National Finals made a welcome return to the Panathlon calendar for the first time since the pandemic as teams from all over England descended on the Aquatics Centre in London this week.

Wednesday (November 22) saw the staging of our National Specials School gala, involving eight teams from as far afield as Greater Manchester and Lancashire. The following day was our National Primary Final with another seven schools involved from across the country.

>> Please click here to see picture galleries for both National Finals at the Aquatic Centre <<

Gold medallists in Thursday’s Primary National Final were Coldfall Primary School in Muswell Hill, north London. Head of PE, Mitchell Browning, commented: “Our children were fully aware that this was a national final which we had qualified for through previous events. They know that this is a big deal. It was announced across the school so the wider community and school is invested in how we got on today.

“Panathlon has had an immense impact on PE and our school as a whole. On the back of coming to the Panathlon galas, three pupils have joined swimming clubs because they enjoyed it so much. Having this amazing experience has had a knock-on impact on many individual children.”

Speedo support our swimming programme – and their staff joined in with both this week’s events as guest leaders, guiding the competitors and officiating.

“It has been incredible to see the programme in action,” said Megan Rich (pictured below, right), Senior Copywriter at Speedo. “I’ve seen reports and statistics about Panathlon, but seeing it come to life today has been so powerful. It was great to see children take part in different water challenges, swim lengths and take part in races.”

Panathlon is a supporter of Speedo’s Swim United campaign to ensure all children who leave primary school by 2025 are able to swim. Swim England research shows that one in four youngsters currently leave primary school unable to swim 25m or self-rescue.

Megan added: “We believe everyone should be able to swim – and that’s what the Swim United programme is about. Events like these really help contribute to its aims.”

Chloe Mackley, Corporate Communications Coordinator at Pentland, said: “Panathlon is one of those things we hear a lot about in our day-to-work but we don’t necessarily see the impact that it has on people, so to be able to be here and be part of that is so great. It’s terrific to see the product of initiatives we have for communities.”

National finals mark the top level of Panathlon’s competitive pathway, which begins with local events, leading to county and then regional finals, with winners and highest-scoring teams progressing through the stages. The prospect of being able to progress through our pathway and be able call themselves ‘national champions’ can be a key motivation for children with disabilities and special needs who don’t always get competitive sporting opportunities 

With schools exercising caution over long-distance trips since the pandemic, this week saw confirmation that schools’ confidence in such excursions being safe has return.

Wednesday’s winning team, Park Community Academy from Blackpool, are a perfect example. Their team visited Buckingham Palace and stayed overnight before travelling home with the trophy!

Park’s PE coordinator, Stuart Johnson, said: “We’ve brought our whole SEN swimming club with us and the opportunity has been unreal for them. It really fosters a great sense of belonging and team spirit. It’s great recognition of how hard they’ve worked in preparation for it.

“We were finding at the swimming club that the kids didn’t have anything to work towards or look forward to, so this has really given them a big boost and helped focus them. We’ve found attendance at club really improved in the build-up. They’ve been talking about it and practising for months. It’s been massive that we’ve had something to work towards. It’s so special for them and lovely to be able to reward them with this competition.”

Panathlon Chief Operating Officer, Tony Waymouth, commented: “It has been a joy to see the fruits of a whole year’s labour pay off with this week’s National Finals. Schools revelled in being part of a big experience, with travelling as much part of the learning as the competition.

“External trips, being part of a team on the mini-bus, talking to other children, listening to different voices in an external setting, structure and time-keeping, listening to whistles and following instructions are all vital skills – this, just as much as winning, is what finals are , all about!”

Amanda Spielman, Chief Inspector of Schools, has previously highlighted that Covid-19 lockdowns resulted in delays in learning, speech and language development, social interaction, confidence in skills such as taking turns, struggling to make friends and delayed development in physical motor skills. We hope the return of our competitive pathway will help address these delays.

Panathlon would like to thank Pentland Brands fir its ongoing support of our swimming programme. Its ripple effect on learning environments is clear as schools embrace the opportunity to develop swimming within their schools, inspired by Panathlon.