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Compulsory PE? My Worst Nightmare

November 21, 2011

You probably already know that I’ve been physically disabled since birth. You probably also already know that after a short spell at a special school, I had a mainstream education. What you probably don’t know yet is that at mainstream school, PE lessons were my worst nightmare.

My primary school teacher very kindly made sure that PE lessons took place after I had left school for the day (to go and do my own version of PE, better known as physio).  At secondary school, however, I was forced to participate in almost every PE lesson. Maybe the teachers thought that if I was participating, I wouldn’t feel left out. In fact, I felt worse because I was participating.

I knew from a very young age that for me, mainstream education wasn’t going to be about PE or Art. For me, mainstream education was about English, Maths and Science, and the chance to take exams. (At my special school in the early 90s, no one took exams, even if they had the intelligence.)

So I spent a lot of time at secondary school trying unsuccessfully to ask my teachers if I could use my PE lessons to do supervised homework for some other subject. A subject that might be more useful later in life for a student who struggled just to take a footstep.

I already knew I was different. Sitting out of PE wasn’t going to make me feel any worse. Trampolining with a support teacher holding both my hands, with everyone else watching me from mid-somersault, definitely made me feel more than a little different, though.

Still, PE was just a bit of fun for me and my class. The subject I knew I was going to fail. So I felt different, but at least the subject didn’t really matter.

Today, however, when I heard about a conference of sports medicine specialists who are calling for compulsory PE tests in schools, I was horrified. Horrified for the next generation of intelligent physically disabled children who are more than capable of benefiting from a mainstream education- but who literally can’t move a muscle.

How will wheelchair using children feel, I wondered, if, as BBC News put it earlier today, ‘running becomes one of the three R’s?’ If I felt as left out as I did in PE lessons when I knew they didn’t matter to myself or my school, I hate to think how a child who can’t even think about running will feel if PE becomes a tested subject.

One sports medicine specialist, Dr Andy Franklyn-Miller, says PE should be given the same priority as other subjects in the school curriculum. He says children are not being given enough support with aspects of what he calls ‘physical literacy,’ and this is putting their ‘physical competence’ at risk.

I do understand why teachers would say that exercise of some sort should be compulsory for children during the school day. However, if, as Dr Franklyn-Miller and his colleagues suggest, teachers were to start testing balance and hand-eye co-ordination at every key stage of education along with English and Maths, I fear that disabled children in the mainstream schools of the future would only be given another reason to feel different when they failed every single one of these ‘physical literacy’ tests.

And here’s my worst fear- if PE was to become a subject that was tested at every key stage, would this discourage mainstream schools from accepting disabled children? Will all the disabled children of the future be sent to special schools to learn to make pancakes and good friends, and never take an exam in their lives? Will all the hard work that we did to get ouselves and others included in mainstream schools be reversed, just because teachers will have to test a child’s ability to stand straight and kick a football?

There are many disabled children who have a lot to offer any mainstream school, so I, for one, would hate to see my worst fear coming true.

This post is part of the Inclusion Rules! Debate at Same Difference.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. November 21, 2011 2:59 pm

    I have similar fears to you. During my secondary school lessons I walked with my k walker which was far more beneficial to me than PE. Mind you my mum was not afraid to take a stand on things… Only time I participated was for charity things and I didn’t care if I looked stupid for those.

    The physical literacy tests are going to be meaningless for disabled people. Hopefully, it would be like when you had to take design and technology at GCSE, my school offered a lower level certificate for those who would not manage a GCSE. I made a footstool for mothers day that my mum still uses to this day.

    It all depends how much importance physical literacy has in the school league tables. If its high, then disabled people may become marginalised, especially if they are not gifted academically.

    It could also damage a disabled pupil, both physically and mentally if they are forced to try and do things they have no chance of achieving, just to improve the stats.

  2. Sarah permalink
    November 22, 2011 8:58 am

    I don’t know how it works in the UK, but in my state of Australia, students on the Severe Disability Register (Intellectual and Autism) are exempt from compulsory literacy and numeracy testing. For some, adaptations are made – dictating, working in a quiet room, using the computer, extra time – if that have the capacity to do the tests, but not within the set framework. Some schools will make their own tests for students who are on the SDR, so that they are doing a test at the same time as their peers. It’s just a more appropriate test. Other students will simply do an alternate activity at testing time. If you accept that compulsory testing is useful (which is debatable), then you are not going to stop testing because it would make those with disabilities feel different. We are in the minority, and systems will always cater for the majority. One would assume that those on the physical register would be exempt from PE testing in the same way. It won’t help those of us on the borderline of physically disabled or course. Because students on the SDR are exempt from testing, it does not impact on the willingness of a school to accept the students, although there are other aspects that do. Not that the schools have much choice anyway. I do understand the the UK may have a different system.

  3. lee permalink
    November 23, 2011 6:11 am

    I’m not an disabled person but, I don’t agree that P.E should be manditory ^^

  4. November 25, 2011 6:48 pm

    I hated PE and Sport at school. I think part of it was I was useless at it, and the competitive aspects made me cross. My teachers didn’t seem to get that I was trying as hard as I could, but my reports constantly said things like “doesn’t try hard enough”. I wish that non competitive physical exercise such as Yoga could take a place in the school curriculum. Sport is a waste of time in the school timetable if it’s limited to running, footy, netball, hockey, rugby etc. All competitive and make people like me who can’t do well feel a complete failure. I wasn’t disabled when I was at school, just useless and uninterested in sport. I am disabled now, I’m 63 and wish I could run even as badly as I did on school sports days! 😉


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