The 2021/22 term is only a couple of weeks old, but there has already been a flurry of Panathlon activity across the country with both external and in-school competitions.

It’s been an utter delight to see SEND children able to attend their first out-of-school Panathlon events since the first lockdown back in March 2020. At the same time, our Virtual Panathlon programme continues as we adopt a blended approach to our delivery for the new academic year.

One of the first events of the new term took place at Greenbank Sports Academy in Liverpool, where over 60 children from four schools – Sandfield Park, Merefield, Woodchurch High and Crosby High – were split into two divisions (physical disability and severe learning disability) in a football tournament. Sandfield Park C won a very closely-fought physical disability final while Crosby High were crowned SLD champions. One goal was described by Panathlon event manager James Dixon as a “12-yard screamer!”

Panathlon’s Dominic Fenton spent a week in the north east delivering a variety of events including primary ten-pin bowling at the Riverside in Sunderland with 47 children split into eight teams. Gillas Lane Primary and the Beacon Centre took the gold medals.

Deborah Dixon from the Beacon Centre, a Pupil Referral Unit, said: “The event was great! It allowed the children to participate in a situation in which they may not normally get the opportunity.

“The event allowed children to compete but also interact socially, encouraging and supporting each other when things did not go so well. I loved that all children, whether they won or lost, came away with something as I know from previous experience of attending sports activities that quite often the same children win all events and are always picked to represent the school. This can be something that some children find difficult to deal with.

“I also felt that all of the children had a level playing field as bowling was an activity that children do not usually do, so none of the children were streets ahead of the others like they would be in an activity such as football.”

Loughton Cricket Club in Essex was the venue as 12 schools came together for a cricket competition, with Young Leaders from New City College in Epping Forest officiating and guiding pupils through the activities.

One participating school, Church Langley, brought children who had language and communication issues and some who were supervised by external counsellors for home situations. When they returned to school, one girl told the Deputy Head how much she’d enjoyed playing cricket. It was the first thing she had said to her in four years!

“It makes such a change for them to come out of school as a team,” said one teacher. “Just the look on their faces when they received their medals is all you need to know.”

One Young Leader commented: “I loved supporting the children – it’s what I want to do later on in life. At first I wasn’t sure if I could help but then I saw them so excited to be doing the activity that I felt really involved.”

In Norfolk, we had two days of primary ten-pin bowling at Wellington Pier in Great Yarmouth, with North Denes Primary among the gold medal winners and a very proud Dominik from Southtown Primary (pictured left) achieving the highest individual score.

In Greater Manchester, Guardian Angels RC Primary School were winners of the Bury Primary Panathlon at Castle Leisure Centre, with trained pupils from the Derby High School (pictured below) fulfilling Young Leader roles to support the 63 competitors.

While we’re ecstatic to be holding external competitions again after the ravages of Covid-19, our in-school Virtual Programme proved so popular over the last 18 months that we are adopting a blended approach of both external and in-school events going forward.

Peartree Spring Primary School in Hertfordshire are just one example of this, with their Year 2 pupils (pictured below) enjoying our virtual new-age kurling programme in the early weeks of the new term.

In the last few weeks, we have held awareness days in Cambridgeshire and Tyne and Wear to introduce Panathlon to new schools. There, school staff participated in a Primary Panathlon to replicate their students’ in-competition experience.

Some schools are using our Virtual Programme to tune-up for forthcoming external competitions, others are using our in-school activities to link in with other areas of the curriculum, while some schools are taking part virtually because they still cannot travel due to their pupils’ particular vulnerabilities. The Ashley School in Suffolk and Abingdon House in London are examples of schools planning on-site competitions that include every single pupil.

Amongst many planned events before half-term, we have ten-pin bowling for deaf pupils in London and Bolton and mixed disability ten-pin competitions in Colchester, Basildon and Leicestershire (one of few remaining counties which has never hosted a Panathlon event before).

Neighbouring Derbyshire will also see Panathlon competition for the first time with a forthcoming Xtend event, we’ll have two Primary events in Hillingdon, West London, new schools coming on board in Cornwall and a long-awaited primary event in Cockermouth, Cumbria that was postponed back in July due to Covid-19.

The breadth and number of events across the country is extraordinary and shows that schools and School Games Organisers have full faith that our activities make staff, parents and pupils feel as safe as possible, as well as energising and engaging all participants.

Panathlon Chief Operating Officer, Tony Waymouth, said: “Feedback from participating schools tells us that teachers and students are delighted to be back out at live events experiencing the thrill of competition. To ensure we are Covid-safe, we have put in place extra safety measures to allow social distancing, giving participating schools confidence to revel in the full Panathlon experience.”