My visitors today

Monday 19 October 2009


"Three Norfolk mills", by Susie Mallett, 8th October 2009

There are still a couple more stories to tell about my recent stay in Norwich.

Here is one of them. One that has taken fifteen years for it to become a story.

Schools for parents

I have known about, had the number for and known personally the conductor/advisor for the Norfolk School for Parents since it opened in 1994.

I also know thanks to Gill that there is an article about the Norfolk School for Parents, in Early Years Educator, volume 5, No 9 January 2004.

I have also always known that I should one day visit the Norfolk School for Parents, when I am at home with my family who live less than a mile away from the centre.

I always forget it and all things conductive as soon as I hit home-base.

The time was ripe!

I almost did the same this time but I was jerked into action by a text message. Good old mobile phones, what did we do without them?

I received a text from a conductor who had just met the lady in charge of the School for Parents at NANSA (Norfolk and Norwich Scope Association). This conductor had immediately connected Norwich with Susie, asked for the number and sent it to me. Thank you, fellow-conductor, for that quick thinking!

I made the phone call, left my number and waited patiently for the return call while working in the garden, digging to my heart’s content. When the call finally came through, I was greeted enthusiastically and spent a good fifteen minutes swapping information with the head of the unit, Lorraine Roberts.

I was invited to visit them and given the opportunity to sit in on one of their sessions. I was delighted to be made so welcome. Perhaps it was my accent, I was on home ground. An appointment was made for the following week allowing time for the new term to get under way and the new parents and children to find their feet.

Scope conductors

At the same time that I was at the Petö Institute, 1989-1993, there were also British students sponsored by the charity Scope (then the Spastics Society) training to be conductors. Most of these conductors returned to the UK, to work in various Scope-run schools and in other centres.

In 1994 Scope encouraged the setting-up of a number of "Schools for Parents" around the country. Conductors did not work full-time in the centre in Norwich but they were involved in training and advising other professionals on how to run the groups. The two professionals who run the groups in Norwich have both been to Hungary to take a look at what was being done at the Petö Institute.

They then went on to run the parents groups themselves and have been doing so for nearly sixteen years.

Children attend its groups with a parent or carer once a week, in one of six weekly sessions in Norwich and in four that take place in the county.

The people in Norwich told me that many of these groups still run today across the country, perhaps like the one in Norwich with now very little input from Scope. Some of the groups have been absorbed into other educational or therapeutic centres and yet others do not exist at all any more.


NANSA was founded in the 1950s. It affiliated with the Spastics Society but was as determined, then as now, to remain an independent body. It has grown in size and developed to provide services for many people with special needs, their carers and other people involved in their lives, within Norfolk. The School for Parents is jusy one small part of what NANSA has to offer.

My Visit

One afternoon during my hols I went to watch one parents' group session in Norwich and I was warmly welcomed by everyone I met.

I was given a tour of the very well equipped building with its newly furbished parents' room, two group rooms, kitchen, bathrooms, seminar room and office on the ground floor and fund-raising and other offices upstairs.

English? German? Hungarian?

A very strange thing happened about thirty minutes into the session.

I suddenly realised that I was watching a group of children and parents and their teacher working in English. Before that point it could have been any of the three languages that I have worked in that I was listening too. What I was watching was all so familiar that I had at first not taken much notice of the language.

When the penny dropped however it really dominated my thoughts for a while.

There has been quite a lot of blogging and commenting about use of language in Conductive Education and I suddenly thought that this demonstrated quite well the importance of not making the words spoken too important, it is the activity generated that is important and it was this that I had been attending to.

An excellent practice

I enjoyed what I saw, the children and parents seemed to be enjoying it too. The two group leaders, both educators, not therapists, where really well organised and I went away with a good impression.

I am not sure how to describe what I observed on that afternoon. Perhaps the best description is that is was a very good example of education for children with special needs with the emphasis on teaching the parents how to teach the children.

The two women that I met who lead the groups were so enthusiastic about their work, full of motivating energy and very open to discussion.

I was very interested to see something happening that I have only ever experienced in adults' groups in Conductive Education. After the two-hour session was over the group leader, parents and children spent another thirty minutes all together in the family room. This was all part and parcel of the “programme”. The children could play, sleep or eat and the parents could discuss the session, home, other therapies and playgroups, themselves, siblings, their disabled child. They could talk about absolutely anything relating to their family situation with the group-leader present.

This is a relatively new addition to their programme, as the space for doing this has only recently become available to them. It is a great success. Just as it is in my adult groups.

A big thank you for my hearty welcome. I know it won’t be long before I make a second visit.


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