SENCos must be familiar with the legislation and guidance related to physical impairment, and be able to contribute to the school’s accessibility planning by making reasonable adjustments in order to include these pupils in all aspects of education; as discussed in this SENCO Week

Many children have to deal with the temporary inconvenience of a broken arm or leg, but for a smaller number of people, physical impairment is a life-long challenge. When difficulties are significant and long-term, children are protected by the Disability Discrimination Act which makes it unlawful to treat them less-favorably than others.

Dyspraxia or Developmental Co-ordination Difficulties (DCD) is an impairment or immaturity of the ‘organisation of movement’ and we will deal with this separately next week.

Support for SENCOs

Physical difficulties (PD) can be grouped under two main headings: neuromuscular impairments and skeletal impairments. Neuromuscular impairments include paralysis, weakness, and interference with control brought about by:

  • spasticity
  • ataxia (problems in accuracy of motor programming and coordination)
  • athetosis (extra, involuntary, uncontrolled and purposeless motion).

If a child has cerebral palsy it means that part of their brain is not working properly or has not developed – usually the area of the brain that controls the muscles and certain body movements. In some children, cerebral palsy is mild and barely noticeable, while others are more severely affected.

Skeletal impairments include joint movement limitations, small limbs, missing limbs or abnormal trunk size. Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (inflammation of the joints) can result in a child having good and bad days, and having to cope with frequent pain and low energy levels.

Perhaps the most important point to make about PD is that the disability often does not have any impact on cognitive functioning and it’s essential that this is understood by colleagues.

The Disability Discrimination Act

Schools and LEAs are under a duty not to treat disabled pupils less-favourably than their non-disabled peers, and to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to ensure that they are not put at a substantial disadvantage in comparison to pupils who are not disabled. This involves planning strategically (via the accessibility plan) to increase access to school premises and the curriculum (including participation in after-school clubs, leisure and cultural activities and school visits).

As a SENCO, you will be the main source of information for staff who want to find out more about improving their classroom environment for pupils with special needs, so it’s important to keep up to date with what’s available and with ways of making adaptations to equipment in school. Make sure you have current catalogues from companies such as LDA and Spacekraft, and remember that subject organisations (eg DATA – Design and Technology Association), can provide useful guidance on how to help pupils cope with practical activities. This may require the use of talking scales, measuring jugs, cylinders with large-format gradations and slip-resistant mats for certain classes.

articular adjustments needed for pupils with physical or sensory difficulties may need to be made in consultation with a member of the local authority’s support service. Your LA can also advise about special aids and items of equipment. SENCOs in mainstream schools can also find out a lot about specialist equipment and resources from colleagues in local special schools.

If you have pupils with significant mobility difficulties who need help with personal care, they are likely to have substantial support from a dedicated TA and this person should have completed manual-handling training. It goes without saying that there should be clean, pleasant toilets, showers and changing facilities for these youngsters.

Information for colleagues

Find out all you can about a child with PD before he joins your class; speak to the SENCO, TA, physiotherapist and parents, as well as the child himself so that you can be as well prepared as possible to welcome him into your classroom and provide as inclusive an environment as possible. It’s also essential to prepare other children and young people for the arrival of a classmate with physical difficulties – whether on a part-time or full-time basis. If the pupil experiences muscle spasms and involuntary noises, this can be very distracting and even upsetting for others in the group, so take time for explanation and discussion of these issues so that everyone can feel comfortable and be supportive. It’s OK to say, ‘I’m not sure how things will work out. We’ll have to see how it goes.’ Lead by example in how you approach the situation.

Some general guidelines for the classroom include consideration of the points listed below.

Seating position

  • plenty of space for a wheelchair or walking frame (not necessarily near the door!)
  • can the pupil see the board, TV monitor, teacher modelling or pupil role-play activities?
  • tables and chairs of different heights which have been specially adapted.

Moving around

  • space to move around the room safely
  • no clutter on the floor
  • storage of equipment and resources clearly labelled and accessible
  • pupil allowed to leave the classroom a few minutes early (with a couple of friends) to avoid crush in the corridor and cover longer distances
  • all lessons accommodated on ground floor unless there is a lift

Therapy and personal care

  • if physiotherapy sessions take place in school time, how will the pupil catch up with work?
  • sensitive handling of personal care issues and changing for PE.

Access to appropriate IT equipment can make a big difference to pupils’ motivation and achievement. Simply changing the settings on the Accessibility Options (eg keyboard or mouse) menu in the Controls panel may be a great help. Explore switch access; roller balls; big keyboards and keyguards; and touch-screens.

Parents and pupils
Getting to know pupils and their parents or carers will help you and other staff to make the right adjustments. Pupils and their family members have often discovered ways of making life easier at home, but may think that their methods are not allowed in school. Remember to ask them how things might be made easier and what could be done to help them. Once adjustments have been made, monitor the situation carefully; ask the pupils for feedback and be prepared to act on their advice.


A short film has been provided for schools to use in assemblies and classes to bring home the message to young people that it is unacceptable to bully their more vulnerable peers. This forms the central part of a DVD resource for schools, building a story around the subject of SEN and disability bullying. Additional chapters will be added in the near future, dealing in depth with each character on the film and the issues highlighted. In addition schools, teachers and staff will have notes to help support the learning aim. Visit

This e-bulletin issue was first published in November 2008

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