Conductive Education

History of Conductive Education in Western Australia

from 1990s til now (2014)

As in many parts of the world, the present Conductive Education (CE) movement in Western Australia (WA) has grown out of the persistence of individual families who believed there must be a better system of intervention for their children with motor disabilities. In the early days, more than twenty years ago, these families discovered CE either through travels overseas or interstate, or through engaging the services of a conductor to work with their child privately.

Having experienced the success of CE, the families began to request that the mainstream service providers their children accessed here in WA used CE within their range of interventions. In order to lobby more effectively, they established the Western Australian chapter of the National Association for Conductive Education of WA (NACE WA). This parent led group also included a number of supportive educational, medical, and allied health professionals amongst its members. Ultimately, the aim was to make Conductive Education available as an option in Early Intervention and for school aged children, no matter where the children received their education. Working towards this aim was a long, hard road (as indeed it continues to be!) but even early on, as they worked to raise awareness of CE, significant wins were achieved.

Although a number of attempts in the 1980s and 1990s were made to establish Conductive Education programs by different organisations including Princess Margaret Hospital and the Centre for Cerebral Palsy (or the Cerebral Palsy Association of Western Australia as it was known at the time) and at least two special schools. None of these early programs employed qualified Conductors however and ultimately each of these attempts folded. It was not until the start of the new millennium that a conductor was contracted to provide Western Australia's first CE holiday programs and parent-and-child groups, funded not by individual families, but by charitable donations. This was an extremely positive step opening up Conductive Education to a wider group of children.

Meanwhile, John Exeter, keen supporter of the fledgling CE movement and Principal of Carson Street School in East Victoria Park (a suburb of Perth, WA) made a breakthrough with the Department of Education's working reference group achieving a guarantee from the Department of Education that they would employ a conductor with recognised teaching qualifications. Furthermore, he gained approval to run a trial CE early intervention pilot project for two years, with above staffing formula funding - this was crucial to being able to recruit a specialist teacher-conductor from overseas.

Finally, in 2004, the first Conductive Education programs run by a qualified conductor was established within a mainstream service provider - the pilot CE early intervention project at Carson Street School, Western Australia's only education support primary school began! This project was led by Teacher Conductor Laura Jones and independently evaluated by Curtin University's Associate Professor Heather Jenkins. The outcomes of the project were extremely positive and the evaluation report made clear, exciting recommendations for Conductive Education to be continued as an educational option for children with motor disorders.

In 2005, following a Conductive Education conference in Adelaide, NACE invited Garry Prigg from the Cerebral Palsy Centre in Melbourne (CPEC) to Perth to conduct a workshop to determine the vision of families. The result of this workshop was the plan for establishing the Conductive Education Centre of Excellence in Western Australia. Garry Prigg and Laura Jones presented this plan to Ljiljana Ravlich, then Minister for Education who announced a three-year, $200,000 per annum funding package for the development of CE early intervention programs. The three-year funding package ensured that in 2006, Carson Street School was able to recruit a second Teacher Conductor from the UK, Natalie Fitzpatrick, in order to expand the CE services on offer. Whilst programs were growing however, there were significant concerns about the availability of space and the suitability of the existing facilities.

In 2006, it was proposed that NACE establish a new incorporated association to be called the Conductive Education Charity of Western Australia Inc. (CECWA) which could undertake a more direct role in CE, including the provision of services and purpose-built facilities. An inaugural Board was established and a Statement of Purpose and Rules of Association was drafted.

In 2007, demand for CE had grown so much that a third teacher-conductor, Laura Donelly, was appointed and through the additional funding speech pathologist Yvette Theodorsen also joined the CE team. Carson Street School took its first steps towards creating a trans-disciplinary model of CE services, recognising that the programs were growing at an unsustainable rate without increased professional level support for the conductors. 2008 also saw the official opening at Carson Street School of two new classrooms with a purpose built covered play area dedicated to Conductive Education - the first CE Centre in Western Australia. This was a very exciting time, but countered with the loss of teacher conductor Laura Donnelly who had to return to Ireland in early 2008. Consequently, with the loss of key personel, some programs had to be cancelled whilst others were taken on by the remaining two conductors. This put an enormous amount of pressure on the remaining conductors and CECWA organized a CE forum in August 2008 which was attended by members of more than 50 families. The main aims of the forum were to highlight the precarious nature of the CE programs and to galvanise action.

Following the CE forum, the management committee was significantly expanded bringing on some much needed drive and expertise and a number of specialist teams were established. Since then, CECWA has had considerable success in fundraising, provision of equipment and raising the profile of CE. An immediate outcome was permission for Carson Street School to immediately recruit two additional teacher-conductors. This recruitment process remains far from straightforward although it is becoming more streamlined. Difficulties faced include the fact that there are no 'home-grown' conductors because there is no CE training in the Asia-Pacific area and thus conductors can only be recruited from overseas. Additionally, no relocation package is available through the Department of Education and the WA College of Teaching (WACOT) does not recognise the teaching qualifications of Hungarian-trained Teacher-Conductors. As an interim measure, at the end of 2008, NACE WA funded the short-term employment of teacher-conductor Rosie Clark at Carson Street School to provide a 10-week block of CE programs for students in mainstream schools.

The NACE WA merged with CECWA, with CECWA agreeing to make use of its fundraising achievements to support the programs at Carson Street School and offered $10,000 relocation packages to successful teacher-conductor applicants. This has made the positions at Carson Street School more competitive in the global CE market and as a result, since the end of 2009, three new teacher-conductors - Shona Ballantyne (Oct 2009), Laurie Rushton (Feb 2010), and Anna Kocsis (Sept 2010) have now joined the CE team. Whilst this is the quickest growth in teacher-conductors ever in Western Australia, it also coincided with the original two teacher-conductors taking maternity leave so the ability to provide CE services continues to fall short of the ever growing demand. A challenge for the CE providers in WA as elsewhere in the world, is to ensure that in the desire to provide CE to as many families as possible, the quality of CE is not compromised, as can happen when staff are over stretched and under pressure. This is a delicate balancing act and can cause considerable heartaches to the families seeking CE and those desperate to provide more services. The challenge for CECWA is to support the existing CE programs in order to grow services by ensuring the teacher-conductors are given the best chance possible to do the amazing job for which they are trained. If we can do this successfully, as many families as possible in WA will reap the benefits of Conductive Education.

For more information, please contact the CECWA President or Carson Street School or, please click here to send an email.