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  • Writer's pictureKyrby Brown

Why I Hated PE and How Things Need to Change

Physical Education - the Marmite subject dividing the school population…bleh!

Ok ok! I know that I’m not the only one who hated PE, I think that’s quite typical for any teenage girl who is body conscious and self aware. After all, who really wants to be forced to take part in various sports wearing a hideous kit, dragged from your comfortable desk scenario and shouted at for an hour? On top of that, it’s probably raining!

This blog will not be a rant about the UK school system (we’ll save that for another day). This is an exploration of the damage that interpretation and school guidelines can cause when you don’t fit inside a tick box.

Let me get this clear, I did not hate PE because I was lazy or any more self conscious than the next girl. My stand against the school’s PE department was based on a disagreement on the interpretation of the words ‘inclusion’ and ‘equality’.

Long story short - I wanted to only involve myself in PE activities that I felt were inclusive. For me this mean't being able to participate in the same capacity as my peers. In my case this was swimming and table tennis - in these I was pretty much on a par with everyone else. The school did not allow this and forced me to cycle through the sports alongside the rest of my class, this included a lot of Rounders, Netball, Tennis etc. (it seems my school liked ball sports). I would like to clarify that this issue was not with personnel, I had 1-1 support available that would allow for the requested adjustment. My suggestion was that I would be allowed to play Table Tennis instead of the less inclusive sports, I even suggested that I could do homework if this was not possible on occasion, heaven forbid I did something productive!

It was stated that I had to stay with my class because PE had to be ‘inclusive’. The problem with this protocol is quite simply not all sports are inclusive, particularly when your arms and legs don’t work properly! Sure, I could be physically present for rounders or netball but I could not actually take part, aside from refereeing or bouncing a ball in the corner. It was this that spurred a protest in me.

Then came Dance, dreaded dance…

To give you some context I have very limited range of movement in all four limbs, I cannot dance. I can bop my head, head bang, tap my foot, I can even give a full body wobble if I’m really into it. Graceful ballet swan I am not!

To place someone with this limited range of motion in front of a mirror and encourage them to follow impossible movements alongside a group of others who are able-bodied is beyond cruel, it’s soul destroying.

So this is when I really threw my toys out of the pram, I would drag my feet, feign illness, even take extra long changing so I could save myself the humiliation of the dance hall. Of course my teachers noticed my lack of enthusiasm and I was treated like every other 'naughty' child. A meeting was arranged with my teacher, the head of SEN and my Mum. Aside from my Mum who was supportive as ever, I was treated like I was being a petulant teenager. Like I needed to just ‘get over’ my humiliation, just like any other teenage girl. They even said I didn’t have to stand in front of the mirror, the smallest of mercies. They were missing the point on all accounts. I was asking for reasonable adjustment and a level playing field, I was asking not to be expected to attempt the impossible with the full knowledge that I would fail and look ridiculous doing so!

I was ignored and had to continue this torture until I took my options - funnily enough PE was not one of them!

I’m not sharing this story for pity, I’m sharing it in the hopes that someone might finally understand that this is not equality or inclusion!

Being forced to take part in any activity that painfully expresses how different you are to the rest of the world at any age is damaging. I found things that I was good at, even against the odds sometimes, this should have been celebrated and respected. Instead I was treated ‘just like everyone else’ but I wasn’t just like everyone else - I never will be. I made my peace with that a long time ago.

So here goes my definition of inclusion and equality, based on real life experience:

Inclusion - Adapting an activity in such a way as to allow everyone to take part equally. It is not enough that a person is allowed in the room, they should be made to feel like a valued participant. If this is not possible then they should be allowed to do an alternative activity that brings them joy and accomplishment.

Equality - The act of being treated as an equal, despite your differences. This means being respected as an individual with your own needs and preferences. When these needs are being met and differences respected you're achieving equality.

Now here comes the true irony, 6 years later I was selected to join Team GBR in my chosen sport of Para Dressage, I went on to gain several national titles, train and compete amongst the very best our Country has to offer.

Picture shows me in full Dressage 'whites' competing my top horse Sam at the Summer National Championships. (we won!)

Even better, I now spend my professional life encouraging and enabling others with physical challenges to take part in physical activity, for leisure and competitive sport. I have always been passionate about sport, despite my time at school. I’m lucky that I had the support outside of the school environment to sustain this passion, others would not be so lucky.

For many individuals experiences like mine would put them off physical activity for life. Not only could this damage their mental health and mindset, it could stop them from gaining the long term health benefits of habitual activity. This is a place where many schools and institutions fall short, I can only hope that the disabled community are listened to and things will change for the better in the future.

In the mean time we must keep fighting. Pictured below, me on my running frame at the County Championships this year, still loving sport!

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