Panathlon’s first competition in partnership with Co-op Academies Trust saw “two trail-blazing organisations join together” to give pupils with SEND a stage to experience sporting success. 

Five schools from the Greater Manchester hub of Co-op academies (four secondaries and one primary) competed in the maiden Panathlon Greater Manchester Co-op Academy 10-pin bowling event at Sandbrook Park in Rochdale on Thursday (17 November). 

Organised with Co-op Academies Greater Manchester’s School Sport Coordinator, Tim Liptrot, the event is just the beginning for what Panathlon will provide for SEND pupils in schools in the Co-op Academies Trust in the region. 

The new partnership builds on our work with the Greenwood Academies Trust, providing competitive opportunities for the 37 primary, secondary and special schools in their network, predominantly in the East Midlands. 

“We want to offer competitive sports opportunities for everybody, particularly those who need them most,” commented Tim. 

“When you look at young people and what opportunities are out there outside of school, this cohort here today are potentially those who are left behind a little bit. If we don’t provide those chances as a Trust, those children may miss the opportunity to fall in love with sport and competition. 

“For us, that’s a massive driver – we want every child to fall in love with something that’s going to give them an active, healthy life, so for us, partnering with Panathlon and having their resources, funding and expertise on board is huge.” 

He added: “We are both trail-blazing organisations in many ways. Panathlon removes so many barriers for us in staging events for children with additional needs, and the Co-op Academies Trust has been really proactive in responding to rising obesity rates and falling levels of physical literacy since the pandemic by promoting a return to activity and competition.” 

“I think this partnership will grow and grow and if it leads to Panathlon Co-op Academies regional finals with our other Co-op hubs that will be really exciting.” 

The first ever Panathlon Co-op Academies Trust competition in Rochdale certainly went down a storm with school staff and pupils who attended. 

Co-op Academy Failsworth were crowned our inaugural Co-op Academies Greater Manchester champions and teacher Mr Golden described what the effects on his pupils with SEN would be. 

“Some of our students haven’t been on a school trip before and were very anxious about coming. They’ve never been bowling before or  been on a minibus – the fact they’re all even here is amazing. When you see them now in a huddle, congratulating each other, I’m almost beyond words. 

“They are building teamwork and social communication skills, whereas in school they are engulfed by 1,500 other mainstream pupils. The chance to bring out a group of 10 and see them flourish is amazing. They are proud of wearing the school badge and representing Failsworth.” 

Failsworth pupil Riley, 12, added: “I wasn’t going to come today as I was super nervous. Sir said it would help my mental health, and it has, a lot! I was overwhelmed but now I feel like I can get out more – I’d definitely do it again!” 

Mr Stanley, Deputy Head at Co-op Academy Swinton, commented: “When you’re here looking at the children’s faces, you realise this is really important.” 

“From a social and wellbeing point of view, this is having a really deep impact. It will make them feel a much more significant part of our community because they are representing the school. I really hope this is something that will grow and develop even more.” 

Mandy Bawden, PE teacher at Co-op Academy Walkden, reflected: “What a massive sense of achievement for the guys! They will be so proud of these medals. 

“This is a brilliant way they can all be together, do an activity they might not have done, get the chance to compete and be in with a shout of winning, which is something they don’t always get in high schools. They are equal to everybody here. We will be re-presenting their certificates and medals in year group assemblies – and we will definitely be back at the next event!”