‘Hearing their voice’: the experiences of physical education with pupils diagnosed with severe learning disabilities

Georgia Allen, Bethany Milne, Philippa Velija, Rebecca Radley

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    The number of children educated within maintained Special Educational Needs (SEN) Schools, known as special schools, in England has continued to rise since 2006, yet the ‘pupil voice’ of children and young people with severe learning difficulties and those attending special schools remains limited in current research. Drawing on Gramsci’s theory of cultural hegemony (see Jones, 2006), this study aimed to provide an under-represented group with the opportunity to express attitudes and opinions towards their physical education (PE) lessons. The research adopted a participant-focused methodology and used a task-based approach, where participants could complete a series of activities suitable to individual needs. The tasks included a drawing activity, a PE likes and dislikes activity and a storyboard with the following sentence starters: ‘I like’, ‘I don’t like’, ‘I feel’, ‘I want to’, and ‘I think’. PE took on multiple forms, including therapy sessions and team games, thus suggesting that PE was not narrowly defined as one specific form of education for the pupils. Participants were able to express strong opinions towards the type of activities they liked and disliked and were able to demonstrate a basic understanding of the benefits of PE in relation to health. Results indicate that team-based sports were popular and culturally valued. However, participants were often bored of repetitive PE lessons and well-liked therapy-related exercise often replaced PE classes. Older participants (16 years +) attending sixth form were frustrated that PE or the ability to be physically active during the school day was no longer part of their education, suggesting that perhaps PE lessons were not always culturally valued within the school. Finally, due to the lack of opportunities for adults with special education needs in the wider community, participants no longer had access to the types of physical activity they had enjoyed in school.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1-16
    JournalSport, Education and Society
    Publication statusPublished - 7 Nov 2022


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