Panathlon virtual programme

Panathlon’s Virtual Programme has been hailed as a stunning success at the end of its first term in schools.

Launched in response to Covid-19 restrictions forcing the postponement of our usual calendar of external competitions, our virtual events have allowed pupils to take part in sporting competition safely within school, with internally-trained Young Leaders officiating and guiding their younger peers through a specially-adapted set of activities.

As of 9 December, 8,290 competitors and 601 Young Leaders had participated in our ‘pre-season’ activities, with 6,550 and 508 leaders taking part in ‘game day’ competition. Those numbers are spread across just over 300 schools.

Primary and secondary-age students have developed skills within an engaging, inclusive and challenging competition framework – something they may otherwise have been denied during a period of many restrictions to school sport and PE.

“It has offered something fresh, accessible and different during times when our lives were under a lot of stress,” said Sarka Viehoff, SENCO at Heritage House School in Chesham, Buckinghamshire.

“The games were simple, easy to follow and could be adjusted to different ability levels. Our students appreciated that they could all achieve and we made the rules flexible.”

In late November, we augmented the initial activity packs and guidance by adding two new activities to the programme – ten-pin bowling (pictured left) and new-age kurling – to provide even more engagement opportunities for staff.


To date, 5,372 competitors and 450 Young Leaders have entered for bowling, and 3,451 (374 leaders) in the kurling.

As the figures suggest, the leadership opportunities the Virtual Programme has provided for older students have been widely embraced.

Simon Ash, Teacher of the Deaf at Mildmay School in Essex, commented: “The virtual competitions allowed our Year 6 SEND children to be used in a leadership role which normally would have been filled by a secondary-aged pupil.

“This gave them a unique experience to take ownership of an event and support younger children with SEND.

“They were able to develop communication skills, having to talk to children they may never have met before – not easy for all of them – as well as think about the type of language they used to make sure the children understand what to do – another skill some of them aren’t used to practising.

“They had to develop confidence in being able to demonstrate the activities and to stand up in a leadership role, which most had never done before.

“The adults who work with these young leaders have all commented on how this has made a huge difference to their self-esteem and confidence. We are very grateful for the opportunity given by Panathlon to get this process started for them – they all absolutely loved it!”

The Mildmay pupils who took up Young Leader roles were thrilled with the opportunity. Here are some of their reactions:

  • Kodie – “My job was important and I liked being important. I enjoyed competing against other schools even though we can’t see them in real life, and I liked showing the younger children how to do the things.”
  • George – “It’s good to help other people have fun while having fun yourself.”
  • Connor – “Being a proper leader felt good and made me really happy.”
  • Dexter – “You can still have fun and do the Panathlon activities even though you have to follow the rules because of Covid.”

Reactions were similar at Gillas Lane Primary School in Sunderland, who were the first primary school nationwide to sign up for the Virtual Panathlon programme back in September.

The mainstream school’s High Level Teaching Assistant, Mark Douglass, said the experience for their Young Leaders has been “invaluable”.

“It gives them a sense of empowerment and pride that I feel they would not usually have access to,” said Mark. “It gave our leaders a sense of independence in preparation for secondary school. They learned how to communicate with younger children and to keep them engaged in the activities. They have gained new techniques to help them in everyday life.”

“School leaders place great importance on our involvement in Panathlon, so much so that it is a key feature of our school development plan under the Behaviour and Attitudes section.

“It has given the learners a great sense of achievement knowing that even if they have a disability, they can still take part in the same sporting activities as our able-bodied children.

“This gives them a feeling of equality within the school and the mentality that even though they may have a disability, that could be the best thing that could happen to them, as it gives them different opportunities than others would normally get.”

Read more about our in-school Virtual Programme here.