Strategies to promote inclusion in health and physical education, and…

Strategies to promote inclusion in health and physical education, and…

In previous Teacher
articles, our Monash University colleagues have shared some benefits of promoting inclusion in schools, as well as practical, research-informed strategies to teach more inclusively. This follow-up continues the focus on teaching inclusively, but focuses on the context of Health and Physical Education (HPE), and movement contexts in particular. We do so acknowledging that learning in and through movement contexts presents both unique opportunities and challenges in terms of equity and inclusion.

Here, we’ll share eight practical strategies that can support you in promoting inclusion in HPE. We approached the development of these strategies from an intersectional perspective, meaning we acknowledge there are multiple overlapping ways in which people can be excluded or discriminated against (e.g. education; sexuality; ability; age; gender; culture; language; class; and race).

It is also important to also acknowledge that the strategies we share here need to exist within schools and spaces that support equity inclusion (e.g. via curriculum, policy, culture, and the built environment) in strategic and sustained ways.

What do we mean by inclusion?

For the purpose of this article, inclusion is defined as ensuring that all students have equal opportunities to participate and succeed in meaningful learning experiences, ideally at a level of optimal challenge for them.

Why be inclusive in HPE?

UNESCO’s framework for Quality Physical Education suggests that inclusion is fundamental to the achievement of quality learning experiences. According to the framework, every young person should experience ‘a sense of belonging, which includes feeling respected, valued for who you are, feeling a level of supportive energy and commitment from others,’ (UNESCO, 2015, p.8).

HPE is fundamental for supporting young people to develop the knowledge and skills that will enable them to engage in lifelong health, movement and physical activity behaviours. Ensuring all young people have the opportunity to develop these knowledge and skills is a crucial responsibility for all health and physical educators. The Alice Springs (Mparntwe) Education Declaration suggests that educators should look to tailor ‘to the needs of individuals across a system that prioritises equity of opportunity and that supports achievement,’ (Education Council, 2019, p.17).

We now share eight strategies that respond, in part, to equity and inclusion stipulations outlined within policies such as the UNESCO Quality Physical Education framework and the Alice Springs (Mparntwe) Education Declaration.

Eight strategies to support inclusion

The following strategies provide practical guidance on how HPE teachers can support the inclusion of all young people.

Have a broad and balanced HPE program that goes beyond sport

Sport is a vital and important component of any HPE program but, if we are led by the Australian Curriculum/Victorian Curriculum for Health and Physical Education (AC/VCHPE), ‘Games and Sports’ is only one Focus Area of 12 in HPE, and six in the ‘Movement and Physical Activity’ strand. Other foci and contexts for learning include ‘Rhythmic and expressive’, ‘Lifelong’ and ‘Challenge and adventure’ activities.

The intention is that a broad and balanced program that goes beyond sport will provide more opportunities for more learners to participate and succeed in meaningful learning experiences (O’Connor & Penney, 2020).

Engage and respond to student voice

Students who feel they have agency (i.e. opportunities to make decisions that impact their learning) are more engaged than those who do not (Williams, 2017). Student agency, voice and choice is a key feature of many school Annual Implementation Plans at the moment, and it’s benefits have been lauded by, for example, the Victorian Department of Education and Training via its Amplify initiative (State of Victoria, 2019). But what can empowering students in HPE look like? It might be, for example:

  • Negotiating aspects of the school curriculum – for example, in participating ‘in physical activities that develop health-related and skill-related fitness components, and create and monitor personal fitness plans’ (VCHPEM136), students could have the opportunity to choose from a range of movement contexts including sport and games, ‘Rhythmic and expressive’, ‘Lifelong’ and ‘Challenge and adventure’ activities.
  • Providing opportunities for students to peer-teach a skill or concept – for example, in learning how to ‘Use feedback to improve body control and coordination when performing specialised movement skills’ (VCHPEM133), students could work in pairs to teach/provide and also use feedback to improve body control and coordination (using task cards to support the process if needed).
  • Offering choice in relation to assessment – for example, when developing rubrics, have one category of success criteria that students can choose. For example, in a Striking and Fielding unit all students are assessed on: i) development and application of strategy; ii) decision making; iii) personal and social responsibility, but students can choose the focus of the fourth success criteria, from a selection of ‘Lead Others’, ‘Learn new (physical) skills’, ‘Officiating’ or ‘Respectful Relationships’.

Carefully consider assessment, using a range of approaches

Following on from the example above, in addition to providing students with choice related to what is being assessed, we can also provide options related to how
students are assessed. For example, students could choose to evidence their ability to ‘Practise and apply personal and social skills when undertaking a range of roles in physical activities’ (VCHPEM139 – Level 7-8), via:

  • a role play (live or recorded);
  • PowerPoint presentation with audio overlay; or,
  • a Toontastic animation.

