The Ashley School

Panathlon showed ingenuity and agility by changing its entire delivery model to get SEND pupils active during the pandemic, according to new independent research. 

When were forced to cancel our usual calendar of external competitions for pupils with disabilities and special needs due to Covid, we decided if they couldn’t come to us, we would take Panathlon to them.

We created our in-school Virtual Panathlon programme with activities and competitions that could be run safely in school – and which could be participated in simultaneously by pupils who were isolating or shielding at home

It was an astounding success, with 45,845 children from 583 schools participating in an array of sporting competitions (some held live on Zoom between competing schools in their own playgrounds or assembly halls) officiated by 2,140 trained Young Leaders as well as live Zoom Q&As with Paralympians and international para-athletes. The opportunities for the Young Leaders to undergo training then officiate and guide their younger peers was a particularly important element, especially for primary-age leaders about to transition to high school. 

The programme didn’t just enable SEND sport provision to continue within the confines of the Covid-19 restrictions, but to expand and diversify – reaching more pupils, upskilling staff, inspiring new ideas, enhancing the curriculum and promoting inclusion. 

This growth and increase in impact must be viewed in context. According to the Activity Alliance’s National Disability and Activity Survey, disabled people felt coronavirus had reduced their ability to be active. We are immensely proud that this new research proves we defied the virus and bucked that trend. 


The study into Panathlon’s response to the pandemic, carried out by Bean Research, found that 94% of teachers rated the charity’s overall pandemic response and programme adaptation as ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’ (with the remaining 6% rating it ‘good’). 

During what was an uncertain period for many organisations, the research shows that Virtual Panathlon didn’t just increase its impact quantitively (over 100 schools joined Panathlon for the first time and 79% of teachers said they’ve been able to engage more children than usual) but qualitatively too, as seen by these responses from the hundreds of staff surveyed: 

87% said it increased pupils’ self-esteem and pride in themselves 
87% said it created new ideas and approaches to sport 
77% said it created more empathy and feeling part of the class / school 
75% said it created more inclusion through activities for SEND children 
71% said it increased pupils’ resilience and wellbeing 
68% reported more training for teachers and parents 
59% said it improved personal skills of participants 

In addition, the at-home activities within our Virtual programme helped reduce isolation for those who were forced to remain at home during the pandemic, either long-term due to shielding or short-term while isolating. The programme has also supported deaf pupils during a very lonely time, allowing many to participate in sport alongside their mainstream peers and via live Q&As with deaf sporting role models

The research states: “It is not just numbers that have increased, Panathlon has made a clear difference to those involved and delivered against all its sought outcomes this academic year.” 

Manor School Panathlon

Such has been the impact of Panathlon’s in-school provision that it is set to change the way we operate indefinitely. The research findings show that 91% of teachers would favour a ‘blended approach’ of virtual in-school delivery and external competitions (i.e. our traditional pathway of local, regional, divisional and national finals) whenever coronavirus restrictions allow them to return. 

This ‘blended’ approach will prioritise the flexibility that has been the foundation of the Virtual programme’s success thus far. It has allowed schools to participate at their own pace, to select activities that suit their pupils’ needs and abilities and which staff feel comfortable delivering. In addition, Panathlon staff have visited schools to help deliver activities alongside staff (nearly 7,000 pupils were coached by our visiting staff on-site in 2020/21). The programme is most certainly not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach – it is for schools to use in whatever way suits them. 

The evolution of the programme through the academic year (including three lockdowns and ever-changing regulations) was based entirely on schools’ feedback. This is reflected towards the end of Bean Research’s report when it says that Panathlon “seek feedback and use it not just to report its impact, but to create even greater social change”. 

The report concludes that Panathlon has brought children together and inspired and supported activity in schools. As a result, schools, teachers and children have been better equipped to respond positively to the very challenging environment. 

Tony Waymouth, Panathlon’s Chief Operating Officer, said: “We welcome the findings of this independent research into our response to the pandemic. We feel it reflects the proactive, ‘front-foot’ approach we have shown since coronavirus first hit. 

“Despite reports from Sport England and the Activity Alliance about disproportionate levels of inactivity among disabled people due to Covid, we have never relented in our determination to adapt to the circumstances and provide sporting activity that enriches disabled/SEN young people’s lives. 

“To our great delight, schools have supported and embraced our programmes in huge numbers, in spite of the restrictions they were operating under. We thank them and look forward to the dynamic blend of old and new approaches we plan to launch in the new academic year.” 

To download the full Bean Research document, ‘Panathlon Pandemic Response: An Impact Review’, click below. 

(You can also view Bean Research’s report into Panathlon’s impact from 2019 here