Still ‘more of the same for the more able?’

Including young disabled people and pupils with special educational needs in extra-curricular physical education

Writing over a decade ago, Penney and Harris examined extra-curricular physical education (ECPE) provision in state schools in England and Wales and focused, in particular, on issues of inclusion, equality and equity. They concluded, among other things, that ECPE provision was highly gendered, characterised by a disproportionate emphasis on traditional team games and competitive sport and provided a limited number of opportunities to only a minority of pupils.

Although Penney and Harris were less concerned with reflecting upon how the content, organisation and delivery of ECPE may come to impact the involvement and experiences of young disabled people and those with special educational needs (SEN), their analysis nevertheless has important implications for understanding this largely under-explored and neglected aspect of research. In this paper, therefore, we draw upon some key aspects of Penney and Harris’s analysis to examine the extent and ways in which physical education (PE) teachers have endeavoured to incorporate disabled pupils and those with SEN in ECPE. In particular, by drawing upon the findings of a study conducted with 12 PE teachers working in five secondary schools in north-west England, the central objectives of this paper are to: examine the ways and extent to which teachers have endeavoured to incorporate young disabled people and pupils with SEN in ECPE; and explore the extent to which the content, organisation and delivery of ECPE impacts on pupils’ involvement and experiences. The findings suggest that the trend towards including disabled pupils and those with SEN in mainstream schools has not radically altered the content, organisation and delivery of ECPE which, according to PE teachers, continues to be heavily dominated by competitive team sports that retain a strong emphasis on performance, excellence and skills. This provision, it is claimed, appears to have done more to reduce, rather than enhance, the opportunities for pupils to participate in the same activities and to the same extent in ECPE than they might have done in the special school sector. Indeed, when compared to their non-disabled peers, some disabled pupils and those with SEN typically tended to be provided with a limited and somewhat narrow range of sports and physical activities in which to participate.

Teachers also suggested that some pupils rarely participated, if at all, in ECPE and, in some cases, they were often taught separately from other pupils in clubs and teams that were developed specifically for them in an effort to cater more adequately for their needs and abilities. It is concluded that until PE teachers and schools are willing and/or able to bring about desired change in the content, organisation and delivery of ECPE, rather than developing more inclusive and non-segregated forms of provision, teachers in many schools will be constrained and/or inclined to continue providing programmes that, in effect, continue to provide what Penney and Harris call ‘more of the same for the more able’ pupils in ECPE.

David Haycock & Andy Smith. Chester Centre for Research into Sport and Society, University of Chester, UK.

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