Pupils with disabilities, support assistants and physical education

Year: 2012

Author: Fitzgerald, Hayley

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Support assistants are increasingly used in mainstream schools to enable more inclusive (physical) education experiences. Interestingly, research in education (Díez 2010) and PE (Haegele and Kozub 2010) has highlighted inconsistencies in how and why support assistants are utilised. This presentation will report on the findings from a research project that explored the following research questions: (1) How do pupils with disabilities understand the role of support assistants in PE? (2) How do pupils with disabilities value the role of support assistants? (3) How does the relationship with support assistants influence the pupils' sense of self? I draw on data generated from fifteen focus group discussions with young people with disabilities attending six mainstream secondary schools in England.

Like a number of writers within disability studies I employ the conceptual tools offered by Bourdieu in order to move beyond a structure/agency dichotomy that currently limits social and medical model understandings of disability (Edwards & Imrie, 2003). For Bourdieu, social life can only be understood by considering the embodiment of individuals within particular fields through their habitus (Bourdieu, 1993). In seeking to understand the experiences of the young people in this study I offer a series of fragmentary tales that capture the different ways pupils with disabilities embody their disabilities and negotiate relations with their support assistants in the field of PE? Narratives can illuminate the individual 'small' story, as well as the macro 'big story' of in/exclusion (Pheonix 2008).

These tales capture experiences of support assistants that are viewed in different and sometimes contradictory ways. For example, pupils highlight the positive role support assistants play in completing functional tasks. They also discuss how support assistants impinge on day-to-day school activities and can become a barrier to getting support or attention from other teaching staff. The presentation concludes by considering the extent to which these narrative accounts of support assistants can contribute towards helping professionals to create more inclusive educational experiences.