Abingdon House School in central London has taken part in Panathlon for just two years – but already the difference it has made to pupils is huge. 

The 130 pupils at the school in Westminster have learning difficulties such as dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD. They had never taken part in external sports competitions until Panathlon opened up “a whole new world”.

We asked Abingdon House’s PE teacher, Murray King, to describe the impact Panathlon has had on pupils since they engaged with our Virtual Panathlon programme over lockdown, then our swimming, multisport, 10-pin bowling and football events once Covid-19 rules were eased.

– How has Panathlon augmented the school’s previous provision of competitive sport opportunities for pupils? 

Prior to my arrival at Abingdon, the school had never been involved in community sports events. Sports provision went as far as kicking a football. Panathlon has opened a whole new world for our students.

Our ‘sporty’ children often attend mainstream clubs but they only form about 10% of the school – Panathlon offers the other 90% competitions where they can compete on an equal playing field and take part in genuinely inclusive events.

When I took our students to Moberly Sports Centre in March 2021, I’ll never forget the reaction of the staff who had been working with our children for years. They were blown away that an event existed where their students could be successful and have fun. They’d never seen anything like it. For most of the students, it was the first competition where they could walk away with a medal. They were buzzing and so were the staff!  

When I arrived, I was able to introduce the students and teaching assistants to new ways of working with SEN students in PE. Many of my activities were picked up from Panathlon events I’d been to with my previous school. It changed the way students engaged with PE. From having 30% of students sitting on the sidelines, we no longer have any ‘PE refusers’.

– What are the benefits of participating in our competitions for your pupils? 

Applying skills from PE to competitive scenarios is a fundamental part of the National Curriculum – Panathlon gives our students this opportunity.

The social and emotional development of SEN students is an area they must work harder than their neurotypical and able-bodied peers. Panathlon offers our students a chance to socialise with peers from other SEN schools and to practise regulating their emotions within a competitive environment. 

It is inclusive. This can’t be stressed enough. With Panathlon, I know it will be a safe, inclusive space for our students to thrive and enjoy themselves because the activities and schools are perfectly matched to their physical and cognitive development. 

– What differences do you see in them after our competitions? 

Exposing our students to inclusive sports events gives them the confidence to attend other inclusive sports events and clubs within their local communities. Getting certificates and medals is such a proud moment for our students and something they remember for the rest of the year.  

– Do you see a ‘ripple effect’ on pupils back in the classroom? 

Yes. Students are more confident in PE lessons and benefit from other teachers praising them for their efforts at the event. We always add pictures and write ups to our newsletter, which is a proud moment for them. Overall, there does seem to be a correlation to their wellbeing and sense of enjoyment. 

– Has Panathlon impacted on your delivery of PE/sport in school? 

Absolutely. After I visited a few Panathlon events I learnt a lot about the equipment and type of activities I could run to make my lessons more inclusive. The multi-sports days are a great example of how we transferred that to school. The competition targets all the gross motor skills, so we use similar circuits during our multi-skills unit to practise and assess the children’s development. 

Since Panathlon launched the virtual challenges, I am able upload the resources to our Google Classroom and encourage students to complete the activities at home. The resources have videos so parents can support their kids and do some ‘homework’. The quality of these resources is incredible and so valuable. 

Joe Wicks launched his PE sessions during lockdown, but try getting a student at my school to keep up with his pace and type of exercises (physically and cognitively)! There is no way they can do it. Panathlon’s resources are the Joe Wicks of SEN virtual learning. The fact that they are accompanied by videos is a game changer.  

Earlier this year, we ran a celebration for the World Cup at our primary school which parents attended. We used all Panathlon’s virtual football activities as part of our competition circuit. Before the event, about 10 children said they didn’t want to take part and that they didn’t like football. A large part of this would have been nerves and past experiences. In the end, all children took part without the need for social and emotional support. It was huge for their self-esteem and wonderful for parents to watch.  

– What are your overall comments on working with us? 

I can’t overstress the importance that Panathlon plays for SEN sports provision at schools. For some London Boroughs and School Games Organisers, special schools simply aren’t on their radar when it comes to organising inter-school competitions. Panathlon brings SEN schools together. Whatever SEN school I work in, my first email is to Panathlon because I know they will be running events in the area, providing opportunities and bringing my PE curriculum to life.