30th October 2009 at 00:00
I teach PE and some pupils really hate it and cause disruption for everyone else, refusing to join in with team games. How can I get them involved?

This tends to be more of a problem in secondaries: primary children are generally happy to take part in team games, but a reluctance to join in can set in during the early teenage years.

However, changes to the secondary PE curriculum have given teachers more flexibility in what they can offer, says Eileen Marchant, who has 25 years' experience teaching PE in both sectors. "It should not just be a performance-based subject, there are lots of other opportunities," she says.

There is no requirement to play games, so PE can encompass activities such as yoga, martial arts, aerobics or skateboarding. "It is about being a bit more creative in what is on offer," says Mrs Marchant, now a trainer at the National College for Continuing Professional Development in Leicestershire.

While these may offer alternatives to traditional school sports and meet curriculum criteria such as acquiring and developing skills, problem-solving and knowledge of a healthy lifestyle, another option is to make football and hockey more appealing.

An apparent aversion to team games can stem from an unwillingness to go out in the cold or not feeling able to get fully involved. Playing frisbee or similar sports as a warm-up can be a good way of getting children on to the pitch in the first place, while for reluctant players there are opportunities in organising games and officiating. "It is not about abandoning team games but being more imaginative in the way they are taught," says Mrs Marchant.

She says that girls are more likely to be disaffected with team sports than boys, but there are ways of encouraging them to take part. This could be giving them a turn at umpiring a match or getting them to use leadership or organisational skills. If they are worried about being left on the sidelines, mini games such as five-a-side netball with rotating positions can be less intimidating and more likely to make them feel involved.

Giving pupils a chance to officiate has worked well for John Douglas, head of PE at John Spence Community High in North Shields. He says one of his most disruptive boys has turned out to be an excellent football referee and has developed a better understanding of the game and of players' strengths and weaknesses as a result.

Pupils at John Spence are also given the chance to develop coaching and leadership skills and to choose which activity they will follow, resources permitting. The key stage 3 curriculum at the school includes badminton, tennis, dance, fitness and orienteering, as well as the more traditional team games.

But if none of this works, meetings with pupils and parents fail to find an acceptable solution and the pupil's behaviour is disrupting the lesson for others, then one option is a time-out cone. The pupil stands at the cone until they feel they can contribute to the lesson. "This has had a good effect as the pupils see the lesson developing and then feel they want to be involved," Mr Douglas says.

Sue Cooper, who has taught PE for 22 years, thinks that about a quarter of secondary pupils will practise team-based sports after school, but this leaves the majority uncatered for.

"If the curriculum only offers team games, what are we doing for the pupils who are not into team games?" she asks. One option Mrs Cooper has seized with both hands is dance. She was a manager of a school sport partnership covering 69 schools in Rotherham and is now seconded to Essentially Dance, a Sheffield-based programme to teach ballroom and Latin American dance in schools.

She says that the success of Strictly Come Dancing has made ballroom dance popular and the participation of sports stars such as Austin Healey and Mark Ramprakash has given it street-cred, even among boys.

Some children are reluctant to take part in sport because they are overweight or have low self-esteem, she says, but schools can help by being flexible over what they wear for PE. "It can be just saying they can wear a tracksuit or they don't have to wear a skirt of shorts," she says. "It is about alternatives."

What to do

- Make sure you offer alternatives to pupils who do not like team games.

- Offer pupils the chance to take on other roles, such as coaching.

- Talk to them to see what activities they would like to do.

Next week inappropriate contact.

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