Special schools need to innovate if they are to realise the Paralympic ideals
The greatest hurdle that so many students with SEN face is that of self-belief. If you can give them a challenging and stimulating environment, they truly begin to believe in themselves and the contribution they can make. You have got to be really creative, though. I don’t even use the word “behaviour” any more. It is about engaging learners and if they are disengaged they won’t learn.
I believe that sport can be an excellent way of getting young people with SEN involved and motivated to achieve. An example that comes to mind is that of a young man who came to our school at the age of 13 after being permanently excluded from another special school. I was asked by the local authority to buy him a three-wheeled bike. I refused and said we would instead teach him to ride a two-wheeled bike. After several weeks of hard work from all concerned, I saw him whizzing past the window on his bike. I knew that he was really pleased with himself. That will stay with me forever. Against the odds, through hard work, perseverance and self-belief, instead of riding a three-wheeled bike with everyone staring at him, he could be as independent as any other 13-year-old because of the aspiration that he could ride a two-wheeled bike.
Students with SEN can benefit greatly from learning about and participating in sport and there is much that special schools can do to help. I am a strong believer in keeping the legacy of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games alive within special schools. Students should be encouraged to follow core Paralympic values, such as determination, inspiration, courage and equality.
The issue of resources will always be important. There is an independent school, near to the one I work at, with excellent facilities including a swimming pool especially for the students. Children with access to those facilities have a much greater chance of becoming future Olympians than those who can only make use of far more modest facilities. Many children simply do not get these kinds of life opportunities, and this is especially true for a lot of children with special educational needs.
The special school sector needs more money and more effective support to help it sustain a legacy from the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. This is clear. However, sometimes great things can be achieved even without much money. I was recently involved in an Olympic-themed event for children with SEN across seven local authorities. This was a great success despite having no specific funding to back it up.
Young people with special educational needs and challenging behaviours are sometimes the forgotten souls in our society. Official figures consistently show that they are at far greater risk of exclusion than their peers without SEN. I believe, though, that involvement in sport could have a positive effect on exclusion rates all over the country, not just in SEN schools.
It is crucial that schools are allowed to innovative when it comes to the provision they make for sport and how they engage young people in sporting activities. If there is to be a truly effective Paralympic legacy, the school system must change. Schools must be encouraged to look at new ideas, and to try out new things. Until schools are encouraged to innovate and develop interesting initiatives – especially for young people who are disengaged – there will be an Olympic and Paralympic legacy for some, but not for all.
Trystan Williams is Principal of The Springfields Academy in Wiltshire. He was recently called to give evidence to the Parliamentary Education Select Committee on the legacy of London 2012: