Challenges faced by teachers in teaching Send pupils

  • 13 Pages
  • Published On: 02-12-2023


Globally, the development of inclusive physical education was triggered by the Salamanca Declaration for Children with Special Needs UNESCO (1994), which stated that the most effective means of supporting education for all, building an inclusive society and tackling the problem of discrimination is the inclusion of students with special education needs in the regular education system, regardless of their cultural or ethnical orientation. More recently, the United Nations Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), (Hutzler & Daniel-Sharma, 2017), through article 30.5, stipulated that the rights of children with special education needs and disabilities must be guaranteed by providing them with the physical education (PE) and other informal sports activities.

To ensure an inclusive physical education, adapted physical education is required. Ideally, according to Mahama and Mintah (2018), an adapted physical education entails specially designed programs of physical activities: sports, games and rhythms suited to the capabilities, limitations and interests of children with disabilities who may not successfully or safely engage in unrestricted participation in the activities of the regular physical education program (Morin et al, 2017). these adaptations are often made based on the assumption that even though the children with disabilities have challenges and unique needs to participate in regular physical activity, they can still participate when the necessary adaptations are made.

The concept of disability


Disability is a reality that humans must face and has been defined perceived differently by various cultures across various historical periods. For most part of the 20th century, according to Penney et al (2018), disability was perceived and defined as an object of an individual’s physical condition. However, in 2001, the World Health Organization (WHO) developed a new definition of disability based on social models or human rights. First, the medical model of disability defines it as a physical condition that reduces the individual’s ability to engage in normal and quality life and causes disadvantages to them (Arroyo, 2019). As per Petrie et al (2018), proponents of the medical model believe that managing or curing disability depends on identifying the disability through scientific methods of disease diagnosis and assessment, understanding it and altering or controlling its course. More importantly, according to Doncheva et al (2018), the medical model holds that the societies’ investment in healthcare resources and related services can help cure disability or improve the functioning of disabled people, helping them to live a normal life.

On the other hand, according to Degener (2017), the social model of disability conceptualizes disability as an umbrella term that consists of many components including problems with body structure or functions (impairments), problems with executing actions or tasks (activity limitations), and problems with getting involved in life situations (restricted participation).

As per Woods (2017), the idea of impairment is separate from the idea of disability. Rather, negative attitudes, systemic barriers and societal exclusion are considered significant contributory factors in disabling people. Therefore, the social model of disability promotes the notion that sensory, intellectual, physical and psychological variations may cause individual functional impairments and limitations. While evaluating the challenges experienced by teachers in teaching physical education to children with disabilities and other special education needs, this paper will refer to both the social and medical models of disability.

Physical activity and disability

In the spirit of the Equality Act 2010, disabled children and youth have the right to receive physical education as a service, especially those who qualify for education services because of a specific developmental delay or disability. furthermore, as cited by Landi (2020), children with disabilities must be educated with those without disability to the maximum possible extent, and whenever possible. Therefore, teachers must explore general physical education as the first option before implementing an alternative (Barber, 2020). on the same note, inclusion in the general physical education setting is determined by the functional performance and present level of academic achievement of each individual student. As such, students should make progress while participating in physical education; especially by demonstrating cognitive, affective and psychomotor domains. Moreover, as per Makopoulou et al (2019), the students should demonstrate competency in the grade level outcomes. Yet, as cited by Tsangaridou (2017), there are several challenges experienced by teachers when delivering physical education to the children with disability, making it difficult to achieve the above-stated performance levels. The following section highlights some of those challenges.

In study by Pocock & Miyahara (2018), it emerged that social and personal barriers are among the challenges influencing the amount of SEND children’s participation in PE. Moreover, Bradford et al (2021) observed that social and psychological factors are some of the significant challenges that hinder SEND children’s effective participation in PE. While explaining these challenges, Moriña (2017) noted that a significant amount of children’s time is spent within the school environment, and this environment significantly influences them. The interaction and influence of various factors on preferred behaviour is mostly evident during their primary school years, when they are at adolescent and begin to strengthen their beliefs and attitudes regarding physical activity (Floyd & Mowing, 2019). in this regard, teachers must motivate the students towards engaging in physical activity.

