Michael Sieff Foundation logo

Special Educational Needs & Disabilities (SEND)

Sport and Neurodiversity in the UK


Fears for future generation as report shows disabled children miss out

19 March 2020

A ground-breaking report published on 19 March 2020 by the Activity Alliance shows failings across sectors will continue to steer disabled children into an inactive adulthood if we do not act now. My Active Future, from the Activity Alliance, calls for more commitment from every sector of our society to ensure all children and young people benefit from an active lifestyle.

A summary of the report is published on the Activity Alliance website, along with a link to download the full recommendations and report here.

The Activity Alliance

The Activity Alliance joins members, partners and disabled people to make active lives possible. Together, we challenge perceptions and change the reality of disability, inclusion and sport. As an Alliance founded in 1998, we benefit from the wealth of its Members’ expertise. We work closely with many organisations. This includes Sport England, the National Disability Sport Organisations (NDSOs) for specific impairment groups and National Governing Bodies (NGBs) of sport. We also work with regional, coaching and education networks, including the County Sports Partnerships, clubs and schools.

See: http://activityalliance.org.uk for more information.

The role of Michael Sieff Foundation

Following our work on Special Educational Needs & Disabilities (SEND) and Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs), (see: the Special Educational Needs Action Plan page), our secretary Richard White has investigated the state of “Disability sport” in the UK. His conclusions are set out in summary below. Should you have any thoughts on the questions raised and the answers to them, please contact Richard with your views on what needs to be done. The Michael Sieff Foundation is anxious to understand whether there is a role, which it could play in helping to promote wider use of the available facilities for the benefit of young people with neuro diversity.

Our investigation was prompted by a debate held in the House of Lords on Sport, Recreation and the Arts and their importance for well-being and development. Since then The Michael Sieff Foundation have been discussing with national and local sporting organisations in London, Sussex and Surrey, their work on what is probably most conveniently described as disability sport.

The particular focus is on neurodiversity, one aspect of disability, which has been coined as the range of differences in brain function and behavioural traits. Associated communication difficulties, as with dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism can prove a significant barrier to participation in sport, especially for young people. But it is apparent how beneficial sport and physical activity can be for this group.

The discussions over the last year have led to the conclusion that there is a wealth of disability activity in a range of sporting organisations. What is less clear is its accessibility to young people who might benefit from the opportunities. Even with our extensive knowledge of the special educational needs and disability system and its organisations and interest and participation in sport, getting further information has proved extremely difficult.

Progress is being made, for example the concept of the ecosystem discussed in a recent Sport England webinar, provides an emerging framework. From initial observations it exists but rarely functions well. Coordination (or collaboration) within individual sports and between sports and with disability organisations and with local and central government is an essential part but to say the least is currently patchy.

As a result, the following questions present themselves for consideration:

1. How do we improve the coordination of pathways to a range of sports and physical activities for those whom they would benefit?
2. Sport England and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DDCMS) have major responsibilities in this area but their publicity seems limited. If there have been discussions with central and local government, can these be made more public?
3. ConnectSport is a useful website (see: http://www.connectsport.org.uk), but from discussions with other sports enthusiasts, is not widely known. Would it be useful to you?
4. Is there scope for an improved All Party Parliamentary Group?
5. What discussions are there with disability organisations? There are some eg. SENSE, who are active in this but equally there are others who are not.
6. Should social prescribing* be available more widely? Is there mileage in those areas where it is being used, to seek its inclusion in Education, Health and Care Plans? (* Social prescribing is when health professionals refer patients to support in the community, in order to improve their health and wellbeing. The concept has gained support within the NHS).
7. How can volunteers and families have more of an impact in policy development?
8. In The Foundation’s experience of working with central and local government departments in the SEND and child protection fields, silo thinking has been a major obstruction to the development of coordinated policy. This is particularly important when considering links between special educational needs (Department for Education), mental health (Department of Health and Social Care) and youth justice (Ministry of Justice and Home Office) and the potential benefits of sport and physical activity to young people with those difficulties. How can we overcome these obstructions (DDCMS)?

Richard White
The Michael Sieff Foundation
February 2020


Further involvement

It would be interesting to hear from any readers of this page, and their contacts, in response to these questions – and any other thoughts or suggestions. Please contact the Secretary of the Foundation, Richard White via email: richard@michaelsieff-foundation.org.uk in the first instance.