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Activity Alliance Celebrates World Children’s Day

Today is World Children’s Day - UNICEF’s annual day of action for children, by children. Established in 1954, the global initiative aims to build a world where every child is in school and learning, safe from harm and able to fulfil their potential. To mark the occasion, Activity Alliance is sharing disabled people’s experiences of physical education (PE) in school.

Boy in a wheelchair enjoying a PE session

Activity Alliance believes that disabled children and young people deserve the same opportunities to be active as their non-disabled peers. However, we know that in both past and present times meaningful and inclusive PE opportunities are not always available to disabled pupils.

Here, we take a journey through time and talk to disabled people about their experiences of PE. To find out how the PE experiences can influence sporting habits in later life.

1950s

We start in the 1950s when inclusive PE opportunities for disabled children were very rare. Dr Phil Friend OBE, a wheelchair user and the UK’s foremost consultant on disability matters, told us that PE wasn’t even a subject at his specialist residential school. He said:

"I went to a residential special school back in the 1950s and we didn't do PE. PE as such did not exist at my school back at that time." 

1970s

Fast-forward 20 years and positive progress was made in the 1970s with PE being introduced into more special schools. Born in 1971, Richard who has a learning disability, went to his first special education school at the age of eight. He explains how he started enjoying PE much more once he was at a special school and how his positive experience at school led to him being active in later life. He said:    

"I started enjoying PE lessons when I went to a special school. I had always been good at swimming and my teachers recognised this during my PE lessons. This resulted in me becoming an international swimmer and I swam in the Special Olympics at Stoke Mandeville Stadium. Overall, I would say that my experiences of PE were quite positive as my PE teachers really encouraged me. Now, I still do two activities – swimming and occasionally dancing."

1980s 

In the 1980s, disabled children often had very different experiences of PE depending on whether they attended to a mainstream or specialist school and their stage of education. This was the case for Sarah, who has Spinal Muscular Atrophy. Sarah told Activity Alliance:

"I went to mainstream schools. My teachers in primary school were very good at adapting PE to suit me although at secondary school it was a different story. Some sports, like badminton, I was allowed to join in with. But the majority of my PE lessons were spent in a porta cabin with a teaching assistant playing table tennis on my own. If no one was available, I would go to the library and do homework.
"I can only blame the teachers and the school sport inclusion policies for this. I thrived academically and probably was not the ‘sportiest’ child but was that because I wasn’t given the chance? I just wish those teachers knew back then how being left out affects you both physically and mentally."

2010s

In 2019, disabled children’s experiences of PE and school sport are much more positive thanks to programmes like Sainsbury’s Active Kids for All Inclusive PE Training. John, a Year 5 pupil with a hearing impairment, enjoys his PE lessons as his teacher differentiates activities using skills developed at a Sainsbury’s Inclusive PE Training workshop. He said:

"I didn’t used to like PE very much as everyone else was really good. Now, my teacher lets me choose different size balls and racquets to use when we play tennis and I now really enjoy PE lessons. This has made me want to join the school’s deaf tennis club and hope to play professionally when I grow up."

Free inclusive PE training for schools

The Sainsbury’s Active Kids for All Inclusive PE Training is a London 2012 Paralympic Legacy initiative. It provides free inclusion training for teachers, trainee teachers and school staff. It gives teachers the confidence, knowledge and skills to deliver high quality inclusive PE to all young people.

Since 2012, over 14,250 teachers, trainee teachers and school staff across the UK have attended a Sainsbury’s Active Kids for All Inclusive PE Training workshop. As a result an estimated 345,000 disabled children and young people now have access to high quality inclusive PE lessons.   

Activity Alliance manages delivery of the Sainsbury's Inclusive PE Training Programme. This is in partnership with our home nation counterparts, Youth Sport Trust and British Paralympic Association. Sainsbury’s has funded the Programme since 2012. 

To book your free place on a workshop in your area and access a range of free online resources, please visit www.inclusivepe.org.uk.

For more information about free inclusion training for schools, please contact our Programmes team. Email programmes@activityalliance.org.uk or call 01509 227753.

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