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Presented at ISEC 2000

The Theory and Practice of Inclusive Physical Education

Christopher Robertson. The School of Education, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2TT.
Tel: 0121 414 4832.


This paper aims to identify some key issues in the teaching of physical education to pupils with special educational needs. The context for discussion of these issues is that of educational policy in the UK which currently places a strong emphasis on the development of more inclusive provision and practice. This policy is seemingly based on values and beliefs that are associated, partly at least, with the concept of equality. Political commitment to developing a more inclusive educational system is made clear in the Green Paper Excellence for All Children: Meeting Special Educational Needs (Department for Education and Employment 1997) and the subsequent implementation plan Meeting Special Educational Needs: A Programme of Action (Department for Education and Employment (1998) which states:

Promoting inclusion within mainstream schools, where parents want it and appropriate support can be provided, will remain a cornerstone of our strategy. There are strong educational, as well as social and moral grounds for educating children with SEN, or with disabilities, with their peers. This is an important part of building an inclusive society. An increasing number of schools are showing that an inclusive approach can reinforce a commitment to higher standards for all. (p. 23)

This important policy statement, though it is cautious, would appear to be saying two things about pupils with special educational needs that need to be kept clearly in focus throughout this paper. Firstly, making provision for such pupils is a matter of equalising opportunities in mainstream schools and that this has a moral as well as a practical dimension. Secondly, such provision, if well developed will also lead to better educational attainment for all pupils. These two central planks of policy are not unproblematic as a number of commentators have noted (Lindsay and Thompson 1997, Sebba with Sachdev 1997), for they make questionable philosophical assertions and equivocal empirical claims. However, they are influencing the development of educational practice in significant ways and therefore warrant our serious consideration. In the context of physical education this means grappling with the following practical, but not simple questions:

In addressing these questions, it will be argued that there are no straightforward solutions, and no elixirs available to teachers. Meeting the needs of all pupils, takes place within particular organisational contexts that are constraining (Wedell 1995), and curriculum content can also be weakly conceptualised (Noddings 1992). In other words, even if we agree on what should be done in physical education, changing ways of working to achieve new aims and goals will not be easy, for, as the philosopher Otto Neurath (1983) famously remarked:

We are like sailors who have to rebuild their ship on the open sea, without ever being able to dismantle it in dry-dock and reconstruct it from the best components.
(Protocol Statements 1932-3, trans. Cohen and Neurath 1983)

The pragmatic and conceptual difficulties associated with meeting special educational needs within physical education are certainly real, but they are also positively challenging. These will be considered in relation to the following interlinked dimensions:


Normality and difference

The history of special education is complex. Writers like Cole (1989) have identified a strong humanitarian strand in it, while others like Hurt (1988) have highlighted less humane practices that have influenced it's growth - the spurious science of eugenics for example. Yet others (Tomlinson 1982, Ford et al. 1982) have viewed special education policy and practice in terms of segregated social control of troublesome (e.g. afro-Caribbean children) or 'useless' pupils. It is important to exercise care in interpreting the history of special education in simplistic ways, as Armstrong (1998) notes:

It is homogeneous neither in terms of its function nor in terms of its impact. (p. 45)

In describing developments in special education over a hundred years, Armstrong characterises changes in terms of long, difficult, and different paths being trodden towards inclusion. This struggle has obvious parallels with the historical battles in education about race and gender, and some of these are far from won. But pupils with special educational needs and disabilities can be identified as having a unique connection to a particular social and historical experience that extends beyond the educational, and one that teachers of physical education should be particularly aware of. Some features of this history are summarised below, and are worth reflecting on in terms of the messages they perhaps convey about pupils with special educational needs and how these messages might be translated into curriculum provision and teaching, deliberately or otherwise:

