How young people with SEN and disabilities are engaging with the London 2012 Paralympic Games
Between 29 August and 9 September 2012, athletes with physical disabilities will come together to compete in 20 different sports in stadia around the capital for the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
The Paralympic Games were not always as eminent as they are today; in fact, it was only in 1988 that a precedent was set for the Paralympic Games to immediately follow the Olympic Games and use the same venues and facilities. Where they used to exist solely for British war veterans and those confined to wheelchairs, the Paralympic Games now feature athletes from countries across the globe with a range of physical disabilities. Over the past two decades, the public’s understanding and interest has grown, and the London 2012 Games are acting as a catalyst to encourage more schools to raise awareness about disability sport and the Paralympic movement.
Paralympic sports for young people
Chadsgrove Special School for children with both physical disabilities and sensory, communication or learning difficulties held its annual Celebration of Inclusive Sport Festival in January this year. The aim of the festival is to inspire and allow pupils to participate in sport and provide pathways for more talented performers in the hope that they will move on to elite programmes and sporting success. Approximately 180 boys and girls aged between four and 19 years, from 13 local Worcester schools, took part in the festival.
For many of the young people involved, this was their first experience of competition and representing their school. A teacher at the school described the days as: “fantastic, filled with smiles, successes and laughter”. Primary pupils enjoyed being exposed to a wide range of skills and games, and secondary pupils had the chance to sample Paralympic and disability sports such as sitting volleyball, boccia, bench hockey and new age kurling.
The events were held as part of the national Playground to Podium strategy which focuses on the identification, development and support of talented young disabled athletes. These inclusion days are currently taking place across the county and will allow those pupils identified as gifted and talented to progress and develop in sport.
Meanwhile, living in a host borough is providing the impetus for East London schools to engage with the Games like never before. Children at Curwen Primary School in Newham have been learning about Paralympic sports in their PE lessons. The youngest children have had sessions of goalball to help with their listening skills and coordination; as the children get older they are exposed to Paralympic sports more intensively. Pupils in Year 3 recently took part in a goalball competition with another local school. Teachers at the school have been highly impressed with how pupils have developed a sense of empathy through being blindfolded, and have noticed that the pupils are more tranquil, co-operative and communicative.
Pupils and teachers from Curwen were also invited to attend International Paralympic Day in Trafalgar Square on 8 September last year. This celebration gave members of the public a whole day of Paralympic sport demonstrations and the chance to meet international and British athletes.
When London 2012 launched the “Get Set to exercise your taste buds” competition, children from schools around the UK set about creating a meal that could fuel the athletes competing this summer. One such school was Wilson Stuart School in Birmingham, which caters for children aged two to 19 with physical disabilities and complex medical conditions. Three students, all with SEN, designed and prepared a dish which was shortlisted from over 6,000 entries. Their chicken and potato salad won its category, making the school one of only four from across the country to see their dish served at the Athletes’ Village during the Games.
Olympic champion Jonathan Edwards visited the school to sample its winning dish and congratulate pupils and staff. Edwards said that “Wilson Stuart School are the perfect example of a school who have really embraced the Olympic and Paralympic Values.”
It is this commitment to the Olympic and Paralympic Values that bonds schools around the UK, with educators utilising them in all areas of the curriculum. One teacher in the North West explains: “The Values are easy for children to understand and relate to and provide an excellent vehicle for building confidence, helping children to be more focused and recognise their own strengths”.
The Meadows Sports College is one of Sandwell’s four special schools, meeting the needs of students with complex, profound and multiple learning disabilities aged 11 to 19. When the school created an Olympic-themed frontage, it triggered a school-wide campaign based on the Olympic Values of friendship, excellence and respect, and the Paralympic Values of courage, determination, inspiration, and equality.
The Values are now mounted on every classroom door, surrounding the Olympic rings, with a list of pupils below. When a student is seen to demonstrate the Values, a sticker is affixed next to the student’s name.
The Games’ arrival in London has given the UK a platform to talk about disability, with the Paralympic Games in particular providing a channel for much discussion and inspiration. Instilling the Olympic and Paralympic Values in schools around the UK will leave a legacy that will continue far beyond the Games. Also adding to the impact is the spirit of collaboration that the Games has brought about, paving the way for a wealth of partnership working, both with other local schools and through introducing external organisations.
St Colman’s Primary school in Belfast has linked up with Disability Sports Northern Ireland to provide a programme of sports activities that enables its children with physical and learning difficulties to take part in a variety of sports alongside their classmates. The children targeted have cerebral palsy, developmental delay, visual impairments and severe autism; the programme also includes 12 children from the school’s moderate learning difficulties units.
On 18 January, St Colman’s hosted the 5 Star Disability Sports Challenge which enabled the whole school to see a demonstration of five sports played by disabled athletes. One pupil was the 20,000th child to complete the challenge, a milestone that was marked by the presence of Northern Ireland’s Minister for Sport and Culture, Carál Ní Chuilín, Deputy Chair of London 2012 Nations and Regions Jonathan Edwards and Paralympic Gold Medallist Michael McKillop.
As schools and colleges around the UK are demonstrating, working in collaboration not only adds to the quality of these events, it also goes some way in ensuring that all the hard work embedding the Values and deepening our understanding of disability has a lasting effect.
Nick Fuller is Head of Education at the London 2012 Games Organising Committee: