“No child is left on the sidelines"

Issue: Volume 100, Number 12

Posted: 23 September 2021
Reference #: 1HAPnS

Whether a child has a disability, a temporary injury, or is just not into sport and physical activity, there is a range of inclusive programmes and initiatives to lower the barriers and level the playing field.

Lincoln, a Wellington student and athlete, high fives a fellow competitor at the 2019 Halberg Games. Supplied photo.

Lincoln, a Wellington student and athlete, high fives a fellow competitor at the 2019 Halberg Games. Supplied photo.

Teachers and students at Sacred Heart School in Reefton have learned how simple it is to include a classmate with mobility problems in sport and games, thanks to the Halberg Foundation’s Inclusion Training programme.

Halberg aims to enhance the lives of physically disabled young New Zealanders by enabling them to participate in sport and recreation. Advisers throughout Aotearoa work with schools and whānau to help make this happen.

“We have a team of advisers who connect with physically disabled young people and their families and they go into schools to ensure that people with disabilities can be included,” says Bonnie Smail from the Halberg Foundation.

“We talk about the obvious benefits of being active, which are physical fitness and health, but there’s also wellbeing and a sense of belonging. It’s ensuring that teachers understand that they can adapt sport or physical activity in really fun and interactive ways so that no child is left on the sidelines. We find that schools really benefit from doing this training,” she says.

Levelling the playing field

Christchurch-based Halberg adviser Mitchell Rhodes ran an Inclusion Training session for five teachers from two Reefton schools earlier this year.

Tony Webb is the principal of Sacred Heart Primary School in Reefton, attended by Jaxon, aged eight and a half, who has Duchennne muscular dystrophy.

“His mobility has really deteriorated over the last year,” says Tony. “This term he’s at the point where he’s in the wheelchair for most of the day. He can see what his mates are up to, when only two or three years ago, he was running around keeping up with them. This has all happened very quickly – it’s very, very sad”

Tony says the inclusion training was a real eye opener for him, especially as he had run the Health and Physical Education department at two previous schools.

“The biggest thing that I took from the training is that it’s quite simple, when you think of it. Why wasn’t I doing this in the past!?

“You do it to a level teaching PE when you might have different groups of kids based on their skill levels, but when it came to games we tended to say, ‘These are the rules, we’re all playing it by the rules’,” he says.

The Halberg Foundation’s STEP model can be applied to all children, says Tony.

“Now every time we go to do some activity, we kind of run that through our heads to see how we can modify it so there’s a level playing field.

“What we’ve found is the kids are now far more willing to get involved in sport. We try and modify games now so that they are inclusive and ALL the kids, not just the sporty ones enjoy them,” explains Tony.

Petanque is a favourite game for Jaxon (centre), pictured with his brothers Jack and Sam.

Petanque is a favourite game for Jaxon (centre), pictured with his brothers Jack and Sam.

Key elements of inclusion

Mitchell says that altering rules and creating different objectives within a game is a key element of inclusion in sport. “I usually run schools through a netball-style game. I would throw in a bit of a scenario – for example, a child with a mobility impairment. Then I would ask, ‘So what rules can we change in this game to make that more accessible?’

“We might say, if someone can actually get a touch on the ball, it’s theirs to pick up and make a pass instead of having to make a clean catch. Or we could change our defensive rule, so instead of a standard netball defensive rule where it’s three feet, our defender can no longer mark the person holding the ball and they may back off completely. Simple things like that may give our ball holder more time to make a good decision and make a good pass,” he says.

Same rules, different equipment

Mitchell believes that altered rules should be for everyone participating in a game.

“Where possible, we don’t want to change the game just for that young person, because that singles them out and might make them feel uncomfortable, which is what we don’t want.”

When it comes to equipment, Mitchell says that while a specialist piece of equipment might be best, many schools have a selection of equipment which can be used or adapted.

“It’s important that everyone has an option. For example, instead of a standard T-ball bat, we might also offer a tennis racket and a modified T-ball bat. Lay them all down and you pick what works for you.

