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Vicci Wells, Head of Sport for Youth Sport Trust on Helping children with SEND to access PE and sport through Inclusion 2024

Consortium Partner resource

Children only get one childhood. They deserve to get the support they need to thrive and prepare for happy, healthy and productive adulthoods. For children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), or in alternative provision, this is especially vital, as we know unhappy, unhealthy children don’t learn effectively.

Currently 50% of parents in Britain with a child with disabilities aged four to 18 say their child does not feel comfortable taking part in sports with other children. Children with disabilities are less likely to enjoy PE lessons and games in schools compared to their non-disabled peers (47% compared to 60%).  

As it stands, the playing field is not level, and now with the publication of the Government’s SEND and Alternative Improvement Plan and the recent announcements around more than £600million for primary school sport and PE, alongside opening of school sport facilities, it is vital that this collective plan and additional investment brings about inclusive and meaningful change for SEND pupils.

Following the government’s consultation on proposals laid out in the SEND Review: Right Support, Right Place, Right Time, the responses highlighted very real concerns and a dire need for change in a system that is hampered by inequity, difficult and lengthy processes, and funding shortfalls. We recognise that the SEND and Alternative Improvement Plan outlines the first steps the government will take in addressing the issues raised.

How Inclusion 2024 is taking a strategic approach

The Youth Sport Trust was awarded the SEND Inclusion in PE grant by the Department for Education in May 2021. The aim of this was to deliver a three-year programme (named Inclusion 2024) on behalf of a consortium of organisations including nasen. The programme uses a network of Lead Inclusion Schools to work with local schools and county school networks across the country.

Inclusion 2024 works collaboratively with pupils, schools, expert practitioners and local/national partners to drive quality and accessibility of opportunities for SEND pupils to participate, engage and learn through PE and School Sport (PESS). It reimagines the role PESS can play for pupils with SEND, reconnects pupils following the negative impact of COVID, and supports active recovery of pupils’ increasing physical health and social wellbeing.

At the programme’s heart is young people with SEND. Young people themselves are part of the Consortium, and are a regular feature of live blogs, sharing their experiences and impact the investment is having for them.

Billy’s story

One young person who has benefited from Inclusion 2024 is Billy, a 16-year-old from Derbyshire. When he was younger, Billy was stopped from doing sport at school because of his special educational needs. With the help of his new school and Inclusion 2024, Billy is trying new things and finding his love for sport again.

Billy attends St Martins School and specialist setting Horizons. He said: “In my old school I wasn't allowed to do much sport and PE. My Tourette's and ADHD got me into trouble, and I was stopped from doing the things I like and am good at - like running and football. When I went to sports clubs outside of school, I had bad experiences so stopped going after a few weeks.

“At St Martins and now Horizons, I have lots of opportunities to exercise and play sport. It really helps me with my tics and to focus on my work. Seeing other students with similar needs to mine competing in sports is really inspiring. I hope to be a good role model for other students and have learnt some Makaton signs to encourage younger students who struggle with their speech to take part in the SHOUTaboutSEND 5K.”

Billy hopes to be a sports coach and has a dream to help others achieve their goals and discover the power of sport.

Inclusion 2024 in numbers and free support

Currently over 5,821 schools have received Inclusive PE training across the country, 22,500 members of the school workforce have been informed about inclusive PE and school sport and 14,616 young people (82% with SEND) have participated in Paralympic, and Commonwealth Games inspired festivals across the country, all through Inclusion 2024. As we continue into the 23/24 academic year, we are keen to ensure all schools are able to continue to get involved. There are a range of free resources developed through the programme that all schools and practitioners can access:

  • All About Autism E-Learning - All About Autism is a digital and practical toolkit that builds upon knowledge of autism spectrum conditions (ASC) and some of the key considerations for making PE and sport inclusive to all. 
  • School Swimming Hub – In partnership with Swim England this has all the information and resources schools need to deliver a Learn to Swim Programme to the highest standard. This hub is also useful for swimming coordinators, swimming assistants, swim schools and operators who help teachers to deliver the Learn to Swim Programme and Awards, and features blogs, ideas and case studies on how to ensure school swimming and water safety is inclusive for all pupils. 
  • Inclusive Education Hub – Hosed by Consortium Partner Activity Alliance, this online resource offers bespoke support for teachers or school staff to review and improve their inclusive physical education and school sport delivery. 
  • TOP Sportsability - Online resource for schools and offers practical advice to teachers, learning support staff, and other sports practitioners. It consists of video clips and downloadable content showing ideas and strategies to support the inclusion of young disabled people in physical activity.

The Primary PE and Sport Premium and School Games Organiser funding updates – further support for schools

In March, the Government announced over £600 million of ringfenced funding to support primary school physical activity and sport, alongside an additional £22 million of funding for the nationwide network of 450 School Games Organisers.

Both sets of funding will provide support for the next two academic years and will help schools in England to ensure PE and school sport are inclusive, engaging and fun for all young people, allowing every child the opportunity to compete.

We ran a webinar on 18 April to help schools understand the announcements and invest the funding strategically. Visit our website to view the recording

At Youth Sport Trust we would like to see the Government go further to ensure every educator is supported to create a culture of inclusion and foster a sense of belonging for every child at school. It is also vital every Alternative Provision setting when set up has space where pupils can move and play indoors and outdoors.

To see our full response please visit:

About the author
Vicci Wells is Head of Sport for children’s charity the Youth Sport Trust. She is also a Chair of Governors and MAT Director. You can read her blog the Youngish School Governor. In her spare time Vicci is an ultra-marathon runner. @YouthSportTrust  @vawells1