SEND: How to plan an inclusive sports day

With the news that school sports days can once again go ahead, how can we make sure they include all students?

Simon Roadley

SEND: How to run an inclusive school sports day

In 2020, schools' ingenuity led to lots of sports days happening virtually.

But the Department for Education has confirmed that these events should be able to go ahead in person this year.

Tips for running inclusive school sports days

So how can you make your sporting celebration inclusive and enjoyable for all students?

1. Consider the language being used 

When we plan our sports activities, the language that we use and how it is perceived by young people is crucial.

For example, if we tee up a race and ask our participants to “run”, then this is potentially exclusive to some, so instead ask them to “move”.

Another good example is asking young people to “send” instead of throw, in order to include learners who use different equipment or lack the motor skills to be able to throw an object.

At our school, the description of each sports day activity is key to how it is viewed by young people before they do it, and therefore the phrases we use are as open as possible, which allows flexibility for adaptations and for a little creativity in the way that it can be created.

2. Try alternatives to traditional activities

It’s important to consider how young people with SEND are to be included and what the barriers are for it to be a successful experience for them.

This doesn’t mean that young people must be able to win, but they do have to have the opportunity to be competitive and to feel part of the day. A good example of this is to move away from only holding traditional sports day events such as the 100-metre sprint, and add in events that take away some of the physical advantages that some students have over others.

Remember that not all "advantages" will be physical, so consider sensory, processing and communication difficulties that a young person may have.

Try to plan alternative events, such as a blindfolded race, a slalom, an obstacle course or even an event designed by the young people themselves. 

3. Empower and listen to young people

The most important factor is always the young people, so we should keep them at the centre of our thinking. Support them to overcome barriers or remove the barriers altogether.

Through leadership roles, students will be able to use and practise skills that they haven’t been able to use for such a long time. Participants will all have the opportunity to feel good about themselves and their achievements by being part of a well-run and inclusive school sports day.

4. Spend time on structure

Another important aspect to consider is the structure of the day and how this can sometimes be a cause of anxiety for some of our young people, particularly having crowds of people there to watch.

While this can be alleviated by working on individual skills and going through the routines in the lead-up to the big day, we can also help by offering stations of activities that can be completed at the learner’s own pace and in the order that they choose.

In our SEND school, we are able to offer a series of throwing, jumping, kicking and other isolated-skill activities that our young people can drop in and out of, before or after they take part in the more structured elements of the day.

This allows for shorter attention spans, sensory breaks or any other kind of breaks that need to be taken for the experience to be positive and enjoyable.

5. Connect and have fun being together again

This summer’s sports day is a massive opportunity for schools to make the most of the good feeling of being out of lockdown, but with this comes a responsibility for us to give all of our young people a truly positive and meaningful experience within school sport.

If in doubt, remember, if we can get through the past year of PE at home with no more than a HIIT workout or throwing socks around the front room, then we can surely break down barriers to inclusion in school sports going forward with the same level of flexibility and creativity.

National School Sport Week takes place from 19 to 25 June. Free resources and ideas are available from the Youth Sport Trust’s website by signing up to take part here

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