“If you pair that with slight rule changes within that game, you’re opening up a huge number of doors for those kids who do struggle a wee bit. And that includes kids who don’t have disabilities – they’ll find some more success, which is really important.”

At the grassroots

Above everything, Jaxon’s mum wants him to be involved in as many aspects of the school day as possible. In a small school, there’s a culture of looking after younger, less able children and Tony says the children are naturally inclusive and tolerant – and they have learned some new games to play with Jaxon.

“For example, basketball – we have children on wheelie chairs and Jaxon is in a wheelchair – so they’re all sat down and we use a little wheelie bin instead of the hoop. He loves it and the other kids love it too.

“Or in the game ‘Coney Island’, there’s a fielding team and a batting team. It requires you to bat a ball and run a distance. Jaxon will bat and he will have a runner, or we modify the distance he has to move.”

It’s easy to tell when Jaxon is enjoying himself and Tony says a recent event showed how important inclusion is for children with disabilities.

“A few months ago, we went to the area school – they had bubble soccer and there was no way you could modify that for him – it’s too dangerous. And you could see on his face that he was just raring to get up and have a go but he knew he couldn’t do it. I think he probably did feel excluded on that day,” reflects Tony.

Looking to the future

Introducing inclusive practices is still a work in progress at Sacred Heart School, but they’re in it for the long haul, says Tony.

“The one thing we have learnt is that it’s very easy to modify a game, it’s less easy to modify it so it still keeps the essence of the original. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

“There are those kids who are highly competitive and there are those kids who really prefer not to be out there. If you can modify a game so that they can feel comfortable, they can get that sense that they’ve actually achieved something, then they’re far more likely to get involved and that’s what we want,” he concludes.

Cross country fun for all

An innovative approach to cross country events in Lower Hutt saw a student at one school cover three times the distance of the traditional event. Cross country events included colour runs, mud crawls, water guns, bubble machines, dancing, skipping and sack races.

“My FUN RUN experience was great because of how much colour and mud that got on me. The FUN RUN was enjoyable as well because of the water and slip ‘n slide. I want to do it again next year,” says Xavier, Year 4, Maungaraki School.

Makerita (Year 6) and Eknoor (Year 5) enjoy a well-deserved ice block after the Gracefield School Fun Run. Photo/Sarah McCauliffe.

Makerita (Year 6) and Eknoor (Year 5) enjoy a well-deserved ice block after the Gracefield School Fun Run. Photo/Sarah McCauliffe.

Time for change

Schools throughout Aotearoa are reshaping their cross country events. This year, five Lower Hutt schools took their lead from Physical Education New Zealand (PENZ)(external link), which released a position paper suggesting that engaging students in cross country in creative ways can allow them to develop a broad range of physical and social skills, while positively impacting feelings of self-worth.

PENZ says that in its traditional form, school cross country events don’t engage a large proportion of ākonga and fail to get them excited about physical activity. According to Sport New Zealand, one in four tamariki aged 6-13 don’t like cross country and by the time they are 13, only 52 percent enjoy participating in it. Schools also report a spike in non-attendance on cross country days.

Tara Fevre from Hutt City Council and Zak Brown, Healthy Active Learning advisor from Nuku Ora (formerly Sport Wellington), worked with the Lower Hutt Primary Schools Sports Association to develop different kinds of school cross country events. At a zone meeting with the school sports leads, they shared a case study from Te Wharau School in Gisborne, which had made its cross country event more inclusive and fun.

“We showed a video of that case study and shared some of the evidence around children not liking cross country. Many schools just took it upon themselves to make a change, applying some of the ideas and resources that we had shared,” says Zak.

Teacher feedback

Many schools incorporated existing infrastructure such as sandpits and adventure playgrounds.

Boulcott School’s fun run consisted of a slip and slide, noodle alley, water guns, balance beams, cargo nets and bubble machines, with a colour disco to finish.

Sports co-ordinator Craig O’Connell described the event as one of the greatest days he had seen during his career in education.

“The traditional way of holding the cross country event just doesn’t really work for all students, so the inclusion of the fun run component has meant that all students can experience some degree of success on the day,” he says.

