Hill Top School

Teacher Sean Connelly says Virtual Panathlon is so popular at his school that he will keep it on their curriculum even after Covid-19 restrictions are fully lifted.

Pupils at Hill Top School in Gateshead have taken part in Panathlon for the last seven years and they fully embraced the Virtual Programme when it was launched last September in response to the pandemic.

Hill Top held a virtual inter-house Panathlon ‘Games Day’, have taken part in New-Age Kurling and ten-pin bowling competitions and plan to run Panathlon football and cricket activity in the remainder of the summer term.

“The partnership with Panathlon is a massive plus for the school,” said Sean. “It’s now embedded into our timetable. I want us represented at any Panathlon event that’s taking place because it’s so, so beneficial. I still want to do many of the virtual events here even when the pandemic is completely over.”

New-Age Kurling has been the undoubted highlight for participants, all of whom have moderate learning difficulties and some who attend the school’s autism unit. All of them experienced at least half a day’s kurling within their bubbles and Sean organised an inter-house tournament with individual winners as well.

“What was really good about it was that it was a bit of a leveller,” Sean reflected. “We didn’t have the same pupils winning who would normally win our sports competitions. It wasn’t the biggest or the strongest, it was the ones who took the most time over their shots. One of our younger students was actually the top scorer, which was lovely to see.

“New-Age Kurling is definitely an event I will engage with next year regardless of whether we’re back doing external events or not. It was just such a good event. It will give us something fun, inclusive and competitive to focus on during the winter months.”

Sean says the programme has helped upskill staff at the school in delivering PE and sport: “It’s given the non-PE staff that help and guidance so that they can do something really motivating with their groups. That has a great impact on the students because they’re getting a more structured lesson, learning more skills and having a competition at the same time.

“I’ve observed other teachers delivering it within their classes and the feedback has been excellent. The kids have missed out so much on proper sporting events and this has been a great replacement for that.”

Sean was impressed with the “really high quality” medals that Panathlon sent to participants in the school’s Games Day. “They were fantastic,” he said. “Getting those medals had a real impact. It gave them a real sense of achievement.”

He added: “We’ve been big supporters of Panathlon for the last seven years. I always take my less-able students and some from the autism base who are able to take part in an all-day event. It gives them a chance to taste competition, represent their school and achieve real sporting success, an opportunity they may not have got normally. It’s a wonderful experience for them.”

Panathlon’s Chief Operating Officer, Tony Waymouth, said: “People like Sean have helped us during the pandemic by giving us advice and suggesting tweaks through their experience as teachers delivering our Virtual Programme on the front line.

“This feedback allows us to get better as an organisation and constantly improve the resources we offer schools. It has been a hard time for teachers but people like Sean have shown a willingness to go above and beyond.”

Read more about Hill Top’s involvement in Panathlon in this Newcastle Chronicle news story.

Thank you to the Sir James Knott Trust for supporting our Virtual Programme across Tyne and Wear!