Improved outcomes for young disabled people in physical education: Time to reflect

Year: 2012

Author: Morrison, Catherine

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Normative discourses of disability, gender and human development inevitably contour a young person's physical education and sport experience. If schooling is to meet the needs and interests of all, then it would seem imperative to understand the experiences of those whose habits, dispositions and physicalities differ from the "norm". Drawing on poststructural theoretical resources - in particular notions of subjectivity, discourse, power and knowledge - this research investigates how one young man with a dyspraxia label (Tom) negotiates and understands his physicality and sense of "self" in a New Zealand Secondary School and in a climate where physical competence and masculinity are inevitably linked.

A videoed testimony from this young man comprises the main "data" and discourse analytic strategies are deployed to address the research questions. Tom experiences the fast changing moves on the basketball court. The ball changes direction. The ball is snatched. Tom stands back and watches in astonishment - "somebody had taken it from your hands and you'd be (oh really)". Tom wants to play a part. Not just stand back and observe. It is not the "same", it is not enough for him, if he cannot play.

Tom's desire to share with others what being a boy with coordination difficulties has meant for him reinforces the fact that schooling still produces vastly unequal outcomes for particular groups of students (Goodwin  & Watkinson, 2000). Analysis suggests that discourses of developmentalism, the body, ability and masculinity contour the ways Tom can experience physical education and sport. Tom's reflexivity, his capacity to identify what and whom makes a difference to his ongoing attempts to engage in physical culture, is highlighted throughout.

In this paper I suggest that the school environment and the specific institutional practices of physical education sometimes work against achieving progress and achievement for all students. However, research does show that improved outcomes for students are associated with teachers thinking differently about the students that they teach (Timperley, Wilson, Barrar, & Fung, 2007).  Tom is part of this thinking differently process.


Timperley, H., Wilson, A., Barrar, H., & Fung, I. (2007). Teacher professional learning and development best evidence synthesis iteration [BES].  Wellington: Ministry of Education.

Goodwin , & Watkinson, E. (2000). Inclusive Physical Education from the Perspective of Students with Physical Disabilities. Adapted Physical Quarterly, 17, 144-160.