How To Support Disabilities In PE

Written by Dan

As a teacher, you know that ensuring an inclusive classroom and engaging physical education experience can be challenging. But disadvantaged students should always feel included – especially when it comes to PE activities! Knowing how to support disabilities in physical education properly is vital to helping all students get the most out of their learning experience.

In this blog post, we’ll cover simple steps teachers can take to ensure every student can participate in PE activities regardless of any disability or limitation they might have.

Read on for helpful advice on how you can support your disabled students throughout their physical education journey.

Inclusive Education

Inclusive education is a system that allows all learners, including those with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), to access the same learning opportunities in mainstream school settings. In this way, physical education classes must be designed to meet the varying abilities of every student as they learn together.

Moreover, making education more inclusive benefits everyone involved – not just students with SEND!


How can teachers assist students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in physical education classes? According to NHS England, a child or adolescent is considered to have to SEND if they have any learning difficulty or disability that necessitates tailored health and academic aid.

Disabilities can be divided into three categories: physical, learning, and sensory. Research indicates that kids with special educational needs (SEND) are less likely to participate actively in physical education than their peers due to struggles with gross motor skills development, motor planning, or simply needing more time for instruction processing.

Regrettably, the amount of time dedicated to physical education (PE) during primary teacher training needs to be improved.

Research has revealed that initial PE-teacher instruction does not provide enough guidance for non-specialist teachers in delivering quality PE lessons, let alone those with students who have special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

This significant lack of proficiency or understanding will only continue to inhibit SEND children’s activity levels.

PE For Your SEND

Before we provide viable methods and advice to get kids with special educational needs (SEND) more partaken in their physical education classes, let’s take a quick look into the Activity Inclusion Model (AIM).

The Activity Inclusion Model (AIM) is a tool that helps teachers to ensure inclusion in the classroom. A participant-centred model assists educators in planning lessons for students of all abilities, not just those with special needs.

To excel as educators, we must first be willing to accept new approaches; reinventing our teaching methods can have remarkable results!

This way of thinking is essential for excellent instruction—we don’t always have to do things the same way.

Among the several well-known inclusion models available, the Activity Inclusion Model and its similar counterparts: The Inclusion Spectrum and Sports Inclusion Models.

The AIM system divides activities into four distinct categories to assist you in organizing your activities.

  • Simple and open activities, such as warm-up and cool-down exercises, are the most natural way to ensure everyone is included without requiring modifications.
  • By modifying activities, all participants can partake in the same task while adjustments are made to the environment, equipment and even those who join. This allows students of varying ability levels to be included by providing support for new skills or offering an extra challenge.
  • Splitting children into various ability tiers, Parallel activities grant each young person an appropriate point of entry into the respective action. This approach allows them to participate in their way and at a proper level for their capability.
  • When it appears impossible for youth with disabilities to engage in activities alongside their non-disabled peers, specific disability sports can be utilized. Here, disabled kids can play alone or with other children with similar limitations. This is a helpful and encouraging growth environment and serves as an interim strategy that could lead towards full inclusion.

What is the STEP model?

Utilizing STEP with the Activity Inclusion Model, you can determine what modifications are necessary to make any activity accessible for all participants. With this tool, you can alter activities – making them easier or more difficult – so everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed.

  • Space – In what environment are activities taking place, and how can they be manipulated to support different activity levels?
  • Task – What is the goal or purpose of this activity? Can how it’s performed provide varying degrees of challenge and engagement for pupils?
  • Equipment – Utilizing alternate tools within an activity can create various opportunities that suit individual needs.
  • People – Who is participating in these activities, and could there be changes to enhance team structure or balance out numbers on each side to ensure fairness?

Practical Ideas To Make PE Accessible

To begin applying the STEP theory, here are some convenient ideas:


  • Altering the size of playing fields.
  • Using variously sized regions to either side of a net.
  • Creating distinct zones for activities.
  • Playing on an alternate terrain or surface area altogether.
  • Lowering (or raising) the level at which actions take place, such as moving it off from higher heights onto floors instead. Adjusting targets’ positions relative to one another and environment factors alike. Pre-determining different starting points for participants before beginning activities.


  • Simplify the activity by streamlining some of its rules. Change the regulations to promote inclusivity, e.g. extend time limits and allow for more touches of the ball; different targets can provide an opportunity to score multiple points!