One of the most significant challenges faced by PE teachers is to persuade SEND pupils to engage in PE. Sometimes, the non-disabled students discriminate, isolate or separate with disabled students during PE, and this discourages the disabled ones from participating. In a study by Lieberman and Houston-Wilson (2017), only a few of the students volunteered to participate in physical education together with their SEND colleagues. This confirms findings by Page et al (2021) that social and personal barriers are some of the challenges that teachers face when persuading SEND students to engage in PE activities. However, contrary to these findings, Hutzler et al (2019) noted that physical education and sports can be an effective way of promoting social development. On the same note, Braksiek et al (2019) emphasised that the social environment should be adapted in such a way that there is an integration between the participant’s social capabilities and the activity’s physical demands. Similarly, Hodge et al (2017) argued that the non-disabled students should be supportive of the socialization process to facilitate the achievement of social benefits by all the participants. However, when dealing with children from different backgrounds, and with different capabilities, PE teachers are likely to face a challenge with getting the non-disabled students to be supportive of their disabled counterparts, to develop the required social environment necessary for a successful PE lesson.

Studies have also identified that teachers face various challenges with adopting or modifying the physical activities according to the SEND pupils’ needs. For instance, Stroebel et al (2017) noted that despite taking adaptive physical education courses, the teachers still lacked the practical skills to adapt the activities to the needs of SEND pupils with different disabilities and needs, especially when the class contains a large number of SEND pupils because the modification would become too cumbersome to do within a short class period. In some cases, as Mahama and Mintah (2018) observed, some PE teachers have not taken the necessary courses for adaptive PE and do not therefore have the knowledge and skills to deliver inclusive PE. Alternatively, some schools do not have service training for their PE teachers on adapted PE and teaching methodology of SEND students. as a result, teachers generally fail to modify or adapt the PE learning environment as well as activities to fit the needs of SEND students. However, Penney et al (2018) observed that there are various ways of modifying PE activities based on various PE teaching and resource guides.

Stroebel et al (2017) noted that one of the significant challenges of teaching PE to SEND pupils is the availability of instructional materials and PE rules that are not considerate of the SEND pupils, and the teachers implement these rules and instructional materials without any further modification to the needs of SEND pupils. According to Doncheva et al (2018), this is especially due to lack of time and adequate knowledge of effective modification strategies.

Stroebel et al (2017) argued that the PE curriculum may not be adapted to the needs of students with all different types of special education needs and disabilities. On the same note, Landi (2020) indicated that teachers face a significant challenge of lack of curriculum materials, despite literature (Hodge et al, 2017) indicating that inclusive PE requires various curriculum modifications so that all the students can participate. In parallel to this, Penney et al (2018) wrote that curriculum refers to the subject matter that is planned to be taught and learned by students of different levels of education and therefore for SEND students, regular PE curriculum requires significant modifications before being delivered.

Apart from lack of modified curriculum and lack of curriculum materials, studies have also shown that PE teachers face the challenge of lack of supportive equipment for facilitating the SEND pupils in PE lessons, while those available are not usable by students with all types of disability. For instance, in a study by Hodge et al (2017), the researcher found that many school administrations do avail the necessary equipment or materials for students with different types of disabilities to engage in practical classes. These findings corroborate with the observations by Doncheva et al (2018), who noted that PE departments in many schools do not plan to avail the materials for SEND students, leading to lack of equipment to support the teaching process of children different types of disabilities. On this note, Stroebel et al (2017) remarked that in the face of equipment shortage, teachers can still deliver inclusive education by modifying the available equipment or instruction materials and using them to teach those with disabilities. But to address this challenge, teachers can explore different options, including the use of same equipment for all (sharing one equipment by all the learners in a class); using similar equipment for different purpose, for example, a student with visual impairment may experience a challenge in tracking a ball in a typical playground but may be able to catch a belling ball or florescent coloured ball. Another option is to use specially adapted equipment (Morin et al, 2017).