Boulcott School principal Stu Devenport agrees. “Our goal was to increase participation and most importantly, make it more enjoyable for everyone involved. We also wanted to ensure there was still an opportunity for our top runners to shine. We feel we got the balance right. The atmosphere was electric!” he says.

Konini Primary School tracked the steps of one six-year-old student and found the distance covered by the child was three times that of the traditional event.

To ensure student voice is considered in future decision-making, student feedback was collated after the event – one classroom voted 19:1 in favour of retaining the new Konini X Challenge.

Resounding success

Zak says it seemed quite simple for the schools to change their cross country events.

“Parents came up and said, ‘Woah, this looks like fun’. Some children were asking to do the course again. How many kids would ask to do the traditional cross country run again?!

“I think even some of the teachers got involved in the fun run, whereas again they probably wouldn’t have got involved. It just felt like a really good community event where wellbeing was put to the front,” he says.

Tara adds that all the schools received good feedback from their communities about their new approach to cross country.

“I think this stems from the fact that the kura were all still providing opportunities for the top runners to shine, alongside this new and inclusive approach. Plus, all schools made a conscious effort to bring their families on the journey with them – communicating early that cross country would be different and inviting parents to get involved as spectators or helpers,” she says.

Catering for all

It is still important to find the fastest runners to compete in inter-school events, but Zak says schools found their way around it.

“They either did two cross country events – competitive and participation at separate times, or a few schools combined both into one event and it just took that little bit of extra set-up. Students had the choice to participate in both events as well, so nobody missed out,” he says.

Change has been coming slowly but surely, says Sam Dickie, senior recreation programmer for Hutt City Council.

“We’ve been getting a lot more requests from schools for the inter-school competitions to be more friendly and inclusive and less competitive. We’re trying to make sure that the events are a little less competitive and conventional.

“It’s a great time for this to be happening. During Covid, our kids were kept away from each other and we found more community things happening and now we’re passing it onto the schools to continue that vibe of wanting to be with our neighbourhoods and have more of those social versus competitive high-level competition things going on,” she says.

Video from Te Wharau School(external link)  

Link to the webinar(external link) about inclusive cross country hosted by Kate Ney (Sport Gisborne Tairāwhiti). 


The importance of inclusion 

Every year, the Halberg Games are held in Auckland. This year nearly 190 physically disabled or visually impaired athletes participated in 20 different sports. Halberg also organises inclusive and competitive events around the country and Mitchell says that he’s currently working to set up clubs for disabled young people in the top half of the South Island.

“The biggest thing for me is when a young person comes along to an event, or a small group activity where there are other kids with physical disabilities – especially for kids in rural areas, where they can be quite isolated. Then they come to something where there are other kids like them and they realise they’re not alone,” he says.

Statistics show that disabled children have fewer opportunities to participate in sport or physical activity.

“People with disabilities want to participate in sport and physical activities like everyone else. We know the benefits of being physically active are very clear and the kids that we work with are no different from everyone else. They’re probably more at risk through not being physically active because of potential underlying health conditions,” says Mitchell.

The Halberg Foundation’s work is regularly monitored. The 2020 Halberg Annual Report shows the impact of inclusion training in schools, with between 80 and 100 percent improvement in schools regarding creating and including activities for disabled students, and role modelling inclusive practice to colleagues and being confident they can modify activities to create an inclusive environment.


The Halberg Foundation’s STEP model is a tool for making small changes and modifications to make an activity more accessible and inclusive for a young person without spoiling the challenge of the activity for other participants.

STEP is:

Space: Check accessibility and safety of the area and surface. Change the area available to make the game more, or less, challenging.

Task: Be flexible and adjust the demands of the task. Participants can have different tasks within a game.

Equipment: Modify the size, shape, weight or colour of equipment. Offer multiple types of equipment within one game or setting for all participants, so they can choose what works best for them.

People: Use different groupings based on participants’ skill levels. Use students who are physically able to help and create a leadership opportunity for them as well.

For more about the Halberg Foundation and the Inclusion Training programme, see halbergactive.co.nz(external link) or call 0800 HALBERG to connect with your local Halberg adviser.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 9:43 am, 23 September 2021

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