1. People with learning difficulties have systematically been separated from mainstream educational, social and economic activity (Atkinson et al. 1997). Many people with physical disabilities and sensory impairments have similarly been excluded (Humphries and Gordon 1992). This exclusion has, at times, led to abusive social practices such as incarceration and sterilisation. The rationale for such practices has been based on inept notions of 'intelligence', and physical characteristics (Oliver and Barnes 1998). Most horrifically, the killing of disabled people. Those 'unworthy of life' was a clear part of Nazi genocide policy (Burleigh 1994), with strong roots in eugenic 'science', serving as an experimental precursor to the more familiar holocaust during World War II. Such an extreme policy towards disabled people may seem shocking and remote from our educational and social world, and yet, some of the shocking ideas and practices of earlier times still cast a light on our times. This is illustrated in the way that the body and the construct of intelligence are both defined in terms of 'norms' that should not be deviated from;

2. A recent newspaper report (The Sunday Times July 4 1999) with the title 'Having disabled babies will be 'sin', says scientist' brings the issue of normality into sharp focus. The journalist Lois Rogers reports that a world-renowned embryologist, Bob Edwards, speaking at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology made these remarks: " … increasing availability of pre-natal screening for genetic diseases gave parents the a moral responsibility not to give birth to disabled children." He goes on to say "Soon it will be a sin of parents to have a child that carries the heavy burden of genetic disease. We are entering a world where we have to consider the quality of our children" This recent example of thinking about medical issues is not being cited here to introduce a moral debate about genetic engineering, rather it is to highlight the important notion that certain intellectual and physical qualities are seen as more valuable than others, and that a lack of ability in the physical domain can be regarded as the definitive characteristic of a person;

3. The idea that the body should conform to social norms has been discussed extensively by Foucault(see Rabinow 1984) and highlighted in relation to physical education by Barton (1993 p. 49), who argues that 'physical education is the creation of an for able-bodied people' and that it 'gives priority to certain types of human movement'. He goes on to suggest that 'the motivation to participate [in PE] is encouraged through idealized notions of 'normality'' (the concept of which has gender dimensions of the kind discussed in the previous chapter);

4. It is this overarching normalizing gaze, as Foucault termed it, that exercises significant power over individuals and wider social practices. It operates both visibly and invisibly. Educationally, what can follow from this is a construction of disability or special needs that is built on a premise inequality. The results of this for individuals might be;

5. A person is labelled, distinguished, or set apart from others in such a way that he or she is considered as socially inferior. Care and treatment (including education)are developed and legitimated on the basis of this label of social inferiority (adapted from Johnstone 1998, based on Rioux 1996). This, we know to be the case historically, and it is certainly possible that today's educational practice still reflects such inequities. Furthermore, the impact of such practice has important implications for individuals, shaping their experience and personality Morris (1989) in ways that are damaging. Simon Brisenden (1986 p. 175) called this the development of 'a sort of medicalised social reflex'.

Special educational needs and equality

The modern era of special education in Britain was ushered in by the 1978 Warnock Report (Department of Education and Science). Many, though not all, of the recommendations made by Mary Warnock and her colleagues became a part of educational legislation in the 1981 Education Act. The Act, despite numerous weaknesses did outline important educational policy for special educational needs and did so, making use of arguments concerning rights and equality (Goacher et al. 1988). These arguments have influenced all subsequent special education legislation, including most notably The Code of Practice on the Identification and Assessment of Special Educational Needs (Department for Education 1994 a), and the national policy proposals on special education and inclusion mentioned at the beginning of this paper). Warnock's thinking on matters of rights and equality led to the outlining of some key principles, including the following:

Putting these principles into practice during the fifteen years following the 1981 Education proved very difficult indeed, essentially because the political landscape changed radically during this period and any interest in educational equality became subservient to beliefs about the value of educational competition and individualism - exemplified in the 1988 Education Reform Act. In this climate, and despite the introduction of a National Curriculum purportedly for all, moves towards the integration of pupils with special educational needs in mainstream schools either struggled to take root, or floundered completely.

