• Adam Price

SEND PE – Identify, Inform and Implement.

As educators, one of our biggest challenges is cater for all of our students needs in such a way that allows for all to succeed. Being able to effectively identify those needs and then understand how to support students in making progress can seem like an impossible task at times.

Well…hopefully after reading through this you will go away with a few nuggets of knowledge to improve your practice and potentially avoid some of the mistakes and errors I have made along the way!

Over my years in education I have faced a wide range of needs, abilities and challenges, particularly from students with special educational needs. Numerous blunders later (and still counting), I have gained a good appreciation of the concerns and issues that SEND students experience in PE and in general education. By using effective baseline and entry profiles, as well as my experiences from teaching, I have been able to gather responses and evidence from my students as to why PE has been challenging for them, what it is that allows them to access lessons effectively, and how I could adapt and change my practice to ensure we all thrived and succeeded.

Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, research has shown that students with SEND are more likely to disengage in PE due to a range of issues such as: problems with gross motor skills; processing time; motor planning and development; the fast-paced environment; sensory issues, and the perceived irrelevance of the subject. Likewise, the process of changing into PE kit can be a challenge due to sensory or executive functioning concerns.

PE offers so much more additional learning opportunities than just the physical activity. Whether it be the difficulties in communicating or the struggles with personal space and boundaries, students can often struggle to process the environment they find themselves in. Provided with appropriate support and activities all of these students can develop these skills and attributes; developing long lasting life skills in an engaging and exciting manner.

‘Common’ Specific needs for PE and the barriers presented

So what are some of the issues posed to these students?

· Competition based learning

· Professional development and experience

· Behavioural expectations

· Sensory processing

· Accessibility

Competition based learning

Competitive activities can often lead to poor self-worth and self-esteem for all students especially those with SEND. When pitched without proper thought and attention, more able students are often less inclusive given the desire to win and be the best. Unfortunately, given the communication difficulties some SEND students face, this can lead to those students being side-lined unintentionally, becoming disengaged with their learning: the very essence of Physical education is being active whilst learning. Competitive scenarios can bring out the worst in people whether teen or adult. Given the perceived pressure and drive to not fail, it requires a skilful approach as to its implementation. This is not to say that competitive based activities should be avoided, however the approach and framing of this competition needs to be carefully considered.

Considerations: can you embed more cooperative games into your curriculum?

Professional development and experience

Given the wide range of needs catered for in education, it is very difficult for teachers to be experts in all conditions and diagnoses. Also the differing levels of needs for example in two ASD students’ means it is hard to find a one size fits all approach. The Carter review of initial teacher training (ITT) in 2015 identified concerns in the breadth and depth of SEND training to ITT and as a result, one of its main aims was to find suitable ways to embed SEND practice and expertise in the ITT programme. Speaking from my own experience of the SEND training ITT’s receive it is limited in both time committed to it and in its scope. Due to the large coverage of topics required for ITT’s it is understandable that certain areas have to be broadly covered however the Carter review stated ‘good teaching for SEND is good teaching for all children’.

Furthermore, once PE teachers are established in role they can work on average 50 hours a week, meaning time dedicated to research and understanding of SEND can be challenging and the time allocated unfruitful due to workload pressure. This can force some teachers to take a line of least resistance to SEND teaching and instead of creating fun and engaging learning with novel experiences, resorting to one size fits all approach and in some respects ‘survival’ through the lesson. Consequently, more experience staff can model poor teaching for SEND and further embed a ‘below par’ teaching standard.

Considerations: can you access and explore greater CPD to support SEND?

Behavioural expectations

PE lessons involve a great deal of fixed and clear routines, most of which need to be adhered to; yet these can be the source of raised anxieties and challenges for SEND students. From changing into PE kit to the extensive movement both of people and equipment this can present challenges not usually faced within the classroom. Students with SEND can find themselves struggling with the novel experiences faced in PE due to their lack of exposure or experience of these scenarios.

Considerations: are you able to adjust routines or procedures to support students?

