How we're giving a voice to children with additional needs in alternative education

Vicci Wells, National Manager - Targeted Interventions at the Youth Sport Trust, Nathan Nwenwu, Lead Teacher for PE at Lawnswood Campus and Dave Rohman, Lead Inclusion School in Lancashire who are working with Blackpool Education Diversity, blog about a new approach to working with alternative education settings and pupil referral units (PRUs) to help young people develop life skills and their voice using PE and school sport.

Since 2019, our charity has been leading a consortium of organisations to increase opportunities for young people with additional support needs to enjoy Physical Education, school sport and physical activity through an initiative called Inclusion 2020.

With the arrival of the pandemic, we saw that existing inequalities for young people with additional support needs to access PE and school sport were worsening, and this was particularly true in alternative education settings. We heard from the hundreds of parents and carers who took to social media to share their stories and saw news headlines call young people attending both special and alternative provision ‘the forgotten children’. As a charity with a mission to ensure every child can access the life changing benefits of sport and play, we couldn’t sit back and watch. 


Inclusion 2020: My Personal Best

With funding from the Department for Education (DfE), we adapted our approach to start helping children develop life skills and build character in PE lessons and through school sport. Named Inclusion 2020: My Personal Best, we work with partners in alternative education to help them develop interventions that will raise the life aspirations of vulnerable young people, and create conversation and connections with sector experts. My Personal Best gives young people a voice to maximise the power of sport beyond the playing field — tackling disadvantage and helping them to secure better jobs and brighter futures.
The way it works is through an explicit approach to developing life skills by embedding them in teaching and learning, curriculum development and whole school systems. In this way, it supports learners to develop, apply and transfer the life skills that will enable them to flourish in PE, school and life. Through identified tasks and activities, pupils can work through different life skills that are grouped into three main themes:
  • Healthy Me – supports pupils to develop the personal traits that underpin good health and wellbeing and their personal achievement. 
  • Social Me – supports pupils to develop the traits that help them to understand others and work well with other people.
  • Thinking Me – supports pupils to develop the cognitive and creative traits that enable them to create opportunities, overcome challenges and make choices
An example of My Personal Best planning in action
We are currently working with Lawnswood Campus in Wolverhampton, which is home to four PRUs serving schools in the city, and Educational Diversity, a PRU and home, hospital education service in Blackpool. Both settings are supporting young people aged six to 16 who are unable to access mainstream education due to either social, emotional, behavioural or medical needs. Lawnswood and Educational Diversity are just two examples of where My Personal Best is working well to reframe how PE and school sport can help young people with additional needs. Here they share their experiences of getting involved.


Lawnswood Campus and Educational Diversity share their learnings

As we enter national lockdown 3.0, we recognise that for alternative provision and our pupils attending, these are particularly challenging times. Guidance has not been straight forward for schools such as ours, and often assumptions have been made around our pupils who attend that can be construed as disrespectful to their communities. Our families need to make decisions that are in both theirs and their child’s best interests and safety of the setting.
Alongside this is the realism that for some sites, we are not always able to facilitate social distancing, or manage with staff capacity due to the needs of some pupils. PRUs fight every day for their pupils to be seen the same as others. Ultimately, the goal for us all is for children and young people in alternative provision to be what we want for all children and young people; for them to grow up to be happy, fulfilled adults who achieve their full potential in life. 
We want them to have the courage to strive for their dreams, develop the skills and attributes in all that PE and school sport can offer, and if they come up short, the resilience to try again. Then, we want them to take what they have learned through their involvement and share it with the world.
This project is enabling us to do exactly that. Through PE we are focussing and explicitly teaching life skills to support our pupils with their ‘next stage’, whatever that may be (i.e. back into mainstream schools or going on into further education or employment). 


Examples of how My Personal Best works with remote learning

We are working with our families to apply learning both at home and in school and are seeing strengthening relationships as a result. We are seeing greater independence from our pupils, and increased employability skills, all of which can continue to develop whether a pupil is remaining in school during this period or is learning at home.
For our pupils who are learning remotely, we have been mindful of how to keep life skills on their radar. We have set a weekly skill 'challenge' using social media (or other remote platforms) and selected a Healthy Me skill, such as resilience. We then asked pupils to log examples of when they have shown resilience a) by doing a physical activity, b) by tackling some remote schoolwork, c) by managing lockdown life generally. You could try this too by starting learners off by sharing your own examples from this first week back.
Another thing that we have tried is asking pupils to research a sportsperson they admire and highlight the life skills (character traits) that person has and how those skills have helped them in sport and life. Marcus Rashford is clearly an excellent current example. Pupils are presenting their findings in different ways, including written reports, drawing, video/audio commentary. (It doesn't need to be a sportsperson if, for example, you want to make links to other curriculum areas.)
We are also setting pupils a physical activity challenge - one they can do at home. We make it as open and personal as possible so pupils have to set personal goals, review progress, and keep themselves motivated. 


Access My Personal Best for free 

Through this lockdown, we have made available a sample of the resources that are currently being used in alternative provision schools and academies across the country.  These provide simple yet effective learning ideas that can be delivered in school or at home. The resources include:
Healthy Me
  • Self-Belief - for pupils to believe in themselves and realise their aspirations
Thinking Me
  • Supporting young people to reflect upon their own strengths, then develop and apply them
Social Me
  • Communication - equipping young people with the skills to express their thoughts and feelings about how the lockdown/COVID-19 is making them feel.
To access the resources please visit
Published on 19 January 2021