Fostering equality and inclusivity in school sport

Written by: Michelle Bennett | Published:
Equality and inclusivity: The Cedar Mount Academy girls' football club in training (images supplied)

Creating a supportive and encouraging environment for sports, understanding what appeals to students, and engaging their families can have a huge impact on positive uptake in sport explains Michelle Bennett from Cedar Mount Academy

According to the Youth Sport Trust’s Girls Active Campaign, by age 7, girls are less active than boys and this disparity widens as they move from childhood into adolescence, with secondary-age girls more likely to experience barriers to participation than boys, including declining body confidence.

In addition, Sport England’s Active Lives Children and Young People Survey (2019) estimates that 46.8 per cent of children and young people are meeting the new chief medical officer guidelines of taking part in sport and physical activity for an average of 60 minutes or more every day. Meanwhile, 29 per cent do less than an average of 30 minutes a day. These figures will have undoubtedly worsened during the Covid-19 lockdown.

All students at Cedar Mount Academy in Manchester follow the same sports curriculum and can take qualifications in PE and leadership. As part of the curriculum, individuals gain leadership experience helping students to develop communication, motivation and delegation skills.

Barriers to take-up

Five years ago, we assessed the barriers to students taking part in PE and sports. We looked at the design of the kit to make sure everyone felt comfortable and then supported students to ensure they could acquire the right kit.

We offer support with funding for additional kit via our school and Pupil Premium budget and we also ensure we have enough kit in school for students to borrow.

We also encouraged everyone to get involved, regardless of ability or cultural background. Now our PE routines are clear and we have inclusive programmes. Quite simply, there is not an opt-out. We reduced the amount of excuses to not take part.

We have built a relationship where students feel confident to speak to the teacher if they have any worries or concerns and, together, we decide on the role they can take within the lesson. This may be a referee or coaching role, for example.

Empowering students

We have worked hard to change the way individuals perceive sport in school and we did this partly by empowering the students.

For example, SEN students were asked for their feedback in terms of our approach to PE and we worked with everyone to get ideas regarding how physical activity could be made more accessible.

Elsewhere, giving students the ability to lead and complete independent warm-up sessions while staff set up equipment has given them a sense of responsibility and we now have year 10 and 11 students who are confident enough to take on coaching roles, where they can lead warm-ups, main activity and warm-downs with supervision.

Inclusion is crucial to ensuring students feel comfortable in PE and we ask them what works best for them when taking part and explaining instructions. As such, we have seen an increase in enthusiasm for PE among our most vulnerable students. Ensuring personal safety is a priority, for example making sure students can get home safely after matches has also been important.

Plenty of opportunities

Ensuring opportunities for everyone to take part has fostered a sense of belonging and because of this we have seen an increase in the number of extra teams representing the school. We have also seen an increase in the academic achievements of our students over the last four years and we believe that sport has acted as a vehicle to bring students together and to help them feel proud to represent Cedar Mount.

We encourage students to take up at least one extra-curricular sport during their time here. This could be recreational, to represent the academy or to move into community opportunities and club pathways. Some of our students now go on to represent regionally and nationally.

In 2015, we set up a girls’ football club that now regularly sees 30 or so students taking part at lunchtimes and after school. Girls who play football report that they enjoy having fun with their friends, while knowing they are doing something good for their health. What also shines through is the sense of achievement and belonging that comes with being part of a team.

Career inspiration: After being encouraged to take-up football at Cedar Mount Academy, pupil Anokyewa is now studying sports leadership as part of her GCSEs

Anokyewa, pictured above, started playing football when she was in year 8 and has been playing for two years now. She said: “I used to be quite shy, but my teachers were very reassuring, urging me to give football a try. Now I’m studying for sports leadership as part of my GCSEs and I encourage other students to play football. This has helped me to develop my presentation and persuasion skills, giving me a lot more confidence.”


Having inspirational role models has also made a positive impression. In addition to welcoming athletes of a high standard into school, including basketball players and athlete mentors through our work with the Greater Manchester Mentally Healthy Schools and Colleges Programme, we have worked with Manchester City’s women’s football team. This has helped us to highlight other vital skills that sport can foster and which link to the wider world, such as leadership, presentation skills and delegation.

Drawing on support

As a school, we are supported by our Trust’s Teaching School – the Alliance for Learning – which is a designated Sport England sports hub in the North West encouraging PE as part of a £13.5 million teacher training programme.

Through them, we access specialist training and events to help us improve physical health among young people. This includes CPD courses across a variety of sports and theory-based courses in partnership with the Youth Sports Trust. This includes all four modules of the Youth Sports Trust’s subject leadership for PE course.

Elsewhere, we work with Manchester City’s Kicks, Diane Modahl Sports Foundation and Lancashire Cricket Wicketz Community programmes, which all offer free evening, weekend and school holiday provision in the areas of Greater Manchester that need it most.

Tips for other schools

So, what advice would I offer to other schools looking to encourage a positive approach to PE?

  • Give responsibility to students and let them own the sport. Engage with them and their families to hear what is working and what is not. What would they like to try?
  • Make sure you have plenty of spare kit and support everyone to be involved in the session somehow, even if they are unable to participate fully due to an injury. Students could take the role of referee or coach, for example.
  • Ensure personal safety is a priority, for example making sure students can get home safely after matches. This also reassures parents and carers.
  • Do not underestimate the impact of students feeling body conscious – girls in particular often feel less confident playing sport. Ensure there are options like tracksuit bottoms, sport leggings and jumpers.
  • Set individual development goals in PE to ensure everyone goes at their own pace and feels comfortable participating. It does not matter if you are an Olympic athlete or not, you will be supported by staff and students.
  • Develop a school-to-school support network where best practice and expertise can be shared. Adopt a whole-school approach to improving attitudes towards sport and PE. Another school might take a slightly different approach to the way you do something, so set up a regular forum where you can discuss challenges and solutions in confidence.
  • Take a whole-school approach to wellbeing. Bring physical and mental health together and place an emphasis on why sport is important. Every school will have students who are ready-made wellbeing ambassadors so tap into those to help encourage other students to get involved in extra-curricular clubs.
  • Form partnerships with other sporting organisations or community associations. This can also help to motivate and inspire students to try something new. These relationships can provide vital resources, for example, delivering outreach programmes, positive sporting activities, or covering gaps in your provision.

  • Michelle Bennett is assistant vice-principal and the former head of PE at Cedar Mount Academy in Gorton, Manchester. Follow the school on Twitter @CedarMountHigh

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