Panathlon’s competitions in the more remote and underprivileged parts of the country often reveal the stark lack of opportunities for pupils with special needs and disabilities.
Panathlon delivered 10-pin bowling competitions for the South Lakes and Morecambe/Lancaster areas last week (17-21 October) and is building a calendar of events that are accessible to schools across the region. These competitions in rural and coastal areas with above-average levels of social deprivation support SEND pupils who can often feel isolated and starved of chances to thrive.
On Thursday (20 October), SEND pupils from 10 schools competed in two 10-pin bowling competitions on the Morecambe seafront promenade, with pupils revelling in the chance to explore beyond the school gates and represent their school in a competition.
“Our children don’t always get the best opportunities, so to do things like this is wonderful,” said Helen Woodward from St Mary’s School.
“Some who are here with us today have probably not been out of Morecambe for a long time. They have certainly never been bowling. To go further afield is very rare for them, so it’s awesome for them to get them out and experience more of life.
“We are a small one-form entry school and we don’t have a SENCO base; these children are in class with mainstream kids. Today gives them a great opportunity for a sense of achievement they wouldn’t necessarily get too often in a mainstream environment.
“They won’t necessarily compete in school teams when they get older, but this isn’t overly skill-specific and they don’t have to train for it, so it gives them the chance to get out, get active, enjoy it and bring back medals to show off.”
Higher Level Teaching Assistant, Paige Phillips, said her pupils from West End Primary got a sense of empathy and confidence from the level playing field that Panathon offers. Many of her pupils had never been to an external competition or tried 10-pin bowling.
“They can look across the lanes and see themselves in the other pupils who are here,” commented Paige. “Seeing others similar to them does wonders for their self-esteem and makes them feel less isolated.
“You can see the smiles on their faces and the twinkle in their eyes. They will talk about this experience for weeks to come.
“These are all Year 6 pupils and staff are doing so much extra intervention work to try and get them through their SATs, so this has been a bit of stress relief for them. It’s a different kind of work, it’s like a social lesson, building friendships and positive relationships with each other.”
For pupils from St Patrick’s Primary in nearby Lancaster, it was the first time they had ever been on a coach. “To have an opportunity just to get out of Lancaster is massive for them,” said Deputy Head, Nicole Davison.
“The children have had a really positive experience today. One pupil had never been bowling and came here with a really negative preconception, but he has gone away saying, ‘I’ve scored a strike!’ Hopefully they will go home, talk about it and it will encourage their parents to take them somewhere.”
For Amber Gannon, Assistant head at Morecambe Road Primary, the feeling she took away from the event was very similar.
“This will really broaden their horizons and hopefully might encourage them to get involved in the sporting competitions we have within school that some of them are reticent to try. I would hope competing with other schools might make them think, ‘Actually I’m going to put my hand up for the dodgeball competition next time, because I now know doing something different is fun.’
“They are challenging their own view of what is available and what they’re capable of. Some have social anxiety and their parents might not be in a position to take them to places like this because it’s quite expensive for large families. That’s why today is really important. It has a massive impact. They will go back to school tomorrow absolutely over the moon.”
Teacher Jacqui Potter from Great Wood Primary offered a different perspective: “Today will make them feel they’ve got as much of a place in the school as the children who always get in the sports teams. Being part of a team is a priceless experience.”
Great Wood pupil Ruby, 10, certainly agreed: “I was very happy with my team-mates and very proud of myself. It makes me warm inside and very excited!”
Laura Rhodes from Torrisholme Primary in Morecambe said: “Oh, so much positive impact! This gives them a feeling of going back out into the world after Covid. It’s wonderful. Please include us in absolutely everything you do in Morecambe in the future.”
These events give schools to join Panathlon’s competitive pathway, with this week’s winners qualifying for February’s Regional 10-Pin Primary Final in Bolton. The winning schools in Morecambe indicated straight away they wanted to take part, giving them further opportunities to expand their horizons and meet other children like themselves in different parts of the north west.
Ton Waymouth, Panathlon Chief Operating Officer, said: “The feedback we received from teachers and parents is exactly why we need to deliver in areas like Morecambe, to give these children with SEND the same opportunities as a child in a big city elsewhere in the country.”