Panathlon played a key role in keeping students active and motivated during the coronavirus lockdown at Whitefield Academy Trust in Waltham Forest, East London.

Maria Papazoglou, PE teacher and co-ordinator at the school, made videos of Panathlon games such as polybat and table cricket to help parents play with their children at home when schools were closed throughout the spring and summer.

Since students returned in early September, Maria has set up Panathlon sessions in the school hall to keep students active and engaged while they are not able to play in the playground at break times due to social distancing regulations.

Whitefield is one of Panathlon’s most prolific and successful schools, winning numerous titles at primary and secondary level. They were London and South of England swimming champions in 2017, London swimming champions again in 2018, bronze medallists at our inaugural National Primary Special Schools Final last November and won the Plate competitions at our London Multisport Finals in 2018 and London Football Finals in 2017.

“I did three sessions a day for different levels on Zoom during lockdown, and everything was based around Panathlon” says Maria. “I demonstrated and they followed me. I had the parents and kids playing polybat on their dinner tables! They used rolled-up newspapers or wooden spoons for bats and screwed-up tinfoil for the ball. It worked really well.

“I set them challenges like, who can keep playing for 10 seconds without the ball falling off the table? They loved it, and so did I. To see parents doing activities with their kids was really nice. Parents were soon saying, ‘more games like this please!'”

The students are now back in school, and although Maria says it’s been a highly stressful time for staff, Panathlon’s strong influence on physical education in the specialist SEN school is helping the students settle back in to the radically altered environment.

“There are a lot of changes, we are in bubbles and we cannot have contact games like football, but we have had great success focusing on boccia, kurling, table cricket… all the Panathlon activities. Of course, we have to clean all the equipment every time we use it, but it’s not too big a deal.

“Panathlon has always helped me as a teach to set targets, motivate my kids and improve behaviour. It’s been the same so far this term and the Head has supported me fully with changing the programme of study. She said to me, ‘definitely do it’.”

Students have designated hours in the sports hall where they can practise different Panathlon sports, with each group rotating every 20 minutes. Maria says the students cannot wait to get involved in Panathlon’s new virtual competitions and are motivated to put in practice and adapt to the alterations in rules to include social distancing.

Maria, who was named London’s best sports teacher for the second year in a row in 2019, added: “Panathlon has been so important to us here, and it’s great that it can carry on influencing what we do even though there has been so much change.”

Thank you to the Jack Petchey Foundation for their continued support for our programmes in London and Essex.