Difficulties in integrating pupils with special educational needs, for whatever reason, led to a serious reconceptualisation of the problem in the 1990s. Critique and reflection has led to the development of policy that is seen to be more inclusive, but more actively derived from the belief that equality has to be fought for. Inclusion has been characterised by Oliver (1996) as:

  1. Being a process rather than a fixed state.
  2. Being problematic.
  3. Being political.
  4. Necessitating changes in school ethos.
  5. Involving teachers who have acquired commitment.
  6. Necessitating changes in the 'given' curriculum.
  7. Involving a recognition of the moral and political rights of pupils to inclusive education.
  8. The recognition that pupils with special educational needs are valued, and that their achievements should be celebrated.
  9. Acknowledging the importance of difference rather than sameness or 'normality'.
  10. Inclusion needs to be struggled for. (adapted from Oliver, p 84)

A number of issues raised by this modelling of inclusion will be considered in the context of physical education later in this paper. At this point however, it is worth reflecting on the aforementioned features of inclusion, and asking the question 'what are the implications of this view of inclusion for the teaching of physical education?'

The linkage between the concept of special educational needs and beliefs about equalising opportunities was strengthened at an international level by three developments in legislation produced the United Nations. A caution needs to be borne in mind here, for not all countries either 'sign up', or adhere to UN conventions and rules. Nevertheless, such legislation is significant, and worth describing briefly:

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989)
Article 2 states that all rights shall apply to all children without discrimination on any ground and specifically mentions disability (i.e. special educational needs). Article 23 advocates that education should be designed in a manner conducive to the child "achieving the fullest possible social integration".

The UN Standard Rules on the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities (1993)
Rule 6 (of 22) clearly identifies integrated education as the vehicle for equalising opportunities, noting that countries should ensure the education of people with disabilities is an integral part of the educational system.

The UNESCO (the UN's education agency) Salamanca Statement (1994)
This document invites countries to respond to a framework of action based on a clear commitment to inclusive education.

Point 7 (p. 11) is unequivocal:

The fundamental principle of the inclusive school is that all children should learn together, wherever possible, regardless of any difficulties or differences they may have. Inclusive schools must recognize and respond to the diverse needs of their students, accommodating both different styles of and rates of learning and ensuring quality to all through appropriate curricula, organizational arrangements, teaching strategies, resource use and partnerships, with their communities. There should be a continuum of support and services to match the continuum of special needs encountered in every school.

Here then, we see not only an increasing recognition of the rights that children with disabilities and special educational needs have, but a description, albeit in fairly abstract terms, of what inclusive education might look like. The Salamanca Statement acknowledges that schools must change if they are to genuinely provide equal opportunities for all pupils. From the perspective of physical education what might such changes entail?

It is easier of course, to espouse the importance of equality, than it is to achieve it in practice. Too often, the concept of equality is presented as being an unproblematic good in relation to special educational needs, whereas it is in fact deeply problematic. It presents difficulties of two kinds:

  1. Achieving absolute equality in practice will always be impossible in group teaching situations;
  2. It is conceptually incoherent (Berlin 1997) to believe that 'Great Goods' (values) like equality can co-exist with others. For example the value that asserts the importance of the individual.

Isaiah Berlin warns strongly against believing and acting as if complete equality can be achieved, suggesting that such idealism is dangerous, for it will involve overriding other important interests. However, this does not mean that inclusive educational practice should be dismissed, but we must recognise that we have to live with difficulties and dilemmas in schools, classrooms, gymnasiums and sports fields:

To force people into the neat uniforms demanded by dogmatically believed-in schemes is almost always the road to inhumanity. We can only do what we can: but that we must do, against difficulties.
(Berlin op cit. p. 16)

Another philosopher, Bernard Williams (1981, p. 81) sees bridging the gap between different social and moral values of the kind being discussed here as an important part of social and personal activity.

How then, can such problems be resolved in theory and practice? One way is to reconsider the concept of special educational needs.