Embed Indigenous perspectives and practices, respectfully and with permission

The Cross-Curriculum Priority calls for teachers to create opportunities for ‘Learning about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures’, but it is important that educators follow protocols when doing this work. More detail can be found here. The first step, though, is to consult with the Traditional Owners of the land on which the school stands. In partnership with the Traditional Owners, in line with protocol, and with permission you could: i) share an Acknowledge of Country, and invite learners to participate in the process and learn its significance; ii) use local Indigenous language for frequent terms like ‘welcome’ and ‘children’; iii) teach through and about Indigenous games. If there is no knowledge of Traditional games that originate from the land on which your school stands, then the Yulunga (meaning ‘playing’ in the language of the Kamilaroi/Gamori people) resource may be of use. Be mindful to take a strengths-based approach and to celebrate Indigenous perspectives as a regular and embedded part of HPE.

Engage in critical discussion about exclusion

HPE is an ideal context to learn about, examine and problematise discrimination and exclusion. For example, some terminology used in HPE has traditionally been discriminatory (e.g. ‘man-on’ and ‘sportsmanship’) and the continued use of such terms provides an excellent opportunity to talk about discrimination and its impacts. Such conversations would link to, for example, the Content Description ‘Examine the benefits to individuals and communities of valuing diversity and promoting inclusivity’ (VCHPEP132 – Level 7-8), and the associated Content Elaboration ‘investigating how respecting diversity and challenging racism, sexism, disability discrimination and homophobia influence individual and community health and wellbeing’.

Seek out opportunities to learn about promoting inclusion

To steal the motto of Monash University, ‘Ancora Imparo’ (meaning ‘Still, I am learning’) it is important to acknowledge that our own privilege and unconscious biases is ongoing work, as is seeking out ways to be responsive to diverse student needs. Organisations such as Special Olympics Australia offer free, self-paced professional development for HPE teachers and coaches, and is focused specifically on promoting the inclusion of students with a disability. Other organisations such as Proud2Play and Centre for Multicultural Youth provide guidance on engaging with additional aspects of diversity.

Audit your school, class-space and lessons using the 7 pillars of inclusion

The 7 Pillars of Inclusion is a broad framework developed by Play by the Rules, focusing on the ‘big picture’ that acts as a starting point to guide inclusion. The seven pillars are:

  • Access – can all learners access (physically) and feel welcome?
  • Attitude – what is your attitude towards diversity and inclusion?
  • Choice – are there a range of ways to participate?
  • Partnerships – who will you work with, and who will support you?
  • Communication – what methods of communication will you use?
  • Policy – how are you committed and responsible for inclusion?
  • Opportunities – have you made practical changes so that all learners have equal opportunity to participate? (This links to the next strategy.)

Offer at least three levels of challenge

This allows students to work at their optimal level of challenge. Special Olympics Australia and Sport Australia share tools to support us here. The latter have produced a range of activity cards designed to support the teaching of activities that include all abilities. Each card uses the TREE model to identify opportunities for modifications that would support participation in each activity.

The TREE acronym prompts us to explore opportunities to enhance inclusion by modifying:

  • Teaching Style (e.g. moving from a teacher-centered/reproductive style to a more student-centered/productive style, using multiple modes of representation including verbal and visual).
  • Rules (e.g. instead of using official rules, choose three primary rules that everyone in the class is able to follow).
  • Equipment (e.g. provide a choice of size and weight of ball to increase or reduce the level of challenge).
  • Environment (e.g. adjust the size of the space to increase or reduce the level of challenge).

Planning for equity and inclusion

The strategies we share here ideally need to exist within schools and spaces that support equity and inclusion in strategic and sustained ways. For this reason, there are some questions that we need to ask before planning for equity and inclusion. For example, does my school have an Inclusion Policy? Does my school value and plan for equity and inclusion? Is the curriculum equitable and inclusive? Who are my ‘Inclusion Allies’? Are resources available to support my inclusive teaching (e.g. to buy more equipment to facilitate different levels of challenge)?

Irrespective of whether you are planning for equity and inclusion at the school level, or for an isolated lesson, the first step is to establish current strengths and opportunities for improvement. The aforementioned 7 Pillars for Inclusion or TREE model could help you to do this via an audit or SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis.

If you have any questions, please feel free to email [email protected].


Education Council. (2019). Alice Springs (Mparntwe) Education Declaration. Council of Australian Governments.
(PDF, 4.93MB)

O’Connor, J., & Penney, D. (2021). Informal sport and curriculum futures: an investigation of the knowledge, skills and understandings for participation and the possibilities for physical education. European Physical Education Review, 27(1), 3-26.

State of Victoria (Department of Education and Training). (2019). Amplify: Empowering students through voice, agency and leadership. Victoria State Government.
(PDF, 986KB)

UNESCO. (2015). Quality Physical Education: Guidelines for Policy-Makers. UNESCO Publishing. (PDF, 4.15MB)

Williams, P. (2017) Student Agency for Powerful Learning, Knowledge Quest, 45(4), 8-15.
(PDF, 320KB)

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