  • Balloons make an excellent choice for those looking to maximize the time spent in the air! Larger balls are easier to spot, and softer or slightly deflated ones travel slower on land. Children with visual impairments can benefit from colourful options as some prefer certain hues over others. Regarding bats, larger models are ideal for hitting, while lighter types facilitate better manipulation.
  • Those who cannot hold their rackets can attach them directly onto their hands, wrists or arms, depending on preference. To aid visually impaired individuals further, sound-making equipment such as bells and rice balls should be used when possible!


  • Students can collaborate in various ways, like independently, as part of groups or pairs and even in teams. Group students with different roles to maximize engagement; those with the same abilities, size or other factors will be able to understand one another’s perspective better.
  • The space provided should reflect each pupil’s needs – whether that means smaller desks for more intimate working sessions or ample room to move around freely within larger classrooms.

Tips For Working With SEND in PE

  • Begin your interactions by viewing the person first and not their disability. To identify solutions, inquire about how things can be altered to accommodate their needs. Spend time getting acquainted with individuals, emphasizing what they are capable of rather than what they cannot do.
  • For those who require extra processing time, like Autistic students or learners with learning impairments, provide adequate time for them to understand instructions before attempting a task.
  • Allow enough room in your schedule so that it may take multiple repetitions for successful outcomes.
  • To enable students with cognitive disabilities or SEMH to partake in Physical Education successfully, use photos and visuals before the session starts. Successful communication is essential for young people with hearing impairments to join physical activities – ensure they have access to the same information their peers do through screens, printed material or learning relevant BSL signs.
  • Explain what will happen during the PE class, so everyone understands expectations beforehand.
  • When you need to get your point across, ensure everyone stands in a group and stays still.
  • Before going into practice or movement, decide on a visual sign that will prompt the children to stop when required.
  • First, explain an action or skill before demonstrating it without sound so that children with hearing impairments can focus purely on what is being done rather than reading lips simultaneously.
  • Additionally, ensure sufficient space for those with difficulty moving – provide enough room around the gym equipment for every child to move around safely.
  • Those with visual impairments may find it helpful to use colour and texture on the floors to signify changes in movement. Carpet squares, textured bath mats, ribbons, electrical tape and rope are all valuable materials for this purpose.
  • Additionally, try encouraging more mobile children to work with less mobile kids on apparatus while always ensuring that individuals consent to the best way to provide and receive support.
  • Sports halls and gyms, with their large size and bright lighting, can make it difficult for students with neurological or sensory differences to engage in the activities.
  • Try dimming the lights a bit to create a more comfortable atmosphere. Additionally, do your best to keep conversations low-key so that they don’t echo throughout the room – as this, too, can be disruptive.
  • To further ensure an effective learning environment, you could divide up facilities into smaller spaces using equipment, plus plan cooperative games that allow team-building opportunities like parachute exercises, which are fun and engaging for everyone!
  • Give SEND-friendly games such as Boccia and Curling a chance. All students should have the same opportunities to excel, so why not try out some sitting volleyball in class?
  • When it comes to including pupils with special educational needs and disabilities, never settle for one approach just because it worked on another individual – brainstorm new ideas!
  • Where feasible, supplement your words with accompanying visuals and be consistent in their use.
  • Look for ways to celebrate and accept individual differences within an organization or community rather than simply tolerating them.

How to Differentiate For SEND In PE

Strategically differentiating activities during physical education classes can benefit all students’ overall development. Consider what needs to be accomplished in a particular lesson and how to modify it, so everyone is actively engaged. Taking an extra few minutes to jot down alterations to your plan should also suffice!

One essential point to keep in mind: Do comprehensive research about how your pupils with SEND can actively participate and engage during physical activity before any lesson. Never take anything for granted! It’s not enough to merely be present; children with special needs must also strive, progress, and thrive.

With the proper preparation, support system, and activities tailored specifically for them, every student can succeed through participation!

Special attention and proper preparation are required when teaching physical education to pupils with SEND. These students need a supportive environment where they feel accepted and have the same opportunities to succeed as everyone else.

With strategic modifications in activities, visuals, and cooperative games which allow team building – every student can actively engage in physical education and benefit from the experience.

By putting in the extra effort to properly research SEND-friendly activities and differentiate accordingly, PE teachers can ensure that their classes are inclusive and enjoyable for everyone!

About The Author

I'm Dan Higgins, one of the faces behind The Teaching Couple. With 15 years in the education sector and a decade as a teacher, I've witnessed the highs and lows of school life. Over the years, my passion for supporting fellow teachers and making school more bearable has grown. The Teaching Couple is my platform to share strategies, tips, and insights from my journey. Together, we can shape a better school experience for all.






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