Mike Dale on the Outstanding Achievement Awards.
The pandemic had a catastrophic impact on activity levels. This hit pupils with SEND hardest, as they already experience many barriers to taking part in sport and physical activity alongside their mainstream peers. However, there are events tailored to be accessible to those with an array of impairments and special needs, away from a mainstream sporting environment that enable children to experience success on their own terms. This can have a transformational impact on their skills, self-esteem, confidence, health and wellbeing.
The opportunity to be active and learn new skills on a safe, non-threatening yet competitive stage is precious and can have a positive ripple effect on each child’s life and, in many cases, on their status and perception in the mainstream school environment. At an event held at the University of Birmingham Sports Centre, Jenny Samuel, mother of nine-year-old pupil Annie said, “My daughter was always reluctant to try anything physical, but she came back from the last competition and said, ‘I feel like I can do anything now!'” Emily Willamson, mum of nine-year-old Finlay, added, “Getting to this final has really changed their confidence levels and the way the school perceives them. When they got back to school, they got a standing ovation in assembly and it made half the teachers cry.”
Children and young people with SEN can often find themselves excluded from sport opportunities through no fault of their own. This is particularly the case in isolated or deprived areas. Ysgol Plas Brondyffryn, a specialist centre for autism in Denbigh, North Wales, felt that the needs of its pupils weren’t being met in PE and sport. “It was so frustrating,” said teacher Katie Jones. ‘When organisers understand the children’s capabilities and limitations. It’s so well-tailored for them. I picked up so many new ideas to try back in school. The main thing is the effect it has on their wellbeing. They come away from the events feeling so proud of themselves. They have such a sense of achievement for trying something new and a safe, non judgemental space to be themselves. and participate in multi-skills activities”
Annual Outstanding Achievement Awards recognise the resilience and progress of its most impressive competitors such as Oliver Flower from east London. As a wheelchair user, he loved wheelchair racing at multi-skills competitions. The skills developed include teamwork, communication skills. confidence building, friendship and enjoyment and the opportunity to win trophies and medals.
GB para athlete Michael McCabe says he “may never have become a wheelchair racer” if he hadn’t been given the opportunity to fall in love with sport at school. Now 25, Michael is ranked inside Europe’s top 10 and recently finished sixth in the Great North Run and eighth at the London Marathon. Another former competitor, Isaac Addai, now 24, was voted Player of the Year for Arsenal’s amputee team last season. He tells a similar story of being introduced to the multi-skills events and getting involved with physical competition and I would never have pursued the amputee football career,” he says.