PE is the best lesson of the week for some children and the worst for others.
Faith Newton is an occupational therapist with over ten years experience of working with children, parents and schools. In this guest blog, Faith talks about the importance of PE for SEND Children and what inspired her to write her book. Faith will also be speaking at Inclusion Live for the Youth Sport in January 2024.
We know that physical activity has positive physical, emotional and mental health benefits. Engaging in sports and exercise can foster a sense of belonging and pride, and physical activity can boost academic performance and emotional regulation. However, too many children with Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND) struggle with PE and miss out on these benefits.
I wrote ‘Inclusive PE for SEND Children’ because I wanted to change this. I wanted to make PE something that all children could engage in and enjoy.
Where did the idea for the book come from?
I had the idea for this book three years ago during my maternity leave. Originally I was going to write a book about making schools more active, with just a chapter on PE. However, as I started writing I quickly realised that this topic deserved to be a book in its own right.
I’m a Children’s Occupational Therapist and mum to two Autistic children and I know the current SEND system isn’t working. Asking school staff to deliver more and more individual interventions isn’t practical anymore – schools don’t have the resources and such a practice singles children out. Instead we need whole class strategies that will make lessons inclusive for all students.
Change for Children
I really wanted to prioritise the voice of children and so when I started writing the book I reached out to some parent carer Facebook groups, and asked ‘can you share your child’s experience of PE with me?’
The response was overwhelming.
So many people talked about how their child struggled to cope with the many demands of PE. Parents shared heartbreaking stories about children who would rather make themselves sick than have to participate in team sports, and hopeful stories about children who found physical activities that they enjoyed. Their experiences turned into the quotes and stories in the book, and became my driving force for writing it. One such story that was shared with me is ‘Abby’s’.
‘My daughter, Abby, is significantly hypermobile…When she was in the school system, she struggled to keep up physically and suffered a lot of joint pain. There was zero understanding from teachers, so she took to sneaking back inside to hide in the loos when nobody was looking’.
Change for Teachers
Teachers want to support students with additional needs but rarely know where to start. They often don’t understand the challenges that children face in PE and don’t know how they can change things.
‘Inclusive PE for SEND Children’ helps teachers understand the challenges and suggests simple changes they can make to make lessons more inclusive for all students. As Abby’s mum writes, its small changes that can make a big difference:
‘Abby loved the more fun activities that were done in short bursts, but structured group sports and anything involving a lot of running she simply couldn’t do, and would be reduced to tears’.
Had Abby’s teacher built in brief breaks into the lesson and structured fun activities in short bursts, she would have been able to participate.
Change for Parents
I also wanted to write a book that helps parents. Parents who know that their child dreads PE but feel helpless to do anything about it.
I’ve been the parent consoling my son after school swimming has gone wrong. I’ve been the parent in school meetings, trying to think of accommodations I can suggest that will make my child’s time at school a bit easier. I wanted to equip parents with a toolkit of strategies that they could suggest to school to make PE easier. Strategies that would get implemented because they are practical and evidence based.
I know that changing small things can make a big difference to a child’s experience of PE. ‘Inclusive PE for SEND Children’ helps teachers and parents understand the challenges that children face in PE. It then provides over 100 practical strategies for making PE more inclusive.
As the number of children with SEND continues to increase in our schools, I hope this book makes a real difference in making PE inclusive.
‘Inclusive PE for SEND Children’ is available now as an ebook or paperback. Get your copy here and look out for Faith's session at Inclusion Live next January. You can revisit what happened at this year's Inclusion Live event here.