Play Unified, a Special Olympics GB campaign delivered in partnership with the Youth Sport Trust, is celebrating a second successful year fighting intolerance in schools across the UK - reaching almost 30,000 young people nationwide, enough to fill a football stadium!
The campaign aims to change perceptions of and end intolerance towards young people with intellectual disabilities (ID), such as the fact 8 in 10 experience bullying. It aims to strengthen leadership and sport participation pathways for young people with intellectual disabilities and develop inclusive environments in schools through sport.
Led from the front by more than 500 Young Ambassadors, both with and without ID, Play Unified is inspired by a simple principle: training and playing together is a quick path to understanding, acceptance and friendship.
This ethos is already proving fruitful across the country, where 200 schools are actively participating in Play Unified with 200 teachers also having been upskilled to deliver Play Unified across their school.
A recent evaluation study showed that Play Unified helped Young Ambassadors to:
learn new skills (92 per cent)
make new friends (79 per cent)
increase sports participation (72 per cent)
display increased confidence (90 per cent)
A student from St Mungo’s Academy in Lanarkshire commented: “I’m learning how to trust and make friends [through Play Unified]… When I started this school, I was nervous that I didn’t know anyone and I was scared. Ever since I’ve started Play Unified, I’ve actually asked people if I could be their friend.”
A huge 95 per cent of young people surveyed also said that, following their participation in Play Unified, they felt they could take part in all school activities and, more importantly, 97 per cent reported that they felt happy in their school.
The campaign has touched pupils and teachers alike with teachers reporting major strides being made by their students. A survey amongst these teachers at the end of the 2016/17 academic year showed that:
98 per cent felt their school was inclusive for all pupils
79 per cent offered equal opportunities for pupils
84 per cent had observed pupils without additional needs interacting positively with pupils with additional needs
A teacher from St. George’s Academy in Lincolnshire added: “We’ve got quite a high number of Special Educational Needs and Disability kids at the Academy and I think they’ve been involved in every single sport. Play Unified has given them a chance to get involved in sport, irrelevant of ability or any conditions, and they’ve actually felt like a part of the team, because I’ve not seen any negativity from anybody.”
Play Unified is all too aware of the necessity of campaign of this nature in schools across the UK; it has exceeded its target for the number of young people impacted by the campaign by more than 65 per cent and enthusiasm amongst both young people and teachers is still growing.
Karen Wallin, CEO of Special Olympics GB comments: “Play Unified is not just making waves in the UK - it is a global movement aimed at ending the injustice, intolerance and inactivity of young people with intellectual disabilities. For too long people with intellectual disabilities have been neglected and discriminated against, by getting behind Play Unified, we are seeing young people, schools and teachers actively trying to change this.
“Play Unified is an ambitious campaign. We are seeking to create a unified generation, where the hurdles that people with ID face become a thing of the past. The feedback from teachers and young people involved in Play Unified has been overwhelmingly positive, and truly fills me with hope that the unified generation is an imminent achievement.”
Ali Oliver, Chief Executive of the Youth Sport Trust adds:
"We passionately believe in the power of sport to change young lives for the better. This project is so important to us because of the clear need for positive change for young people with intellectual disabilities (ID).
"Two years ago we were faced with heartbreaking statistics about the number of young people with ID who had been bullied and had cried at school at the hands of their peers. A large proportion had never even had the opportunity to take part in team sports. To see such significant strides being made through this campaign is really encouraging - but there is still more to be done. We believe now, just as strongly as we did two years ago, that Play Unified is the vehicle to drive permanent, positive change in schools and end intolerance for those with ID.”