One small step

19th March 2004 at 00:00
Disabled pupils get sporting opportunities at an after-school club.

Carolyn O'Grady reports

Joy Campbell is looking flushed and happy. The 18-year-old has been playing Kwik Cricket at Whitefield JJSchool sports hall and has clearly had a good time. "I like cricket. You get hot. You like the exercise. I enjoy it immensely," she says.

Joy comes to Whitefield School, a sports college, from neighbouring Mapledown School, a special school for children with severe learning difficulties. She is one of about 14 students who attend the One Small Step Club, an after-school sports club set up to meet the needs of disabled students at these two London borough of Barnet schools.

Another regular attender from Whitefield is 16-year-old Tony Taylor. A keen player of many sports, he is especially enthusiastic about boccia, a game rather like French bowls, and regularly plays for the school in a boccia league. Recently he has also developed a liking for electric-wheelchair football. In addition to the sporting activities, he likes the club "because you socialise with people. I've made friends here," he says.

The club uses Whitefield's sports hall, netball courts and all-weather pitches. As well as the school's usual equipment, it provides apparatus for many disability sports. "We try to provide as many sports as possible, so that students can find the games they like best," says Whitefield's PE teacher, Paul Maloney. Two professional coaches are employed and there are volunteer "young leaders" from Whitefield. Training in disability is organised for staff from the two schools who help out at the club.

One of several DfES projects set up in 2000 as part of a national pilot programme offering out-of-school learning opportunities for disabled pupils, the club is now funded by Whitefield. The flyer sent to pupils and parents sums up the attractions: "Do you want to have fun in an after-school multi-sport club for different abilities? Do you want to play table tennis, boccia, polybat, table cricket and many more games? Do you want to make new friends while learning new skills in sport?"

An evaluation of the project by Whitefield School, the English Federation of Disability Sport and Sunderland University found that the club had done much more. It had raised sporting achievement and increased students'

confidence. Based on conversations with young people at the club and staff and parents at the two schools, the evaluation found that in some cases academic achievement appeared to have improved. Students were reported to be applying themselves more to academic work and to be speaking more in class.

There was more integration between students at the two schools. Paul Maloney says: "At the beginning, the two sets of students formed distinct groups. Now they mix and talk with each other and with the young leaders, which seems to have made integration easier in other areas - some Mapledown children attend lessons at Whitefield.

"We've raised the profile of disability sports in both schools and generally increased awareness of the needs of disabled students," says Paul Maloney.

The club has forged links with outside agencies, enabling students to take part in competitions and other events. Last year, students from the club won the disability panathlon challenge, a multi-sports event organised by the Panathlon Foundation and London Sports Forum for Disabled People; others are involved in an inter-school boccia league and teams have entered two electric-wheelchair competitions. Some have begun to attend local clubs, including a wheelchair-basketball club, and others have gained enough confidence to move into curriculum PE classes at Whitefield.

But it's not been an easy ride. The lack of funding and transport have proved to be interrelated obstacles to Whitefield's ambition to be a centre for disability sports in the area. The club costs about pound;200 a session, most of which goes on transport, paid for by the school.

Nathan Love, head of PE at Mapledown, says: "It's only the funding for transport that prevents more of our pupils going. At the moment the club can only fund two buses to go from Whitefield. It's a pity because this project provides a great opportunity for these kids. It gives them a chance to use facilities they wouldn't normally have access to and enables them to interact with mainstream students, which has raised their confidence and self-esteem."

Transport costs have also made it difficult to involve other schools. The club doesn't have to provide transport for Mapledown students, as it is only a few minutes walk away, but that doesn't apply to other schools.

Whitefield is now looking at forming a club during school hours which would be open to other special schools in the area who would use their own transport.

The school is also seeking ways of increasing the number of pupils and the range of sports available. They are talking to Barnet sports development team about providing facilities so that teams of disabled people in the borough can train and play matches at the school. "We'd like to become an academy of disability sport," says Paul Maloney.

Paul Maloney tel: 020 8455 4114;email: pma@whitefield.barnet.sch.uk

The Panathlon Trust www.panathlon.co.uk

London Sports Forum for Disabled People

www.londonsportsforum.org.uk

Sport England www.sportengland.org.uk

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