Sensory Processing

PE lessons are a sensory minefield. Sports halls pose numerous sensory issues; visually they are typically large and brightly lit, auditory issues can range from squeaky shoes on the floors to the echoes inherent in the building’s structure. Moreover, PE kits themselves aren’t always the most comfortable piece of clothing you’ll ever come across. Olfactory processing can pose challenges with the smells of sweat and teenagers changing rooms.

When you start to consider proprioception, vestibular and tactile systems in addition, it is evident PE is, in sensory terms, a Minefield.

Considerations: could you perform a sensory audit of your learning environment?


As is obvious, those students with physical disabilities can have a great deal of issues accessing certain learning areas, especially when the lesson takes place outside. Furthermore, these students can face difficulties in accessing the same learning as their able bodied peers.

Considerations: are all your learning areas and learning accessible for all?

The planning cycle

1. Learning aims: For me personally this is easiest place to start. Often, if we look at the sport/activity first we end up back ourselves into a corner and trying to force everything else into an area we might struggle to deliver once we look at our cohort and students’ needs. So, start at the end point. What do I want to achieve from the lesson/sequence?

2. Specific needs: Explore the needs of the students. Use things such as EHCP, support plans, speaking to teachers or parents. What individual needs does each student need meeting?

3. Potential challenges: Looking at the needs of the students what challenges will they face irrespective of the sport or activity?

4. Pick a sport/activity: Based on stages 1-3 what vehicle will best meet stages 1-3?

5. Plan: Fun part. Crack on structuring in a way that is inclusive and engaging.

6. Deliver!

7. Reflect: Things aren’t always perfect. Improvements can always be made. Note it down. Use it to inform your practice in future.

Repeat – Each time you will learn something new!

Strategies, Adaptions and Alternatives

Great…we have understood the barriers and needs, effectively planned our lessons and picked a sport or activity. Just before we get started with our delivery let’s explore some quick and easy strategies to implement!

Below is a list of some (this is not an exhaustive list) of my favourite and easiest strategies that have helped me improve the engagement and participation of students thus increasing the progress made.



· Subtle changes to behaviour policy and application

· Consider your tone, volume and facial expressions

· Consider time warnings

· HUMOUR – in the right way

· Clear and consistent boundaries

· Reassure that you care and listen

· Demonstrate to provide visual stimulus

· Follow through with what you have said*

· Allow space – you don’t always have to talk

· Closely monitor peer relations

· Short, clear and direct instruction

· Avoid ambiguous language

· Break tasks down into chunks and scaffold

· Any change to plans – pre-warn if possible and as soon as possible

· Try to avoid too many choices/decisions

· Get down to their level

· Say sorry if you get things wrong or admit you are wrong

Some students require additional thought and changes to be made to ensure they are able to engage. These may come in the form of small lesson adaptions to a fully personalised intervention curriculum.


· Explore playing more accessible sports such as Boccia or sitting volleyball.

· Purchase height adjustable basketball or netball hoops.

· Use of projectile equipment that are easier to handle or visually coordinate with like larger shuttle cocks or soft touch balls.

· Adjusted rules both for the playing rules or the structure of the game as with the size of a pitch.

· Balls with sound or light inserts to assist those with visual challenges.

· Different sized rackets or bats that would be suitable for all abilities.

· Provide ear defenders or safe time space if required.

· Allow students to either come in or go home in PE kit.

· Embed more therapeutic practices within lessons for all students.

Alternatives – for those unable to participate effectively with peers

· Access to the fitness suite during the school day.

· Development of a daily workout schedule.

· Create reward system specifically on PE attendance and engagement.

· Separate sporting pathway based on ability and interests.

· Development of a PE curriculum grounded in an occupational therapeutic focus.

Key takeaway

I have reworded this paragraph the most! How can you say this part is more important than this bit, because lets be honest, all of what has been covered needs to be done effectively to ensure we are successful. Therefore, remember good SEN teaching is just good teaching. There is no magic formula. It requires patience, resilience, flexibility and much more. However, the rewards when you get it right are immense. Please take the time to identify the needs, so we have informed practice, then we can implement some truly inclusive practice!


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