has been a seismic shift in the structure and management of schooling in England that has totally altered what previously was known as "mainstream education", which would seem to make a presumption in favour of "inclusion in mainstream education" no longer practicable, not to say at least partially meaningless.
One wonders how the debate went at the Party Conference.
Note from The Governor
From the same source, there are said to be 89 special academies.
There's still time to get involved tomorrow ...
To support World Cerebral Palsy Day on October 1st, we will be hosting a Twitter Q&A on our main channel, @IrwinMitchell, at 12pm to 1pm, using the hashtag #IMCerebralPalsy.
We will be starting a discussion on the importance of disability awareness and encouraging paralympians, celebrities and those with Cerebral Palsy to take part and help educate the UK.
World CP Day is a global innovation project, to change the world for people living with cerebral palsy and their families. It is designed to gather ideas from people around the world and make the best of those ideas a reality.
To get involved, visit the Irwin Mitchell Facebook page and enter your question, or tweet your questions direct to @IrwinMitchell in the run up to October 1st. We will then ask your questions to our community and start a discussion.
Don't worry if you can't make the Q&A, you can still submit your question in advance and we will be posting a summary of the main questions and answers on our website as a resource for family, friends and those with cerebral palsy to visit.
I'd really welcome any response to this question: Does Conductive Education have a distinctive view of cerebral palsy? (Or of motor dysfunction more generally, if you prefer).
Searching the internet easily results in a wealth of descriptions of cerebral palsy that are overtly medical. That's fine.
Not so easy to find, however, is a description of cerebral palsy from the distinctive perspective of conductive education. How might a conductor explain cerebral palsy to parents who are coming to terms with having been told that their child has cerebral palsy that is in any way different from what the parents would have had explained to them by a medical person?
Does such a statement exist? Can you help me find it? What do you say?
As can be seen below, it's a busy day if visitors to this small and rather narrowly special interest blog amount to 10 visitors.
However, the impact on the visitor stats of the Rotherham abuse story is dramatically revealed by this graph. The increase is almost wholly accounted for by visitors interested in just one post, on 25th May 2012: "Belated farewell to Dr Sonia Sharp - heading down under to Victoria". A much smaller number of visitors is accounted for by a second post, that on 28th August 2014: "The power of the internet. An awful news story. How should one respond?"
The report, authored by Professor Alexis Jay, was published on 21 August 2014.
The power of the internet?
The awfulness of a near-local news story of the organised abuse of children?
How should one respond?
As I begin writing this at 07.15am, this blog has had 47 visitors in the past 8 hours and 45 minutes, according to the Feedjit 'Live Traffic Feed'. 42 of these visited just one particular post from May 2012: "Belated farewell to Dr Sonia Sharp - heading down under to Victoria." These 42 visitors come from across the UK and across Australia, with one from New York. Almost all arrived via Google or other searches.
Almost exactly 12 hours later, as I write at 19.20pm the number of visitors to the same blog post is beyond counting.
The awful news story is, of course, the publication of the report by Professor Alexis Jay, revealing that between 1997 and 2013 at least 1400 children were subjected to appalling sexual exploitation in Rotherham, to which Rotherham Council and South Yorkshire Police are said to have turned a blind eye.
Today, there have been calls for all those senior people responsible for a culture of denial at the Council and in the Police service during those years to be prosecuted.
That, of course, explains the interest in the blog post: Dr Sonia Sharp was Rotherham's Director of Children and Families services from 2005 until 2008, when she moved into a similar post with Sheffield Council and then, in 2012, to a senior education post in Victoria, Australia.
The "Belated farewell post ...." drew 2 comments: one from Andrew Sutton commenting on Dr Sharp's approach to conductive education when she earlier worked in Birmingham and the second (posted 11 months later - April 2013) from Jim Graham who, inter alia, had this to say: ".... she then moved on to Rotherham where she has consistently failed to answer allegations that she knew about young girls being groomed for sex by Asian gangs, but she looked the other way." I had a brief email exchange with Jim Graham, in which he expanded on some of the points he had made but not about the sexual exploitation.
Five months later, early in September 2013, a telephone call was taken at Paces' office from a person acting on behalf of Dr Sharp, asking that Jim Graham's comment be removed. Having at that time no further knowledge of the allegations, I reluctantly but simply out of courtesy,"unpublished" the Comment. And there it rested until this morning.
It seems to me a remarkable instance of the power of the internet that so many have lighted on my simple blog post. Now that the horrific findings of the inquiry have been published, I have asked myself if I did right in unpublishing Jim Graham's Comment and whether I ought now to republish it. The easiest thing now is to do nothing - not even post this - but then how is that different from those in Rotherham who turned a blind eye - for whatever reason - and likewise did little or nothing to help 1400 children defend themselves?
How should one blogger respond? How should we all respond?
I'd be interested in visitors' views.
The web site is still a 'work in progress', with some detail of the programme and a full list of speakers yet to be confirmed. However, you might like to take a first look. And online booking is open via Eventbrite.
A great, simple way to understand aspects of the C&F Act 2014 visually has been produced by the always excellent Special Needs Jungle (in passing - Debs Aspland of SNJ spoke at Paces Seminars last year) in a joint project with the Department for Education.
Four flow-charts have been produced, each covering a different aspect of the legislation.
You can read what Tania Tirraoro, who created the charts, has to say about each of them, via the links:
(You can also find Special Needs Jungle on Facebook.)