What the resource is
This resource is a report produced by Estyn (The Welsh Schools Inspectorate) giving advice on the standards and quality of provision within schools for physical education and school sport for pupils with learning difficulties to facilitate the identification of good practice in this area.
The aims of the resource
This report aims to draw on evidence from interviews and lesson observations, observations of professional development, interviews with pupils and officers of local authorities and the Sports Council for Wales and further documentary evidence to consider the standards and quality of provision within schools for physical education and school sport for pupils with learning difficulties. The report aims to identify good practice in this area.
Key findings or focus
The sample of schools utilised to produce the report included 29 mainstream schools (consisting of 16 primary schools and 13 secondary schools) together with 6 special schools across 16 local authorities in Wales.
The Report begins by defining its terminology in relation to the terms used with regards to measurement throughout the document. This is useful to enable the reader to gauge what is meant by, for example, ‘nearly all', ‘many' or ‘very few'. The report also clearly identifies the types of difficulties experienced by the children termed as having ‘learning difficulties' and refers to the report having considered a ‘wide range of learning difficulties and varied special educational needs' to capture instances where little adaptation to lessons or equipment will be involved through to situations which require a higher level of differentiated planning and support. This is important as children with learning difficulties are not an homogenous group and it is important to consider all points along the continuum.
The report proceeds to consider the main findings and recommendations. These are concise, logical, numbered and show clearly who should address the recommendations (Government, Local Authorities or Schools).
The subsequent chapters are then broken down into key areas covering:
- Curriculum & Planning
- Teaching & Assessment
Each chapter again has key points numbered. Several are supported by illustrative case studies which illuminate the topic under consideration. More over, at the end of each chapter the reader can find the good practice guidelines pertinent to that section summarised in a highlighted box.
Care has been taken to create a report which is easy to manage, readable and well set out. These are key features to ensuring its target audience is able to take forward the knowledge embodied in the document and make best use of its guidelines and recommendations.
The report is very balanced in terms of its content, considering where schools and educators are providing well for children with learning difficulties in the area of physical education, but also considering where improvements should be made.
Overall, the findings suggest that most pupils with special educational needs (SEN) achieve well and make good progress in physical education. This works best when:
- Teachers are very skilled, set high standards and have high expectations of learners
- Pupils with SEN are included in the activities of mainstream classes
- Teachers have sufficient knowledge, experience and confidence to plan differentiated activities which challenge pupils and match the varying pace at which these pupils learn.
- Pupils are involved in formative and diagnostic feedback which, it states, raises their self esteem and confidence.
The report suggests improvements could be made and point to the following:
- Better reciprocal arrangements could be made between special schools and mainstream schools to enable mainstream schools to benefit from the knowledge of educators in special school settings.
- The range of activities offered to pupils could be extended by making use of differentiated equipment available through the PESS Project (Physical Education & School Sport initiative)
- Consistent use of monitoring and assessing would ensure attainment levels at the end of each key stage.
- The use of support assistants should be maintained consistently across the curriculum and not withdrawn for physical education lessons.
- Professional development opportunities for teachers should be extended to enable them to enhance their experience in teaching physical education to pupils with learning difficulties, particularly in relation to specific areas eg: supporting pupils with communication difficulties or challenging behaviour in mainstream schools.
The quality, authority and credibility of the resource
The resource specifically relates to the area of Physical Education. Some of the guidelines for good practice are specific to this area of the curriculum, however many of the suggestions made for improvement and good practice could equally be applicable to other subjects. The standard of the report is excellent in terms of its layout and content, making the document easily accessible to educators, officers and governing bodies. The document is readily downloadable in pfd format from the Estyn website.
The implications for ITE tutors/mentors
This document could easily be utilised by tutors and mentors to set exercises and discussions around best practice for pupils with learning difficulties, particularly in relation to physical education:
- Explore the range of learning difficulties experienced by pupils and how schools may need to adapt their practice to ensure these pupils reach their potential in relation to physical education.
- What are the important factors to consider when planning inclusive physical education sessions?
- How can a physical education curriculum be differentiated to include all pupils?
- Having a learning difficulty acts as a barrier to a child's involvement in physical education - discuss.
- Plan a physical education lesson which is sensitive to the needs of all pupils and explain your decisions.
- How does a physical education lesson contribute to the five areas of Every Child Matters?
- Children with learning difficulties are more likely to develop mental health problems (Whitehurst, 2008). How can physical education help mental as well as physical well being?
The relevance to ITE students
It is important that ITE students understand the importance of differentiating the curriculum to ensure that all students, regardless of their abilities, are able to access learning and develop their skills. This document clearly identifies areas of good practice within a range of schools but goes beyond that to provide a balanced report acknowledging that some schools fall short of achieving these standards. This report has specific relevance to the area of physical education but important messages to support other areas of the curriculum. These guidelines will assist ITE students in identifying ways to support pupils with learning difficulties within and beyond the area of physical education.
The following might be useful to read in conjunction with this resource:
Vickerman, P (2007) Teaching Physical Education to children with Special Educational Needs. London: Routledge
Whitehurst, T (2008) ‘Making a difference to mental health : the impact of mental health training for frontline staff working with children with severe intellectual disabilities' Journal of Policy & Practice in Intellectual Disabilities, Vol 5 (1) p6-11
Wright, H. and Sugden, D. (1999) Physical Education for All: Developing Physical Education in the Curriculum for Pupils with special Educational Needs. London: David Fulton.