I missed most of the Olympics as was on holiday, but I watched as much of the Paralympics as possible, and I (like many others) have been blown away with the standard and the excitement that it has brought, but what has really pleased me is the media coverage (and positive media coverage) that it has achieved. When I taught, one my main subjects was around the area of ‘disability sport’ – and I remember during the 2000 Sydney Olympics the TV coverage was something like a very superficial 30minutes each evening, showing the main sports of athletics, swimming and wheelchair basketball and sports like boccia and goalball getting next to no coverage.
12 years later and channel 4 has broadcast over 400 hours of coverage, showing all sports, all athletes, and the programme ‘The last leg‘ I thought was superb, as it highlighted that we don’t have to be nervous discussing disabled people, it doesn’t matter if we occasionally get the terminology wrong (as long as it isn’t offensive) and disabled people don’t need to be wrapped in cotton wool, and treated like innocent kids all their lives.
So what impact will this have on our education system?
There is a huge opportunity for education to deliver the legacy that the games set out to create. Hopefully the physical education agenda will be addressed. There have regular media debates about the amount of PE on the curriculum, which I hope does increase, but we can also look at the attitude of PE. In the last 15 or so years there has been a move to widen sporting participation to all, which has unfortunately been translated into seriously reducing the competitive element of sport. I think there is a need for both, which the Paralympics to me has shown – many of the disabled athletes that were interviewed, echoed that competing (and winning) is what drives them and how that is an essential part of their life, and I hope a balance of meeting the needs of driven students can be met along with those that don’t like sport.
Outside of the PE agenda, there are also lessons to learn – watching the blind athletes playing football was amazing, and showed that a lack of vision does not render an individual incapable, similarly a lack of limbs is not a barrier to some amazing swims, jumps, throws and runs, and the archery competitor that used his feet to hold the bow, and his mouth to release the arrow shows the ability for some disabled individuals to find innovative ways to overcome perceived barriers. Hopefully when a disabled individual enters an educational establishment, their ability and potential isn’t prejudged by someone, that then holds them back from that point forth. The problem with the current model, is disabled students are assessed by an ‘expert’ within the organisation who comes up with a support plan identifying what adaptations are needed, and although this works for most, there are many people that end up with the wrong type or level of support, which rather than helping them, holds them back. Hopefully students, parents, carers and teachers will have the confidence to challenge these support plans if they think they need improving.
From a teaching perspective – there is an opportunity to better meet the needs of disabled learners. I have long preached the notion of inclusivity, which is rather than creating non-accessible practices and then using methods to overcome them – instead we look at what we are doing and create resources and practices that can be easily adapted (ideally by the student themselves). I know the CPD budgets are currently tight within organisations, but I think investing in CPD in this area would be a worthwhile investment, as learning inclusive techniques, will save the tutor time, will raise the standards of teaching for all learners, could reduce the learner support costs, and would help to produce a world beating education system.
One of the best training programmes for educators that would cover this, is the ITQ for accessible IT practice which I have been running for a few organisations over the last 18 months, and I think offers excellent value for money, as well as giving staff the opportunity to gain a recognised qualification.