Whether addressing the special educational needs of pupils in physical education, or other teaching and learning contexts the main task is how to go about:

finding the optimal balance between adapting teaching and curriculum overall so it suits all learners [link to the value of equality] and accommodating to individual differences through differences in teaching when overall adaptations are not enough [link to the value of individual need].
(Norwich 1994 p. 304)

To be able to undertake this daunting task, it is important to review our understanding of special educational needs, with a view to asking whether or not it helps or hinders inclusive educational practice. The term special educational needs (SEN) has, over the years since its introduction by Warnock, come to mean 'all things to all people'. It has often be used very inaccurately, and disparagingly. A more useful triadic view of needs has been outlined by Norwich (1996). The three types of needs he describes are interconnected and implicitly take account of the values of both individual need and equality:

Typology of Needs

1. Individual needs - these are unique to the individual pupil
2. Exceptional needs - these are shared with some other pupils
3. Common needs - these are shared with all pupils

This view of needs represents a significant and positive shifting in thinking about special education. Interestingly it is also a typology that can be applied to other children (for example, the very able athlete, swimmer, or musician). More importantly though, it also has an important practical value. This can be demonstrated with reference to physical education in the following vignette:

Manjula is an 11 year girl who attends a mainstream primary school. She has Down Syndrome, and is making good general progress across the curriculum given that she has some learning difficulties. Her identified weaknesses as a learner are in the physical education, though she enjoys PE lessons very much.

What insights does the triadic concept of needs provide the teacher with, and what practical pedagogic implications follow from these?

Firstly, Manjula is an individual and her difficulties in PE may have arisen for one, or many reasons. Her difficulties would need to be assessed. The fact that she has Down Syndrome may have no bearing whatsoever on the difficulties she is experiencing - crude assumptions such as 'Down children are good at physical activity' or 'find PE difficult' are generally unhelpful.

Secondly, it may be the case that Manjula lacks confidence, or has poor self-esteem and this is very evident in PE lessons. In this regard she may share these difficulties with some other children in the class and none of these pupils has Down Syndrome. On the other hand, it could be the case that Manjula does have motor difficulties that associated with Down Syndrome (see Winders 1997). If this is so then a carefully differentiated programme of learning could be developed, and this might be implemented at an individual level but more probably within ordinary PE lessons that are carefully structured to take account of group needs.

Third, though Manjula is experiencing difficulties in PE, she enjoys these lessons. Care must be taken to ensure that in addressing her needs, teachers do not deliberately or inadvertently stigmatise or separate her. Differentiated teaching must not lose sight of needs common to a group or class as a whole.

In summary, this approach to meeting needs is particularly valuable and relevant to the teaching of physical education because:


Teaching physical education to meet educational needs in the way described in the previous section can only be effective if the curriculum also takes proper account of pupil diversity. Len Barton (1993 p. 49) suggests that the quality of the physical education curriculum should judged against these questions:

1. Is the curriculum enabling?
2. Does it deal with difference form a theoretically appropriate stance?

Work undertaken to develop the physical education as part of the National Curriculum (Department of Education and Science interim and final reports 1991a, b) certainly attempted to address these questions, identifying four key principles that were intended to ensure that all pupils could fully participate and learn. These principles have been summarised by Sugden (1991):

1. Entitlement to the National Curriculum with modifications where appropriate;
2. Access to achieved first and foremost by the provision of appropriate and challenging programmes of study and assessment mechanisms, allowing for modification where required;
3. Integration to be considered as central. Pupils, even when following an adapted curriculum should be doing so alongside their peers;
4. Integrity to be at the heart of physical education activity. For it to be demanding and not trivial. Most important of all, to be motivating and exciting educationally.
(Based on Sugden 1991, p 135)

However, despite this positive outlining of educational principles some authors have raised concerns about the exclusive nature of the physical education National Curriculum produced in the early 1990s. Len Barton questioned its inclusiveness, suggesting that it overemphasised individualism, and competitiveness (1993, p. 50). He also noted that it was based on outmoded definitions of disability that reinforced discriminatory practices (for example, those of the World Health organisation 1980). Both Coakley (1994) and Hargreaves (1994) criticised the curriculum on grounds of gender stereotyping and it is certainly possible to see parallels in their and critiques and that applied by Barton to considerations of special educational needs. It is a pity to note in this context that feminist perspectives on physical education have, as yet, failed to connect with writing about physical education from a disability perspective.

