Including SEND students in PE

National School Sport Week takes place every June. As leaders in SEND, at Axcis we thought we would share some top tips on how to ensure PE can be fun for all.

Wheelchair basketball can be a fantastic option for less mobile students. Credit Flickr cc

Why PE lessons MUST be inclusive

In the UK, ALL children are entitled to participate in PE lessons at school. The government makes it clear that education should be inclusive and where possible, SEND pupils should be included in the same lessons as their peers – even if some level of adaptation is required to allow access to the class. Exercise is essential – it’s good for health and well being as well as developing better coordination and motor skills. It’s important for learning how to work in a team, as well as independently and can give the opportunity to learn a range of other skills. While the benefits are clear, understanding HOW to include students with SEND is sometimes tricky for the class teacher or TA. For PE to be truly inclusive, the range of activities needs to change to reflect the abilities of all pupils. This is the real challenge; the term SEND is an overarching one, covering a range of difficulties from sight or hearing impairment to disorders such as autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

How to make your PE lesson inclusive


    A discussion with parents can help establish the physical abilities and preferences of children with SEND. Credit Flickr cc

    Activities must be wide-ranging enough to cater for everyone while still presenting a challenge to all pupils

  • The SENCo should be able to advise on the specific needs and abilities of SEND pupils
  • Teachers should also consider discussing possible activities with parents who can give further insight into the physical abilities of their child
  • A critical factor in promoting engagement in PE for pupils with an SEND is to build on their existing skills base
  • Self-confidence is key to successful engagement and crucial to getting the most from PE and sport.
  • For those with physical difficulties, especially at a young age, activities where the first steps are simply for learners to get involved, be it a playground game or an action song, can be very useful. This first step towards involvement is an important one, leading to increased confidence and a willingness to take on other activities and tasks.
  • For pupils with social emotional or mental health difficulties (SEMH), lessons based on outcome – which pupil completes the activity the fastest – can lead to feelings of frustration and cause conflict. Basing the lesson on individual performance can be very helpful for overcoming this difficulty.
  • Having a SEND does not rule out team sports. If outcomes are based on effort, good sportsmanship and effective or improved performance, it is possible then to reward individuals with points that can count towards a team’s total, as well as using praise for positive reinforcement. If playing team sports, however, an important point to consider is the team selection process; this can be a fraught moment in sports lessons for any child, so it is important not to use a selection process that may leave the pupil with an SEND the last to be selected.

    Something as simple as using a brightly coloured ball can help those with VI to participate in PE. Credit Flickr CC


  • Using different types of resources for the visually impaired – balls that are different sizes, textured or fluorescent – can be very useful.
  • Other adapted resources include soft play areas, larger targets, shorter distances and adapted bikes, all of which will appeal to a wide range of pupils.
  • For those with severe movement difficulties, the swimming pool can offer greater freedom of movement and for severe SEND pupils, the use of physiotherapy, hydrotherapy and mobility programmes are great ways to encourage movement and exercise.
  • Schools that lack the necessary facilities to offer a variety of activities that appeal to all can look at other appropriate resources in the local community, such as sports centres, bowling alleys and dry ski slopes.

Swimming is a popular activity with many SEND children. Credit Flickr cc


To ensure that all pupils can use facilities, it may be necessary to consider:

  • 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
  • Making sure that changing rooms have pegs at different heights and an area where a teaching assistant could discreetly help out with changing
  • Accessible toilet facilities with handrails and other suitable adaptions
  • Ensuring that the school sports kit has the flexibility to meet the needs of pupils with disabilities.

Adapted activities

There are many, often well-established, adapted sports activities which have been developed to meet the specific needs of people with disabilities and SEN, including:

  • Goalball (striking or fielding) for visual impairment
  • Boccia (similar to French boules) for cerebral palsy sufferers
  • Table cricket (striking or fielding). Suitable for all
  • Zone hockey. Suitable for all
  • Sitting volleyball or net/wall games for wheelchair users
  • Wheelchair slalom (athletics)
  • Target cricket for learning difficulties
  • Polybat or net/wall games for those with physical difficulties
  • Wheelchair dance
  • Wheelchair football
  • Wheelchair gymnastics
  • Yoga.

Share your stories

What have you done to make your PE lessons inclusive? Do you have any stories or tips you’d like to share as part of National School Sports Week? We’d love to read your comments below.

Are you looking for SEND teaching or support work? Register with Axcis, the SEND recruitment specialists.

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One comment on “Including SEND students in PE
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