A winning mentality


Useful tips on running inclusive after school sports clubs

Ask any parent of a child with additional needs about after school clubs that offer inclusive sports in their area and you’ll be met with a shrug, accompanied by signs of disappointment. While non-disabled siblings and friends can skip off independently into the concrete sunset when the bell rings, most disabled children are bound by school transport timetables and lack of funding and support to access the fun that after school clubs bring, with all their colourful snacks, dressing up boxes, games and banter.

Those lucky enough to be given a placement, support staff and funding to attend alongside their non-disabled peers and siblings are just that: lucky – this doesn’t get offered to everyone. But more often than not these “lucky” kids are isolated indoors, stuck behind a craft table, given a book they’ve read a thousand times or, even worse, sat in front of a DVD.

Usually, it’s not through a lack of willingness on the school’s behalf; it’s often that the team running the after school club activities are unskilled and unsure of what to offer children with disabilities and SEN, especially when it comes to sport and physical activity.

New directions

School office worker Sarah, whose son has cerebral palsy, believes it’s time for some fresh thinking when it comes to not just including a disabled child in a club, but making them feel valued and like they are achieving something.

“Neither of the schools that I worked in had any concept of the possibility that, to try include kids with disability, they might need to actually change what they offered, not just adjust it”, she says. “For example, they could have launched a boccia club or a new age kurling club, instead of just ‘letting’ the kid with a walker try to keep up in a game of kick-about after school. What’s needed is for the activity to be built around the disabled children and for the others to join in, not the other way around.”

Mum of three Helen, from Reading, would love for her disabled son to be able to do something like powerchair football in an afterschool club setting but, she says, “The staff are so overworked during school hours that they can’t provide the fun stuff afterwards, which is often essential.”

At his mainstream primary school, her son was offered after school activities thanks to a teaching assistant who volunteered to stay behind as his one-to-one support. However, at the better resourced school that he now attends, ironically, the situation is worse: “One of the teachers actually told me ‘we have a boccia set but we don’t have time to use it’, so my son just comes home every day whilst his friends stay and do activities that he can’t.”

This is a prime example of a school being equipped to provide children with SEN and disabilities with sporting fun but lacking the confidence to run the activity.

Resourcing clubs

If funding for training is an issue, there are some low cost solutions at hand. The English Federation of Disability Sport (EFDS), for instance, run a free, five-hour workshop. Since September 2013 it has trained over 9,500 people in how to offer more inclusive sports sessions.

Getting a team of people all together for sports training may be difficult. Not everyone is interested in sport and not all can see the emotional and mental wellbeing it brings to everyone – especially those with SEN and disabilities – so their enthusiasm may be lacking. When this happens, it’s time to call on expert knowledge.

Cambridgeshire based Disability Sports Coach and Inclusive PE Consultant Sandra King, is one of the country’s leaders in inclusive sport. A former Head of PE in specialist schools, and the London 2012 Paralympic Games Competition Manager for Boccia, she really knows her stuff when it comes to inclusion and maintaining enthusiasm for sport for all.

Sandra offers schools a plethora of services from inspirational sports masterclasses for teachers, to working one-to-one with individuals, to helping with adapting GCSE PE, to running fun competitions and events. At Treloar School in Alton her provision of extra-curricular activities for students involved offering a wide range of activities that were accessible to all and coaching to a standard that helped students go on to achieve Paralympic medals in three different sports.

The courses are designed to give teachers and other sports staff the tools and confidence they need to adapt activities to meet the needs of individuals with disabilities and SEN in a wide range of sports sessions. One school contact noted that, “Since taking Sandra’s advice, one child, who has not taken part in any physical activity for the past year, has participated in every PE lesson timetabled. This has had a knock-on effect to all lessons across the curriculum, including literacy and maths and to her own self-confidence and self-esteem, and she is now smiling again, which is amazing!”


Finding good delivery partners is key to the success of your plan and if budget allows, can relieve teachers from the full responsibility of session planning and managing sports on an ongoing basis.

