PE is the theme of our third subject-specific issue of SENCO Week, in which we look at the inclusion of pupils with SEN in all kinds of physical education and sport

Support for SENCOs

Supporting pupils in PE and sport
Traditionally, PE and sport have been all about competition, and honing athletic skills, often leaving pupils with SEN sitting on the sidelines, or relegated to the library during outdoor lessons. Legislation now demands a better deal for children with difficulties and disabilities, and PE staff need to be aware of their responsibilities in providing quality experiences for these pupils. SENCOs can help by considering the deployment of TA support to some PE lessons − possibly a good way in to making the department more inclusive. If you can go further and dedicate a TA to PE/dance and sport, even better. This might be someone with a natural interest in physical activities, willing to undergo some training, and perhaps be involved in after-school coaching and matches etc. Such a person may be able to take some responsibility for bookings, fixtures and travel, becoming a valuable member of the faculty team.

TA support can involve a range of strategies before, during and after PE lessons to facilitate pupil participation:

  • clarifying and explaining instructions, rules, tasks (this is easier to do if the TA has prior knowledge of what will be involved in the lesson)
  • overseeing the setting up of equipment
  • reading, or helping pupils to read written information
  • monitoring behaviour and keeping pupils on task
  • encouraging and praising pupils
  • differentiating tasks and materials
  • keeping teachers informed of a child’s strengths, difficulties and limitations
  • suggesting ways of improving access to PE for individual pupils
  • monitoring (small steps of ) progress.

Because PE is all about activity, the physical environment is very important. Encourage staff to consider how the gym, swimming pool, athletics track, dance studio, games field and changing rooms can be made more ‘user-friendly’ for pupils who use a wheelchair, have impaired vision, are autistic, etc. Some considerations might include:

  • wheelchair access to (muddy) playing fields (use mats at doorways to minimise the amount of mess made by wheels)
  • appropriate lighting in the gym/hall/studio (with the facility to screen out bright sunshine which may create blind spots for pupils)
  • how to reduce the confusion caused by multiple markings on the floor for pupils with cognitive difficulties or colour blindness
  • access to the swimming pool
  • having netball/basketball boards with adjustable heights/widths
  • a range of equipment, including different types of balls
  • signage to help children find their way between changing rooms/gym/sports field
  • identifying an area where a small group could work with a TA separately from the main class for part of a lesson
  • ensuring that changing rooms have pegs at different heights and an area where a TA could discreetly help out with changing
  • an accessible toilet with handrail etc
  • a school regulation sports kit which has the flexibility to meet the needs of pupils with disabilities

The department may also consider introducing some adapted sports activities such as table cricket, polybat and zone hockey. For more information about these, and lots of practical guidance on PE for pupils with SEN, get Crispin Andrews’ book, ‘Meeting SEN in the Curriculum: PE/Sports’, a David Fulton book published by Routledge.

Although physical aspects are important, an inclusive environment is also about attitudes and practices. In a school where elite performance and ‘winning’ is paramount, pupils with SEN are unlikely to get a fair deal. Instead, PE staff need to provide opportunities for all children to participate in, and engage with as wide a range of activities as possible. The message should be:

  • PE/dance and sport are for everyone
  • Success is about individual progress and enjoyment, as well as about winning
  • Everyone’s success is valued
  • PE and sport in school can be the first step into a lifetime’s enjoyable participation.

For guidance and support in meeting the needs of pupils with SEN/disabilities, consider contacting a sports development officer (employed by both LAs and national governing bodies of sport) and visit websites such as or Youth Sports Trust.

National School Sport Week begins on 30 June 2008, and is an opportunity for schools throughout the country to celebrate their amazing achievements in PE and school sport over the last year.

Dame Kelly Holmes will spearhead the week, which also aims to raise the profile of PE and school sport both nationally and on a local level (

This e-bulletin issue was first published in April 2008

About the author: Linda Evans is the author of SENCO Week. She was a teacher/SENCO/adviser/inspector, before joining the publishing world. She now works as a freelance writer, editor and part-time college tutor.