Studies by Hodge et al (2017) also showed that teachers experience a challenge of inaccessible school environment/compounds, whereby students will all kinds of disabilities cannot navigate around during the playground. Similar studies by Landi (2020) also identified environmental factors as one of the most rampant barriers to teaching PE to SEND students. inaccessible playgrounds and other facilities such washrooms and toilets discourage SEND pupils from participating in PE activities. as such, Stroebel et al (2017) strongly believe that it is necessary to adapt the school environment and other facilities to make them safe, less restrictive, accessible and usable by SEND pupils. Teachers can achieve these modifications by referring to readily available guidelines, which when follow can make teaching PE to send pupils easier, while enabling the disabled ones to navigate through the environment more independently.

The other evident challenge experienced by PE teachers in teaching PE to SEND pupils is the lack of support from school administrations to include and participate SEND pupils in PE practical classes. As per Mahama and Mintah (2018), the reason for this lack of support is that the school administration has not given attention to SEND pupils in general and in particularly, practical PE activities. these remarks are consistent with the observations by Penney et al (2018) that school principals lack the knowledge on the benefits of including SEND students in physical education classes, that schools lack the relevant student bodies for students with special education needs to advocate or champion for their rights to accessible PE within the school context.

The explored literature has revealed that physical education is important to SEND students and many of them may have interest in participating in nearly all if not all PE activities within the school context. Furthermore, despite the challenges that they might face when engaging in PE, SEND students might find some of the activities easy to engage in, and their disabilities may not hinder them from participating in PE activities. however, due to several factors that may discourage them from participating in PE, SEND pupils still have a generally low PE engagement across many schools in the UK.

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Conclusion and recommendation

Whereas most PE teachers have taken PE courses in one way or the other, most of them face challenges related to inability to modify or adapt PE practical activities to suit the needs of SEND students with different types of disabilities. Furthermore, this essay has established that some schools do not offer in service training to PE teachers on adopted PE teaching and teaching methodologies for students with different types of disabilities. While the teachers volunteer to accept SEND pupils to become part of the PE classes with other students, the lack of training and experience on inclusive PE are among the major problems they face.

Principals and school administrators may understand the importance of inclusive PE. According to Doncheva et al (2018), the presence of such knowledge is an important opportunity for school administrators to mobilize resources that help to address the issue of poor participation of SEND pupils in PE activities. Meanwhile, the presence of large number of pupils in a class is also pointed out as one of the significant challenges faced by PE teachers when modifying PE lessons within a short period of class. Furthermore, the rules and instructional materials in many schools do not consider all students with disabilities – while the teachers implement the rules and materials without the necessary modifications according to SEND student’s needs. Worse enough, the teachers face the challenge of inadequate equipment for teaching SEND students PE practical activities. The few equipment that exist are not modified to address the SEND student’s needs.

Lastly, this essay has noted that the school compounds of many schools in the UK are not accessible for all students with disabilities, and the playgrounds are not adapted for use by students with or without different types of disabilities. On their part, school administrators fail to offer support to promote the inclusion and participation of SEND students in PE, typically because they have not given attention to physical education and SEND students. the following recommendations will help address these challenges:

The government, through school administrators, should train and assign special needs professionals in schools who can provide not only training but also support to teachers, principals and support staff on the needs of SEND students and the methodologies of addressing those needs

More and better special needs education courses should be introduced in universities and colleges, while PE teachers should receive continuous in-service professional development to enable better delivery of PE to SEND students

Curriculum developers should consider SEND students by developing PE syllabuses, textbooks and teacher guides that are adapted to the needs of students with different types of disabilities

School principals should pay more attention to education for SEND pupils in general, and PE to SEND pupils in particular

Schools should make accessible school compounds and playgrounds that are suitable for SEND pupils, avail PE equipment, facilitate on going training for PE teachers and encourage the participation of SEND pupils in PE just as they do to other pupils.


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