Active and inclusive: PE provision for children with disabilities

PE provision for children with disabilities
Andrew Shields examines PE provision for children with disabilities and highlights the opportunities that now exist to play sport both in school and outside the classroom.

One of the most powerful outcomes of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games was the change in public perception of disabled people. The spectacular achievements of athletes like Ellie Simmonds, Sarah Storey and David Weir placed the focus squarely on ability rather than disability.

The challenge arising from the Games is to ensure that disabled people of all ages now have the same opportunities to take part and succeed in sport as those who are non-disabled.

This philosophy is encapsulated in the English Federation of Disability Sport’s vision: ‘Disabled people are active for life’. However, there are 11 million disabled people in the UK while EFDS research shows that only two in ten disabled people in England currently describe themselves as active. Improving that figure requires an investment in access and opportunities, starting at school. After all, the school curriculum incorporates an access statement designed to ensure equality of opportunity. As Physical Education is a compulsory part of the curriculum at all Key Stages, every pupil should have the same access to PE, and disability should not be a barrier to inclusion.

Yet an EFDS survey carried out just after the Paralympic Games showed that 51 per cent of respondents said they do not enjoy their experiences of sport at school while 69 per cent said they prefer taking part in sport with friends outside the school gates.

PE for children with disabilities: the success of adapted lessons

Despite the lack of specialist PE-trained staff in primary schools, catering for children with special needs is more about creativity than technical knowledge. “Teachers need to feel more confident and competent when dealing with disabled children,” said EFDS chief executive Barry Horne, “and not feel like they are fragile and going to break but that they are actually robust individuals who could join in the activity.”

“Parents of children with disabilities should always ask how lessons are adapted,” adds Elaine Burgess, a former PE teacher who now manages school sport projects in London. “It’s really not difficult for a teacher to work out how to use different equipment, facilities or even change the rules.” For example:

  • Children in wheelchairs can play team sports like football, hockey and cricket by adjusting the size of the pitch or court, or marking out zones where only wheelchairs are allowed.
  • Boccia and the curling version known as new-age kurling can be played by all children together.
  • Nets that are height-adjustable can enable children in wheelchairs to play volleyball or tennis.
  • Soft or slower-moving balls can be incorporated for children who struggle with coordination.
  • Players with different needs can use bats or rackets of varying sizes.

Integrated sport sessions and specialist multi-sport clubs

Away from the classroom, sports governing bodies are now required to include participation by disabled young people in their ‘whole sport plans’, which are used by Sport England to allocate funding. This has had a further trickle-down effect into the level of provision at individual clubs, a number of which have now created integrated sections for disabled and non-disabled young players.

Specialist multi-sport clubs are also springing up: Disability Sports Coach Clubs in six London boroughs offer fun, accessible sessions for children and young adults. Many county sport partnerships around the UK have similar networks.

Another great resource is Parasport’s ‘find a club’ directory, which links to clubs in 27 different disability sports.

According to Jessica Neece, Camden’s Active for All project manager: “Some parents do not know so many adapted sports exist”. It’s a comment that gets to the very nub of the issue: there are sports out there which are ideal for children with all needs to get involved in. If the perception of disability no longer means inability, it should no longer mean inactivity either.