With regard to proposed changes to the National Curriculum in the year 2000 (Qualifications and Curriculum Authority 1999 a, 1999 b), there would seem to be the rhetorical promise at least, of a more flexible, less prescriptive and more inclusive version*. It might seem unhelpful to express doubts about the revised physical education curriculum when it is still under review, but it seems only right to point out, that in terms of both content and associated descriptions of attainment, the proposal contain a number of recommendations that may do more to exclude than to include all pupils. Two brief examples illustrate this. Firstly, the Key stage 2 Programme of study for swimming indicates that children should be taught to swim 'using recognised arm and leg actions, and strokes on front and back (QCA 1999 b, p. 174). This seems a laudable enough recommendation, but it excludes many children who can learn to swim without using orthodox strokes at all (Association of Swimming Therapy 1981, Sherrill 1998). Secondly, the early level descriptions 1 and 2 (QCA b, 1999 p. 181) outline target language and cognitive skills that would exclude many pupils with significant learning difficulties.

These concerns highlight the need for a more informed debate about curriculum content; one that recognises the full implications of educational inclusiveness. On a more positive note, there are many good examples of innovative physical education that could be used more extensively. A few of these are highlighted below:

Innovative Practice in Physical Education:- Illustrative examples.

The use of Developmental Movement (Sherborne 1990) for pupils in all forms of special educational provision, including both special and mainstream schools. Much innovative practice in special schools deserves to be disseminated more widely.

Innovative approaches to swimming teaching for pupils with special educational needs - Halliwick Method (Association of Swimming Therapy 1981), The Sherrill Water Fun and Success Model (Sherrill 1998) - methods that could be used with all children.

The utilisation of curriculum goals premised on humanistic values (Hellison and Templin 1991), an approach developed for use with pupils experiencing behavioural difficulties. Its application could be much wider.

These examples challenge the current content of the physical education curriculum, but they also raise issues about both the aims of physical education and teaching methods.

These certainly warrant greater consideration through a careful professional dialogue between specialists in physical education, teachers, including those with expertise in special education, disabled people and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.

Two questions to consider at this point are:

What could be done to make the physical education curriculum more inclusive?
Are there specific examples of physical education activities, not found in the current National Curriculum that that ought to be included?


The obvious starting point for an inclusive physical education pedagogy is that of differentiation. A useful typology of differentiation has been outlined by Lewis (1992) and this can be purposefully linked to Vickermann's (1997) view that initial planning to teach physical education should start from a consideration of diversity and difference in all learners, so that teaching is inclusive from the beginning. Working in this way, the issue of meeting needs and doing so equitably is faced head on.

There is though, no point in working simply on the basis of equity and carefully considered differentiation, without also using effective pedagogic skills, knowledge and understanding. An underlying knowledge of applied motor development (Wright and Sugden 1999) is vital, and this needs to incorporate an understanding of impairment and motor development. The ability to be able assess and identify pupils' difficulties is also important. Some helpful informal and formal assessment 'tools' are available to teachers. For example, Sugden and Henderson (1994) have devised a useful assessment for motor difficulties associated with Development Co-ordination Disorder (DCD). This assessment can be used to 'screen' for problems without any specialist training. The same authors (Henderson and Sugden 1992) have also devised a standardised assessment and teaching programme for pupils of school age with DCD. Both of these assessment and teaching frameworks can be linked to the staged approach to assessment and intervention outlined in the Code of Practice (Department for Education 1994a). Another useful general assessment schedule has been developed by Knight and Chedzoy (1997) for use with pupils who have motor co-ordination difficulties, emotional and behavioural difficulties, hearing impairments, learning difficulties, physical disabilities and visual impairments. The ability to use assessment methods like these, in collaboration with physical education advisers, and perhaps occupational therapists and physiotherapists when required, will increase the ability of teachers to be able to meet the needs of pupils effectively. Equitable provision cannot be developed on the basis of teacher commitment alone.

