Challenging ableism and the ‘disability as problem’ discourse: how initial teacher education can support the inclusion of students with a disability in physical education

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Whilst Initial Teacher Education (ITE) is only one leverage point for teacher professional learning and development, it is of vital importance that ITE supports pre-service teachers (PSTs) in developing knowledge and skills necessary to promote inclusion of students with a disability in their class-spaces. Whilst ‘inclusion’ is a key feature of legislation, education policy and standards internationally, students with disabilities continue to report exclusion from Physical Education 1 (PE) by both teachers and peers. There are thus increasing calls for PE to be more inclusive, and for teachers to enact curricula and pedagogies that dismantle ableism and offer diverse ways for students to learn in, through and about movement. This paper outlines how ITE can have a positive impact on the pedagogical knowledge, competence and ‘readiness’ of PSTs to teach inclusively. We offer a unique contribution to existing scholarship in that we outline how a specific combination of elements can be enacted within one unit/module within a Bachelor of Education (specialising in Health and Physical Education) to promote inclusion of students with a disability in PE. More specifically, the findings suggest that the elements of the unit that best supported PSTs in becoming more inclusive teachers were: (i) pedagogization of theory; (ii) sense of safety; (iii) partnerships for authentic learning; and (iv) student voice and co-design. Combined, these elements served to support PSTs in moving away from fixed, normative and ableist assumptions about their learners. It also provided opportunities for PSTs to explore and enact alternatives to the ‘disability as problem’ discourse, and thus more effectively teach students with a disability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)286-299
Number of pages14
JournalSport, Education and Society
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • ableism
  • disability
  • inclusion
  • Physical education
  • teacher education

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