Lottery funding is helping develop sports equipment for disabled pupils. Carolyn O'Grady watches a game of table cricket...
At a special school for physicallyJdisabled pupils in north London, young people are practising table cricket. The batsman is at one end of the table, the bowler at the other. Round them are the fielders.
Concentration is intense because they will soon be entering the table cricket competition for special schools which runs alongsideJtheJWorldJCup. Regional games will be held next month and the finals of both will take place at Lords.
The practice session at Richard Cloudesley School, Islington, is a familiar one which takes place at the PE club run by the school every Wednesday evening. The game is played on a table - about the size of a snooker table - which is high enough for wheelchairs to fit underneath. There are plastic guards along the sides to stop the ball falling off and the fielders slide plastic signs along the inside of the guards to mark the areas where the batsman can be caught out.
The equipment was given to the school as part of the Youth Sport Trust's SportSability programme which was launched last spring. Organised in partnership with the Camelot Foundation (National Lottery operators), which funds it to the tune of pound;800,000, the project provides special and mainstream schools with equipment to enable them to play five different games.
"Many are already played in special schools and disability sports clubs and some even enjoy Paralympic status," says Ken Black, the Youth Sport Trust's inclusive sports officer. "But until now the equipment has not been readily available."
The games are designed to be fun and challenging to all children so that mainstream schools with special needs students can also use them. The English Table Tennis Association says it regards one of the games, polybat, as an ideal introduction to table tennis for all children.
The SportSability programme provides training for staff, and support materials, such as cards, to explain and illustrate games. Over the next three years, the trust will provide a further 1,500 kit bags containing equipment for local authorities to distribute.
The games are table cricket; boccia (a type of bowls); polybat (which is like table tennis but the net is usually discarded and the ball rolled along the table using special bats); table hockey (in which the aim is to score a goal by striking the ball with a bat through a gap at the opponent's end of the table); and goalball (where defenders have to stop a ball from hitting a wall). Goalball is particularly suitable for visually impaired children and if everyone dons eyeshades, then all play on an equal footing.
At Langley Moor primary in Durham they incorporate the SportSability games into regular PE sessions. The school has three physically disabled pupils and was finding it "increasingly difficult to give them full access to the PE curriculum, especially as they got older and the gap between their physical proficiency and that of the others became larger," says headteacher Michael Pritchard.
"The beauty of this equipment is that it is designed for all children. The others don't see these games as just a bit for the disabled children," he says.
Durham Trinity, a special needs school in Durham for children with a wide range of learning difficulties, has been particularly impressed by boccia. "The children love it," says headteacher Julie Connolly. "It's a team game, so it helps children learn turn-taking, which our pupils find quite difficult."
Back at Richard Cloudesley, primary PE co-ordinator Caroline Brown is particularly pleased that the package has enabled many children to enter inter-school and even national competitions. Not only do they enjoy it enormously, "it gives them much more independence than they previously had in their sports activities," she says.
For her it is the versatility of the equipment which makes it so successful. Polybat, for example, can be played on benches or on the floor. You can add a net for children who can bounce a ball. "We continue to look at ways of adapting the games for more and more children," she says.
Ken Black, Youth Sport Trust, Rutland Building, Loughborough University, Loughborough, Leics LE11 3TU. Tel: 01509 228293