Panathlon’s positive impact grew by a stunning 20% last academic year with a record 62,981 pupils taking part in our sporting programmes.

Our newly-released annual participation figures – the largest in the charity’s 27-year history – show that 3,012 schools took part in 873 Panathlon events in 44 English counties and 10 areas in Wales in 2022/23. 

There were 43,534 competitors with disabilities and special needs (SEND) at our sporting competitions (to which teams travel from multiple schools), 12,088 at our in-school (‘virtual’) events, plus 7,359 trained Young Leaders officiating and guiding younger competitors during the events. 

Last year also saw us hold 57 regional competitions – our ‘pinnacle’ events for school teams who have progressed through our local and county-level competitions. This illustrates the further recovery of our competitive pathway following the pandemic. Aspiring to be the best in their region by progressing through our pathway is an important motivation for many pupils. 

Our expansion has been particularly important in areas of social deprivation and geographical isolation (such as Withernsea in Humberside, Rossendale and Morecambe in Lancashire, Calderdale in West Yorkshire, parts of Cumbria, North Wales and South Wales) where sporting opportunities for children with SEND are even more limited. 

Our figures also reveal the rich diversity of activities we offer our participating schools. Panathlon multi-skills events continued to flourish (engaging 13,999 primary-age competitors and 6,255 pupils in our secondary and Xtend competitions), but swimming, 10-pin bowling, football, boccia, specially adapted sports days, coaching and in-school virtual competitions were all hugely popular too. 

The surge in participation contrasts sharply with the gloomy findings of a recent government report and school sports surveys showing cuts in the hours that primary and secondary school are devoting to PE. This is ‘highly likely’ to disproportionately affect pupils with disabilities. We are proud to be bucking this trend – giving SEND pupils at our participating schools opportunities they are being denied elsewhere. 

An important aspect to the increase in our reach and positive impact was the formation of partnerships with Multi-Academy Trusts (such as the Co-Op Academies Trust in Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, Staffordshire and Merseyside; the Greenwood Academies Trust in the East Midlands and schools with Inclusion Quality Mark (IQM) status). These partnerships enable us to engage multiple schools ‘in one hit.’ We even staged a ‘War of the Roses’ competition, bringing primary-age Co-Op Academies Trust teams together from both sides of the Pennines to do battle! 

Of course, behind our impressive figures are 62,981 individual stories of improved skills, confidence, self-esteem, reduced isolation and impetus to go on and achieve more in and out of the sporting arena. 

Just one example is Brian Cox, a Year 8 pupil at New Barn School for pupils with autism in West Sussex. Leah Samain, the school’s PE Instructor and Learning Support Assistant, said: “Panathlon has had a very big impact. [Brian] didn’t really know what to do with himself in social settings when he first arrived, but now he’s a different kid. Our success in Panathlon is part of that difference.” 

Taking part in Panathlon competitions has also given teaching staff ideas and tools to take back to school and enrich their PE and sport offering for SEND pupils. This positive ‘ripple effect’ manifests itself in many different ways in school halls and on playgrounds all over the country. 

Parkinson Lane Primary School in Halifax, West Yorkshire, is just one example of this ripple effect in action. They now hold extra-curricular breakfast, lunchtime and after-school Panathlon clubs for SEND and mainstream pupils. They have also held their own in-house Panathlon competitions, officiated by Year 5 and 6 pupils who are assessed for Sports Leadership qualifications while doing so. 

“Panathlon has completely changed the way we teach sport in our school,” said Nikki Goldthorpe, Parkinson Lane’s Primary PE Specialist. “It’s given everybody an opportunity to be a winner.” 

Panathlon’s Chief Operating Officer, Tony Waymouth, said: “These figures are a massive achievement by the whole team. The groundwork we did during the pandemic to provide programmes to fit all needs has paid off hugely. Everything we do is with the aim of giving more children an opportunity to choose a path of lifelong involvement in sport.” 

Panathlon would like to thank our funders for their continued support including St James’s Place Charitable Foundation, Jack Petchey Foundation, Pentland Brands, RBC Bluebay Asset Management, EQ Investors, Woodland Group, Ovingdean Foundation, Aspen and the many financial supporters we have at local level, as well as School Games Organisers who help us create local delivery opportunities.