Over 18,000 SEND pupils entered Panathlon’s virtual and face-to-face sporting activities during the first half-term of 2021/22.

The astounding figure is further evidence that Panathlon has bucked the reported downward trend in sport and physical activity access and participation among people with disabilities and special needs during the pandemic.

In just the first six weeks of the new academic year, almost 4000 young people (3546 participants and 340 Young Leaders) took part in the external multi-sport, ten-pin bowling, football, swimming and other events we have re-launched across England and Wales now the Covid-19 regulations have been relaxed. 

Just under 3000 pupils completed cross-curricular Panathlon sport-specific and values-based activities (example here) and engaged in ‘virtual’ practices in the lead-up to entering one of our face-to-face competitions.

And while our external provision resumes in earnest, our in-school Virtual Panathlon programme continues to go from strength to strength. In school halls and playgrounds all over the land, over 10,000 students entered in multi-skills, boccia, cricket, football, new-age kurling, ten-pin bowling, table top cricket, swimming and personal challenges – often encompassing every pupil in the school.

Well over 1000 pupils also experienced live Q&As via Zoom with inspiring Panathlon ambassadors such as GB Paralympian Nathan Maguire, England deaf tennis champion Esah Hyatt and Panathlon’s own multi-parasport international Freya Levy.

The grand total of 18,117 entrants in our plethora of activity is testament to the innovation, tenacity and hard work of Panathlon’s delivery team in adapting to the vast change in circumstances for us all caused by Covid-19. They have shown that the pandemic should not be a barrier to providing SEND pupils with access to fulfilling, fun and rewarding sport and physical activity opportunities.

Greenways Primary School in Essex is just one school to have thrown itself into both virtual and our re-launched external activity. “These events are making the pupils’ year! They are so happy,” said Greenways PE Lead Adam Miller. “They have been denied these sorts of opportunities for so long, but it’s now giving them a real love for sport. One parent told me that their child was so proud of their medal that they got into mum’s bed wearing it! Mum is very proud of the two children. One happy family!”

By linking both in-school and external activity into the curriculum, Panathlon is having a holistic effect on pupils, helping improve maths and language skills, teaching values as well as improving self-esteem, confidence and mental and physical wellbeing.

Becci Cooke, School Games Organiser for the London Borough of Hillingdon, said: “The students are still buzzing from taking part in this term’s Panathlon. The resources help embed some of the learning from taking part in this event, and can be used as a whole-class activity or for the pupils who attended to share what they did across the class.”

Panathlon’s Virtual Programme is also having a significant impact on positive inclusion of SEND pupils within mainstream settings. Many schools have opened up our activities to everyone, thus making pupils in SEND units feel less isolated and earning them the respect and acknowledgement from mainstream peers for their achievements in our competitions.

Bury in Greater Manchester has played host to several external competitions in the new term. Andy Lord, Sports Development Manager at Bury School Sports Partnership, called Panathlon “massively important” for SEND pupils at schools in the area.

“For us, Panathlons are the stand-out events in our calendar,” he said. “We’ve struggled to put enough events on for SEN pupils, so it’s crucial to be able to link up with an organisation like Panathlon. If they didn’t exist, to put it bluntly, we would find it very hard to expand our SEN offer.”

Tony Waymouth, Panathlon’s Chief Operating Officer, said: “Our new blended offer of virtual and face-to-face competitions, cross-curricular, extra- curricular and lunchtime clubs and teacher training has moved us on from our pre-pandemic model of simply delivering ‘mini Paralympics’ competitions.

“We’re now having a wider impact on individual pupils and school environments, making them healthier, happier and more inclusive places. The events on our calendar are not just ‘turn up and play’ competitions, they are physical and emotional learning opportunities for all involved.

“We hope all our participating schools and sponsors are hugely encouraged, as we are, by success from the first half-term. We look forward to providing even more opportunities at local level as the academic year progresses to enable children to not just participate, but develop competence and confidence that benefits them in everyday life.”