Conductive education - how to evaluate it? Is it really impossible for scientists to design the definitive evaluation study? This is a question asked many times by both parents and professionals involved with conductive education. Understandably frustrated by years of controverSy over an approach which was first introduced into this country more than 30 years ago, many looked to the Birmingham project for the answer to the question: is conductive education a good way of educating children with cerebral palsy? Here was a project which had been planned by experts in the field, was funded by the government and was centred on an attempt to transplant conductive education as a complete system into the UK. However, as Bairstow and Cochrane pointed out recently in the BJSE, the teething problems associated with getting the Birmingham Institute running had a knock-on effect on the evaluation itself and the results raised many more questions than they answered. Ideally, of course, the first Birmingham evaluation should have been viewed as a preparation for a second study which would begin after the first set of conductors had been fully trained and new children recruited.
Since it is unlikely that a repeat of the Birmingham project will take place, what are the alternatives? In the papers that follow, two quite different approaches are represented. In the first MacKay and colleagues, from the Faculty of Education Sirathclyde University, describe the beginnings of another large project, based at the Scottish Centre for Children with Motor Impairments. In this project, organ transplant has not been considered. Instead, an attempt is being made to produce a Scottish version of conductive education by the process of grafting. As part of the evaluation project the group is experimenting with a measurement technique, Goal Attainment Scaling, which they describe in detail.
In the second paper, Sigafoos etal., from the Fred and Eleanor Schonell Special Education Research Centre, University of Queensland, Australia, take another approach. Rejecting the notion that ‘the whole is more than the sum of the parts’ they assume the examination of component elements of conductive education is worthwhile and have done a small scale study of short term intervention programme. Although purists might argue that neither of these approaches will answer the question ‘Does conductive education work?’ surely the realists among us will concede that pursuit of the Holy Grail must sometimes give way to more practical projects.