A sporting chance


How competitive sport and PE can empower pupils with SEN and have a positive impact on the whole school 

The fundamental benefits of physical activity are well documented. Regular exercise aids co-ordination, balance and flexibility; it improves concentration, reduces body fat and develops confidence. So, it is vital that every young person has access to high quality physical education (PE) and school sport. This includes young people with SEN and disabilities.

To eliminate the barriers that prevent some young people from participating in physical activity, it is crucial to tailor the school sports scheme to suit the pupils, rather than trying to fit pupils into a pre-existing scheme. The National Curriculum for PE instructs schools to modify their study programmes to provide relevant and appropriately challenging work across the spectrum. This may mean utilising knowledge, skills and understanding from earlier or later Key Stages, so that pupils are given the chance to make sustained and demonstrable progress.

After school PE clubs

PE has come a long way in the last ten years and the results can be found in schools across the country. Emerson Park School in Hornchurch is a good case in point. As a mainstream school for eleven to sixteen-year-olds, with eighteen per cent of pupils with SEN, the school set out with a very clear aim back in 2003: to provide out of school hours PE and learning opportunities for young people with disabilities and SEN. Today, the school is fully inclusive, with after school clubs that aim to match the needs of its pupils with disabilities and SEN. “We aim to develop co-ordination and mobility and the ability to apply knowledge, skills and concepts effectively”, says Ian Torrance, Head of Faculty and Director of Sport at the school. “Each pupil should become aware of their own and others capabilities and co-operate and communicate with others. Movement is appreciated through observation and analysis and an understanding of safety procedures is developed. Most of all, the emphasis is on participation and enjoyment.”

Cerebral palsy football club

A consultation with community partners at Emerson Park seven years ago revealed that opportunities for pupils with cerebral palsy (CP) to take part in competitive football were limited under the existing football structure. Mixing players with CP either with non-disabled players, or with players with other impairments who had greater mobility, did not produce an environment in which players with CP could effectively compete. It was apparent that a disability specific structure was needed. With endorsements from the Football Association and Mark Leach, a former Paralympic footballer with CP, and with support from the local education authority and charity SCOPE, a CP football club was formed.

Since its inception, the club has continued to grow and is now a sustainable part of the schools out-of-hours timetable. Those who train for sports leader qualifications in Year 10 have the opportunity to put their skills into practice in Year 11 by coaching at the club at weekends. The success of the CP Football Club has been the catalyst for the establishment of other programmes such as disability cricket and a Down’s syndrome football club.

Challenge East

Pupils at Emerson Park also take part in an initiative called Challenge East, a series of half-term activity days open to all young people with SEN across the nine London boroughs. Young people are invited to compete against pupils from other schools or simply come together to try out new activities such as gymnastics, indoor rowing, athletics or boccia.

By offering support to local leisure centres across London, Challenge East is helping to equip clubs with the skills to accommodate young people with SEN. “We hold competitions and taster days where the young people can test out a range of activities”, says Leanne Atkins, Bexley Competition Manager. “We’ve had some stars come out of the project too; a boy who had never tried gymnastics before experienced it at Challenge East and went on to compete at national level.”

An inclusive PE curriculum

Pens Meadow School in the West Midlands identified the need to establish PE and sport as a prominent part of pupils’ education and development. As the school caters for pupils with severe learning difficulties and profound and multiple learning difficulties, PE had not traditionally been seen as a priority. However, following a review of their scheme of work, the school recognised that the introduction of a structured and fully inclusive PE curriculum would make a positive contribution to students’ lives.

The new PE curriculum was based around the goals of increasing fitness levels in both students and staff and encouraging learning in a wide range of subject areas, such as literacy and numeracy, through high-quality physical activity. Teaching and support staff undertook specific training to enable them to deliver a range of activities, including boccia and circus skills. Key staff trained as rebound therapists, using trampolines to provide therapeutic exercise and recreation. Rebound therapy and trampoline sessions were then established as part of a timetabled curriculum, with further activities delivered at lunch and break times, including sensory orienteering, basketball and cycling.

The school regularly welcome sports link instructors to teach different skills and now has multi-skills markings in the playground for all students to enjoy. The difference that sport has made to the school has been identified by both staff and students alike. “It is great because it has got 99 per cent of our students trampolining and rebounding, as all kids, with medical consent, can participate” said one of the school’s teaching assistants, recently trained as a rebound therapist.

Examples of good practice in PE can be found throughout the UK. “Our vision is to build a brighter future for every young person through PE and sport,” says Jancis Walker, Head of Specialism Strategy at the Youth Sport Trust. “Therefore, it is vitally important we make a real effort to provide opportunities for those children and young people with SEN and disabilities. It is particularly heartening to hear of the great work happening in our schools around the country to ensure these opportunities are provided, enabling them to participate in activities that are appropriate for them and supporting improved Every Child Matters outcomes.”

Further information

Haylie Read is Press and Communications Assistant at the Youth Sport Trust:

English Federation for Disability Sport:

Paralympic sport:

Article first published in SEN Magazine issue 46: May/June 2010.

Haylie Read
Author: Haylie Read

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