Dan Headley, an East-Midlands based school clubs sports specialist, knows how to run a mixed ability group so that everyone gets the same experience.

“I always try to keep everyone in my session involved whether they have got a disability or if they have a long term injury”, he says. “There are different ways that I do this depending on the individuals in the group or the makeup of the group”. These are Dan’s tips on how to maximise involvement and engagement in sports sessions:

  • deliver the same session for everyone and set challenges for everyone at the start and then for individuals to keep challenging them throughout the session
  • adapt the rules of the game to meet the needs of the group
  • if they have fatigued throughout the day, give them the option of doing some coaching and working with their group to reinforce the coaching points and set some targets for their group. That way they are still reinforcing them with themselves as well as for their peers.

Manor Green School in Maidenhead asked its local disability sports centre, SportsAble, to deliver their weekly term-time sports after school club. “We held many meetings with staff and parents to tailor-make a sports programme that would get the kids active but also allow them to experience fun and freedom at the same time as well,” says SportsAble’s Niall McCaffrey.

“Initially there were just a few children, with a range of physical and learning disabilities, and now there are 14 children all here on a weekly basis for an hour of sport. Favourite sports include: sitting volleyball, short tennis and kurling.”

The good news is that within a year the club has doubled in number and there is now a second club for older students and a lunch time club (at school) which offers boccia to interested students.

“As a sports professional, I am very passionate about the benefits of physical activity and its accessibility for all”, says Rachel Tabone, Head of PE at Manor Green. “The sessions are fun and interesting, they provide students with challenges, increase fitness and social skills. They benefit the students in a number of ways, not least increasing their physical fitness and emotional wellbeing.”

Niall McCaffrey highlights the importance of a good working relationship between schools and suppliers. “What was refreshing about our conversations with Manor Green initially was that they realised that they needed help to deliver inclusive sport. They may be specialists in disability but at the time they faced difficulties in engaging students in sport. That’s where we could help and we secured a Berkshire Sport for All grant for them to be able to access our coaching and facilities.”

Organise your own clubs

Schools wanting to have a go on their own needn’t be daunted. Start small, with a lunchtime club once a week so that more staff are around to help if needed. Parents are often more willing and able to get involved at this time of the day as well.

Indeed it was a lunchtime sports club that initially sparked the interest of England boccia squad member Tia Ruel. “That first introduction to sport… gave me something that I could do alongside my friends”, says Tia.

If you have willing staff, there are many ways they can seek support that involves just a little planning and very low cost:

  • seek out your local disability sports club and invite them in to a fun session or to gain advice
  • seek out local athletes – Paralympians/Olympians/Special Olympians – and invite them in to watch one of your sessions and to offer advice and inspiration
  • contact your football and rugby clubs. They often have links with disability versions of their sport and they may want to do some community work to help up-skill after school club staff
  • contact the nearest specialist school or college and ask to have a meeting with their PE teacher – they will have a huge amount of knowledge and maybe even some equipment they no longer use to pass on
  • contact the national governing bodies for the sports you feel confident in running yourself and ask for any free advice, information packs or equipment loans
  • involve parents. Send out questionnaires, get them in for coffee. Even include them in the first sports session so that they can see the benefit of sport and continue to encourage their disabled child to remain active.

Top tips for a successful after school sports club:

  • find likeminded people
  • establish a common interest and start simple
  • pick different sports. A multi-sports offering will keep the kids interested and it means that no-one has to be an “expert” on any one sport. You can learn the basics of five or six inclusive sports and rotate them, or offer a few each time
  • use organisations such as national governing bodies, county sports partnerships and sports development officers from your local council
  • try leisure centres, too. They often have really well trained staff  who can offer some advice and help or maybe even run some sessions for you.

Further information

Melissa Paulden is Marketing Manager at SportsAble, a multi-sports centre for those with disabilities and SEN near Maidenhead, Berkshire:

Pictures by Ian Legge Photography.

Melissa Paulden
Author: Melissa Paulden

Sport Sports Able

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