Moving from mainstream to special educational needs (SEN), the learning curve can feel like quite a jump. This article is aimed at teachers within primary education or secondary PE. It introduces SEN and talks about creating an inclusive PE curriculum, which is accessible for all learners. It explores taking skills from traditional games and explains how to teach them in natural environments, for a more inclusive PE lesson.

Types of SEN  

SEN covers a vast spectrum of learning difficulties, which can include:

  • Moderate Learning Difficulties (MLD)
  • Severe Learning Difficulties (SLD)
  • Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties (PMLD)
  • Specific learning difficulties: Dyslexia, Dyscalculia and Developmental Coordination Disorder (Dyspraxia)

Pupils may also have additional needs in a range of other forms, which diversifies further the needs of your class. This can increase the complexity of fulfilling your pupil's needs through differentiation of activities. I.e. for you to teach a selection of skills, movements, activities or even facilitate a game (e.g. a football match), in a way that is understood by each pupil.

Matters Relating to Participation in Sport

Many SEN pupils will not join sports clubs, because of either their ability, confidence or both. The skills gained from playing traditional sports such as communication, leadership, spatial awareness e.t.c, are essential for your pupil's development. It is therefore, a necessity for schools to encourage pupils to develop and refine skills for them to join sports clubs.

Offering an Inclusive Approach to the PE Curriculum

The purpose of offering an inclusive PE curriculum is to make sure that every pupil is able to access physical activities. The needs of the pupils within an SEN setting can be broad, therefore, it is important that the activities and sports, on offer, cater for all.

Inclusive sports such as sitting volleyball can be differentiated to meet the needs of everyone. Although traditional sports like rugby and football can be differentiated, it is harder to meet the needs of all pupils within one lesson. The complex range of abilities within a lesson can restrict the competitive nature of the game, but teaching inclusive sports can make it more achievable to meet the needs of the group.

Through providing pupils with various sporting opportunities, this can create an inclusive learning environment. This allows everyone to explore the small steps of learning and ensures that anybody can progress.

Research has shown that more pupils are engaged in the natural world, which is why merging physical activities with the outdoors is such a precious experience.

The participating children are significantly more active during outdoor (Learning in Natural Environments - LINE) sessions than during indoor lessons, and were especially active when LINE was held in the nearby woodland as opposed to the school grounds.

From a study: Measuring the impact of outdoor learning on the physical activity of school age children: The use of accelerometry

Key Areas to an Inclusive Curriculum

  • Take the skills learnt from traditional games and teach in an activity/game that everyone is able to access
  • The aim is to teach these skills without the pupils knowing
  • When you assess or deliver plenaries, talk about the impact of the lesson (Research: Ofsted, 'Curriculum research: assessing intent, implementation and impact')
  • Focus on teaching within a natural environment

An Example of an Inclusive PE Term Provision

Terms Topic Lesson Examples
1 Traditional Games Football, Rugby, Cricket, Basketball
2 Team Building Crossing the Swamp, Human Cranes, Den Building, Get Knotted
3 Team Games Capture the Flag, Shoe Relay, Cups, Last Person Standing
4 Outdoor Adventous Activities (OAA) Bouldering, Kayaking, Orienteering, Slacklining
5 Health Related Exercise Fitness Testing, Distance Challenges, Woodland Fitness Stations
6 Inclusive Sports Boccia, Goal Ball, Golf, Sitting Volleyball

How to Assess an Inclusive PE Curriculum

An inclusive PE curriculum should aim to support the development of skills, such as: decision-making, balance, leadership, and accuracy. This inclusive approach is there to provide opportunities that help pupils who struggle with gaining the essential skills of traditional sports.

There are four areas that can be identified within every sport and outdoor activity. These areas have been taken from the 'four corner model', which are:

Mental - Desire, understanding, decision-making, concentration, composure

Physical - Stamina, jumping, balance, agility, strength

Social - Teamwork, extracurricular, leadership, listening, behaviour

Technical - Positioning, reactions, consistency, execution, accuracy

These areas could be used to help show a more rounded view on how pupils are progressing. It makes the assessment process more inclusive to everyone that may not be great at a particular skill, but may excel elsewhere.

It is becoming more accepted to use other environments and approaches (natural environments and outdoor learning) to effectively enhance pupils learning within PE.

If pupils do not feel happy within themselves to join a traditional sports club, then maybe look at alternative outdoor clubs. This maybe an issue that schools/local communities need to collaborated to ensure that this provision is on offer.

In order to be actively changing the stereotypes of PE within schools, we have to create inclusive environments and focus on making learning a valued and inspiring experience, even if this is done term by term, sport by sport.