Assessment, if it is worthwhile, also directly informs and is informed by, the teaching process (Daniels 1996). The essence of good physical education teaching is that it should encourage both participation and learning (Wright and Sugden 1999). Participation can be guaranteed if detailed attention is given to pupil grouping and support, and curriculum adaptation. Planning participation should also be informed by an understanding of needs described earlier in the paper. Participation alone, does not guarantee that learning will take place so careful attention also needs to be given to phases, or levels of learning (Haring et al. 1978, Sugden and Wright 1996) - those of understanding, acquisition and refinement, automatizing, and generalizing. The pedagogic importance of these should not be underestimated, for it is easy to spend too much time teaching a pupil experiencing difficulties at the wrong level:

Example 1: encouraging a pupil to generalize the use of ball skills when he has not yet acquired these to any degree of fluency.
Example 2: spending too long teaching a pupil acquistional skills without variation that might lead to greater refinement and fluency (learning to catch and throw a ball). The result of this might be that the she becomes bored and demotivated.

It is also important for teaching in physical education to involve careful analysis of the teaching context. This analysis may focus on the teaching task, and its component parts, but it could also involve reflection on the physical and social environment and the role of the teacher. This approach to pedagogy is of course applicable to all learners:

… but the manner in which this is achieved has to be specified in some detail [for pupils with special educational needs], with the teaching process being bad on upon the resources of the child, the tasks to be learned, and the context in which learning takes place. The tasks and context are under the direct control of the teacher and, as such, can be structured and organised so that they have a direct influence on the resources of the child, which in turn affects the teaching process.
(Wright and Sugden 1999, emphasis and parentheses added)

What is being described here is a complex pedagogy, and that is what inclusive education has to be about. David Wood (1986, p. 191) makes this point well, noting that although 'a great deal of teaching is spontaneous, 'natural' and effective, deliberate teaching of groups of children in formally contrived contexts is an intellectually demanding occupation'.

To conclude this discussion of pedagogy some summary reflections that draw together aspects of teaching and curriculum provision, and how it might lead to the greater equalisation of opportunities (United Nations 1993) in physical education are:

1. Both the curriculum and the way in which it is taught should focus primarily on making learning possible for all pupils. This will involve ensuring that the curriculum available for the majority of learners is made accessible to a wider range of pupils. It will also involve adapting the curriculum and sometimes providing educationally equivalent worthwhile alternatives. Some of these alternatives may also be educationally beneficial to all pupils.
2. Particular attention will need to be given to ensuring that pupils with special educational needs can fully participate in the physical education curriculum. For this to be effective and a valuable entitlement, pupil grouping and support will need to be planned carefully and flexibly (Wedell 1995).
3. Teachers of physical education will greatly enhance the development of inclusive practice if they are genuinely welcoming and committed to meeting the needs of all pupils. For them to be able to do this confidently, they will need to have well developed knowledge, skills and understanding in aspect of pedagogy that bridge the fields of special education and physical education.
4. Where appropriate, it may be necessary for teachers of physical education to consider adding to provision to make learning more accessible (e.g. using new teaching materials). At the same time, it may be more appropriate to reflect on ways that existing provision could be altered (e.g. a different use of staff support, or a change of teaching approach).
5. Working with pupils who have diverse and sometimes complex needs should involve teachers in partnership learning. This implies engaging in educational dialogue with pupils, parents and other professionals. Only through such a dialogue (Robertson 1998) can educationally effective inclusion be achieved
6. When the five previous points are coherently interlaced in teaching and planning, and related to an appropriate theory of inclusion of the kind discussed earlier in this chapter equity of provision within a physical education programme can be seen as possible.

