Inclusion in Physical Education

Hodge et. al. (2009) analyzed the beliefs about inclusion and teaching special education students from physical education teachers from Ghana, Japan, the United States, and Puerto Rico. Out of the 29 teachers interviewed, the beliefs varied. They expressed motivation to teach the students, but there was also a multitude of concerns about teaching them. They all expressed a desire to expand on their personal development to help them with their concerns.

Physical education is not exempt in discrimination and ostracizing against special education students. Physical education, in definition, takes a lot of physical coordination, physical exertion, and the social compatibility to socialize and work with others as a team. The special education student who may be learning disabled could excel in this sort of environment but a physically disabled or cognitive impaired student may have struggles. Even the emotionally disabled may have difficulties in the social structure when their self-esteem could come under fire.

So how does a physical education teacher find answers to teach the all the students in his or her class without discrimination. The practice in the past had been to exclude these students. Today there is adapted physical education classes that provide activities where the students are able to enjoy the activity and learn, but they are still excluded from traditional physical education.

Professional development for this type of education should begin with classes that teach the teachers what different disabilities are and how to accommodate them. Most teachers will get a consult from the special education teacher or a fact sheet about the student when they arrive in class, but many times the teacher will simply have the student play with a few understanding, mature students off to the side of the main activity. In fully inclusive schools, those students are allowed to function within the main activity to the best of their ability. This allows the other students that are not disabled to have more understanding about the difference without seeing it as a difference.

Another suggestion is to teach more in Teacher College about the disabilities and how they can construct an activity that teaches the same concept and at the same time allows all to participate. It is not taking away from students without disabilities; it is just a new way to look at physical education without labeling, definitions, or segregation. As special education turns to full inclusion, then all electives must redefine their approach to traditional education.

Swedish Physical Education Teacher’s Attitude toward Inclusion

Jerlinder, Danermark, and Gill (2010) finished a research study posed a simple question. In physical education does the teacher’s general attitude toward inclusion affect their ability to teach? The research’s sample population was teachers who had registered as a PE teacher with the Swedish Teacher’s Union. Five hundred and sixty teachers were asked to participate. Two hundred and twenty one responded. They completed an email questionnaire that covered attitude, general demographics, hindrances, and personal experiences with special education students in the physical education classroom.

The results concluded that Swedish physical education teachers had a positive attitude when it came to this population of students. The researchers believe this is because of adequate training, resources, and general school support for the inclusion process. If this is a proven record of the success of inclusion in one country, why does the United States educational system have issues with providing the same three benchmarks to success? Why is there more funding for special education classes than for professional development for mainstream teachers to learn how to be inclusive?

The difference may be in the way the Swedes look at professional development. It seems that professional development is a priority when a nationwide issue is brought to light. The wording of the No Child Left Behind legislation sounds like it will bring equality to U.S schools, but instead it has thrown confusion through interpretation. Inclusion became a bad word in most districts because of the barriers of mainstream teachers to change and for special education teachers to look at their jobs differently.

Administrators and district leaders will need to reallocate their spending and find ways to educate their staff and step away from the push for standardized testing and accountability. Of course the accountability issue is important and should be in place, but the other part of No Child Left Behind that law interpreters forget is that inclusion of students with disabilities in the general education setting will give a true accountability for the entire district populations.

Alternative assessment is given to students with severe cognitive issues, but those assessments are not included in most states final report. If those students are given the same assessments as those who are not disabled, the state or district would give a true representation that the school was educating its students and they would also know to what level that education was. The Swedes are a nation that makes education important as a society and unless the United States makes a paradigm shift in their attitude toward public education and what it can be, inclusion will take a back seat to assessment and accountability.


Jerlinder, K., Danermark, B., & Gill, P. (2010). Swedish primary-school teachers' attitudes to inclusion - the case of PE and pupils with physical disabilities. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 25(1), 45-57


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