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Will ‘Olympic Legacy’ Spell The End Of Inclusive Education?

August 11, 2012

Late last year, I was horrified to read that a conference of sports medicine specialists was calling for PE to become a compulsory subject in schools. Worse, they wanted it to be a tested subject along with English and Maths, at every key stage of education.

Today, I am even more horrified to read that now, Boris Johnson and David Cameron have joined in what they see as the ‘fun.’

This morning, David Cameron said that competitive team sports will be made compulsory for all primary school children in England. A new curriculum, to be drafted this autumn, would require participation in sports such as football, hockey and netball. London Mayor Boris Johnson has called for two hours a day of compulsory sport for schoolchildren. I can’t think of anything more useless to my future life, or more painful to me as a disabled child who felt different and out of place in PE lessons at two mainstream schools.

As I wrote last year, my mainstream primary school teacher very kindly made sure my class had their PE lessons after I left school for the day to go to physiotherapy. I dread to think what would have happened to me if she had not been allowed to do this.

I’ve always dreamed of being able to kick a football. But for me, this is physically impossible. So what use would I have been to any mainstream school football team? I have very poor balance, so there’s no way I could stand unaided in one place long enough to be any good as a goalkeeper. I can’t think of one able bodied child who would want me on their team for any sport in a PE lesson.

Forced into such a situation by rules as a primary school child, I would have sat on the sidelines, feeling different, while everyone else was being chosen for teams by their friends. I would have been chosen last by someone feeling sorry for me, or worse, placed in a group by my teacher to complaints from said group. Today, this is the fear I have for intelligent disabled children in mainstream PE lessons of the future if David Cameron and Boris Johnson get their wish.

Mr Cameron calls this move the ‘Olympic legacy.’ He wants to use the ‘inspiration of the Games to get children playing sport more regularly.’

I, for one, was thrilled to see South African Paralympian Oscar Pistorius competing in the London 2012 Olympics. This was Pistorius’ dream, and he made it come true. But I would just like to remind David Cameron and Boris Johnson that every disabled child does not have Oscar Pistorius’ dreams, or his ability to keep up with non disabled athletes.

Yet I have seen many intelligent physically disabled children over the years who are more than capable of benefiting from a mainstream education. I have seen many physically disabled children who have a lot to offer any mainstream school, be that far away from the sports field. During my own mainstream education, I was one such disabled child.

My fear last year, when the sports medicine specialists suggested compulsory PE lessons, was that the requirement to test PE might discourage mainstream schools from accepting disabled children.

I have known for quite a while that David Cameron and his party think that there is a ‘bias towards inclusion’ of disabled children in mainstream education. They are wrong- as any parent of a disabled child could easily tell them, inclusion involves many difficult and painful battles.

In their draft policies on schools before the 2010 election, they even pledged to try to end this ‘bias.’ Now they want an ‘Olympic legacy,’ and I fear they will use this to try to end inclusive education. Campaigners for inclusion did not fight our many battles so that we would ever see a day like this.

Just as the Government want the Olympics to leave a legacy, disabled people would like to see the Paralympics leave a legacy.  A legacy of more opportunities for equality and inclusion in all areas of life- not less.

This post is part of the Inclusion Rules! Debate.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. August 11, 2012 3:20 pm

    School sports are hell for a lot of kids who can’t be classified as disabled, also. And sport is entirely inconsequential and offers unrealistic goals (no pun intended) of riches or (for girls) WAG-dom — at a time when schools have a well-known difficulty in motivating boys, in particular, to do activities other than sport (the activities that might prepare them to make a living, or cure AIDS/cancer/whatever), and when boys who excel at these but not at sport are looked down on in many places, they need to put less emphasis on sport other than in that it keeps them fit and healthy — there should be more emphasis on things like cross-country running and less on football. Ironically, our athletes who won gold medals were competing in non-team sports like cycling, rowing, tennis and athletics — our team sportsmen are notoriously over-paid mediocrities.

  2. samedifference1 permalink*
    August 11, 2012 4:08 pm

    You make good points, Matthew. I’m not saying PE is enjoyable for all non disabled kids at all. Just writing from experience of my own PE lessons. There are many reasons why the whole idea of compulsory PE is complete madness.

  3. Sarah permalink
    August 12, 2012 11:01 am

    At our school (in Australia), a student with severe physical disabilities and health impairments does her sport requirement by attending regular boccia sessions at the YMCA. This will soon be expanded to powerchair soccer when it is up and running in our region. She has demonstrated lawn bowls to her class. She also gets a lot of enjoyment out of umpiring when it is safe to do so. These fulfill the requirements for PE, and at other times, she withdraws herself to do art or computer, or to get homework done early. A student with Asperger Syndrome is bused to rock climbing and trampolining activities. It is motivating and she refuses to participate in regular PE. It is not compulsory sport that is the problem, it is narrow-mindedness on the parts of those proposing it to not see that there are multiple ways of enjoying physical activity. Dancing, hiking, yoga, swimming, bowling, cycling, archery etc. are all activities that encourage kids to be up and moving. They shouldn’t need to be chasing a ball around a field.

  4. Stuart permalink
    August 12, 2012 12:03 pm

    As I read this item I can only feel this is not about inclusion for everyone
    But your own bias towards an inclusive education system which most people have been asking for and I know many places and schools have embraced the inclusion culture and adapt pe lessons to include able & disabled children in sports activities at the same level and in some cases give the able bodied children a handicap for example at one school I know they make them wear goggles with distorted vision so as to give a partially sighted child the same chances to play on an equal footing with his peers
    And I think you will find that pe is already a required part of the school curriculum in most areas .

  5. August 12, 2012 3:03 pm

    I don’t think compulsory sport is a bad thing. Although my disability is different to yours I’d imagine we had similar experiences at primary school, to be honest I was fairly tragic at sports as we mainly played rounders and other games that involved me hitting a ball I couldn’t see. However, that is just one school and I think compulsory sport could certainly be made inclusive. Either schools should be required to adapt all the sports, or at least give students the opportunities to try disability sports or students with disabilities could meet the compulsory sports requirements in another way. For example rather than doing PE they could be getting on with other things but after school or at weekends they would attend sports clubs for people with disabilities. Most local areas offer these kinds of services and it would actually be a good thing if more young people started attending them. I don’t think it would discourage schools from enrolling disabled students as like all exams PE would have to be adapted to meet the student’s needs. Why not examine a blind student in goalball or blind football, a student with CP in boccia etc. You’d still be meeting the requirement for compulsory team and competitive sports.

    I personally think sport is brilliant for people with disabilities, especially those in mainstream school. If you can go elsewhere to play sports you meet people with a similar disability to you and it widens your social circle. I completely appreciate your concerns and can see why you have them, the handling of this needs to be very careful, but if students were given a choice of how they meet the PE requirement, in school or by doing disability sport, then I think it could be hugely benificial.


  1. Gold medals won’t cure cancer | Indigo Jo Blogs
  2. Dame Tanni Grey Thompson Wants PE To Be Made A Core Subject To Tackle Obesity | Same Difference
  3. Children Should Be Tested For Fitness At Primary School, Says Campaign Group Chaired By Tanni Grey Thompson | Same Difference

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