(These points have developed from a discussion of the difference between access and opportunity in physical education - Sugden and Talbot 1996)


Though much can be achieved in the quest for equality of provision in physical education by good quality teaching and appropriately enriching subject content, this will be greatly enhanced if, at the whole school level:

Policy [1]

The Education Act 1993 legally requires schools to have special educational needs policies in place, and Circular 6/94 (Department for Education 1994 b) provides guidance on what these policies need to include. Similarly, schools should have policies in place for different curriculum subjects, including physical education. Of course, the legal requirement to have policies in place does not guarantee that they will be good policies. Arguably, good policies should adhere to these tenets:

Useful guidance on effective school policy development has been described by Palmer et al. (1994). Their suggested policy framework has four components:

  1. Philosophy - where do we start from?
  2. Principles - - what should we do?
  3. Procedures - - how do we do it?
  4. Performance - is it happening?

Each of these components requires a consideration of both equal opportunities and special educational needs (see Beveridge, 1996). Careful thinking about policy philosophy and principles should lead to the establishment of policy procedures (e.g. resource allocation, staff development activity) that result in the needs of all pupils being met as equitably as possible. A particularly useful feature of the four part policy framework outlined above is the monitoring and evaluative component (performance), which enables the efficacy of inclusive physical education policy and practice to be gauged.

In the light of earlier discussion in this paper, concerning changing concepts of needs, it might in future be more appropriate for schools to replace special educational needs policies with policies for inclusive learning. Examples of these have already been developed at local education authority (Newham Local Education Authority 1997) and school Alderson et al. 1999) levels. Such policies, by definition, are pervasive and underpin teaching in all subjects.

Professional development [2].

Educators teaching physical education need access to good quality courses of continuing professional development if more equitable and inclusive provision is to gather pace and become sustainable. In fact, training in inclusive physical education for teachers should begin in during their initial training. However, the provision of effective training of this kind has been ad hoc, fragmentary and often completely inadequate. In this regard, parallels can be drawn with concerns about the absence of equal opportunities provision in within such programmes (Evans and Davies 1993, Flintoff 1993). Clearly, difficulties of this kind, combined with grave concerns about the impoverished nature of special educational needs and inclusive education provision generally within initial teacher education (Special Educational Needs Training Consortium 1996, Robertson 1999) reflect a serious failure to take proper account of the true nature of inclusive education. It is perhaps ironic that, at a time when so much attention is focused on the educational entitlements and rights of all pupils, teachers in training would seem not to have the right to be properly prepared to teach all pupils inclusively. The result of this is that an unacceptable shortfall in training provision has to be made up for in continuing professional development programmes, and these operate in a climate of significant time constraints and relatively poor resourcing. Two important points to note here are:

1. Without well trained teachers, equalising opportunities for pupils in inclusive learning contexts will not be possible in the mid to long term;
2. Commitment to inclusive practice requires that all teacher education, or training, should be inclusive from the outset.

If these points are accepted, then a serious review of teacher education, particularly initial teacher is required. Within the physical education curriculum for teachers there needs to be room for:

If teachers, particularly those wishing to offer a specialism in physical education to schools, have completed a curriculum of the kind described briefly here, then the benefits that follow will be manifold. All pupils will gain from enhanced pedagogic expertise, but so too will other members of staff who do not have such specialist skills in the physical education domain (Robertson 1999). Sharing knowledge and expertise in this way will greatly enhance the inclusive capability of schools.


This paper has considered a number of issues important to the development of inclusive physical education. It has been argued that though equality of provision for all learners, including those currently described as having special educational needs, maybe a problematic ideal, it is nevertheless one worth striving towards. This striving must be located in the practice of schooling as expressed in the curriculum and its associated pedagogy. In this regard, good practice in physical education should intersect and overlap with other good practice in schools. It also needs to be reflected in school policies and the professional development of teachers through their careers. Finally, but arguably most importantly, moves towards equality in educational provision need to based on a thorough understanding of educational needs, and recent developments in thinking about the nature and meaning of disability.

* The final version of the National Curriculum ( due for implementation in September 2000 does represent an improvement on the draft version. However, I contend that it is still exclusive in design.

Note - An amended version of this paper written with Elizabeth Marsden and Carolyn Childs will be published in: Capel, S. and Piotrowski, S. (eds) (2000) Issues in Physical Education. London: Routledge.


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