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SHINE awards: How PE can improve children's sensory skills

The assistant head of a primary school in London explains how her team are using physical activity to improve children's sensory abilities.

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When children live in poor housing conditions and have limited social experiences, it can have numerous negative effects. One effect that is often overlooked in schools is the impact on a child’s sensory systems.

You can spot children who struggle to process sensory information relatively easily. The student will exhibit behaviours that are highly counterproductive to learning, including an inability to focus, poor impulse control, the inability to sit still, poor auditory discrimination, anxiety and poor body awareness. Often they will have SEND, but not always.

I come across these issues every day in my school. Students have difficulty controlling their eye movements, posture, balance and gravitational security, with processing the sensation of touch and with their hearing. I came to realise that any intervention put in place before these issues are fixed is not going to be fully effective, no matter how much we invest in it. So we looked into the issue and came up with a plan.

Core strength

We decided to run a series of activities to develop children's core strength, focus and balance skills, strengthen their shoulder girdle and regulate their tactile input. Each class from nursery to Year 2 now has an allocated weekly 45-minute slot in the school gym, where they rotate between three stations to receive different kinds of sensory input. A few examples include children being pushed on a platform swing while aiming beanbags at a target, balancing tennis balls on their stomachs while crab-walking, retrieving small items from tubs of shaving foam with closed eyes or being rolled up like sausages in yoga mats.

Measuring impact

The project is overseen by a paediatrician and a highly specialised occupational therapist and is the first of its kind in England. We plan to run the programme for a year and measure its impact by completing a sensory profile (developed by our paediatrician) for each child, every term. We’re about halfway through and can already see how much progress our pupils have made.

We applied for SHINE funding, explaining the aims and proposed outcomes for our project and were delighted to have been successful. We’re yet to see the full-scale impact of the project, but we hope that the findings will encourage other schools to try something similar. Hopefully we’ll be able to extend our own work too. We firmly believe that the environment you live in should not be a determiner of your future.

Heba Al-Jayoosi is assistant head for inclusion at Mayflower Primary School in London.

SHINE is excited to have launched the fifth year of Let Teachers SHINE, a competition for teachers who have a bright idea of how to support children from disadvantaged backgrounds to succeed in English, maths or science. The competition runs from 26 February until midnight on 17 April 2016. Teachers can apply for up to £15,000 to get their project started or, if it’s already established, to take it to the next level.

SHINE is the national charity that supports teacher-led innovation with disadvantaged young people. For more information and an application form visit:

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