Disabled children are set to enjoy new sporting opportunities at school, both in inclusive versions of mainstream events and in high quality competitions against other disabled young people.
Jeremy Hunt, the secretary of state for culture, Olympics, media and sport, announced plans this week to boost the participation of disabled children in sport.
He was speaking at one of nine pilot events taking place ahead of this September’s launch of a new national School Games competition, which will include both non-disabled and disabled pupils from schools across England.
Hunt said that participation rates of disabled children in competitive sport will be measured for the first time; there will be information and guidance for teachers and coaches on how disabled and non-disabled pupils can participate alongside each other in inclusive versions of mainstream sports; and 50 “trailblazing” schools will pioneer new ways to develop sporting opportunities for disabled pupils.
The new School Games will see pupils compete at school level, against other schools, and in county or regional finals, with the first national finals set to be staged in the 2012 Olympic Park next May.
Disabled pupils will compete next May in swimming, athletics, table-tennis and wheelchair basketball, with the possibility of events in sitting volleyball and wheelchair fencing.
Alison Oliver, director of sport for the Youth Sport Trust (YST), the body delivering the School Games for the government, said the competition was “a great opportunity to raise awareness among able-bodied young people of the abilities of their disabled peers”.
There will be no events at the national finals with disabled and non-disabled children competing side-by-side because “most of the inclusive formats are not well-enough established”, although Oliver said this was something they hoped to try in the future. But events for disabled pupils will be integrated into the mainstream programme.
Because most schools will not have enough disabled pupils to make up their own teams in sports such as wheelchair basketball, YST hopes mainstream schools will enable their pupils to join with disabled children from other local schools in teams based at central venues.
Oliver said the efforts to boost participation among disabled children would be “a challenge” but was “not an impossibility”.
She said: “It is not going to happen overnight but we have the best opportunity we could ever have, with the resources and the intent there.”
Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, who won 11 Paralympic gold medals, told Disability News Service: “With the [London] Paralympics just a year away it is a really massive opportunity to get it right in a positive way.”
But she added: “It is really challenging. Sport is probably one of the hardest things to deliver inclusively. It is really complicated.”
She said sport was the only thing that segregated education was good for, because there were always other disabled children to compete against, but it was much harder to include disabled pupils in sport in mainstream schools.
And she warned there would be a need for greater depth to competitions for disabled young people, so non-disabled children could see the standard was “really strong as well so they take disability sport and Paralympic sport really seriously”.