The role of TAs in supporting inclusive PE and sport

Teaching assistants play a vital role in ensuring no child is left on the sidelines in PE or sports. Here are some basic steps they can take

Traditionally, PE and sport have been all about competition, and honing athletic skills, often leaving pupils with SEN sitting on the sidelines, or relegated to the library during outdoor lessons. PE staff need to be aware of their responsibilities in providing quality experiences for pupils with difficulties or disabilities.

SENCOs can help by considering the deployment of TAs to some PE lessons − possibly a good way in to making the department more inclusive. If you can go further and dedicate a teaching assistant to PE or dance and sport, even better.

This TA might be someone with a natural interest in physical activities, willing to undergo some training, and perhaps be involved in after-school coaching and matches etc. Such a person may be able to take some responsibility for bookings, fixtures and travel, becoming a valuable member of the faculty team.

TAs can take many steps before, during and after PE lessons to facilitate pupil participation:

  • clarifying and explaining instructions, rules, tasks (this is easier to do if the TA has prior knowledge of what will be involved in the lesson)
  • overseeing the setting up of equipment
  • reading, or helping pupils to read written information
  • monitoring behaviour and keeping pupils on task
  • encouraging and praising pupils
  • differentiating tasks and materials
  • keeping teachers informed of a child's strengths, difficulties and limitations
  • suggesting ways of improving access to PE for individual pupils
  • monitoring (small steps of) progress.

Because PE is all about activity, the physical environment is very important. Encourage staff to consider how the gym, swimming pool, athletics track, dance studio, games field and changing rooms can be made more 'user-friendly' for pupils with physical or sensory needs.

Some considerations might include:

  • wheelchair access to 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 and basketball boards with adjustable heights and widths
  • a range of equipment, including different types of balls
  • signage to help children find their way between changing rooms, the gym and sports field
  • identifying an area where a small group could work with a TA separately from the main class for part of a lesson
  • ensuring that changing rooms have pegs at different heights and an area where a TA could discreetly help out with changing
  • an accessible toilet with handrail
  • a school regulation sports kit which has the flexibility to meet the needs of pupils with disabilities.

The department may also consider introducing some adapted sports activities such as table cricket, polybat and zone hockey. 

Everyone's a winner

Although physical aspects are important, an inclusive environment is also about attitudes and practices. In a school where elite performance and 'winning' is paramount, pupils with SEN are unlikely to get a fair deal. Instead, PE staff need to provide opportunities for all children to participate in, and engage with as wide a range of activities as possible. It should be clear that:

  • PE, dance and sport are for everyone
  • success is about individual progress and enjoyment, as well as about winning
  • everyone's success is valued
  • PE and sport in school can be the first step into a lifetime's enjoyable participation.

For further guidance and support in meeting the needs of pupils with SEN/disabilities, consider contacting a sports development officer. The English Federation of Disability Sport or Youth Sport Trust might also prove useful.

Last Updated: 
06 Jul 2017