Panathlon has become deeply embedded at Alleyn Court Prep School in Southend – and the school’s Director of Sport says working with us has “changed me as a person.”

Alleyn Court have hosted Panathlon competitions in recent years and competed in many external events including swimming galas at the London Aquatics Centre. This term, three former Panathletes in Year 6 (including Will and Maya) volunteered as Young Leaders at a Panathlon competition for Key Stage 1 children, supporting younger pupils and officiating the competition with confidence and enthusiasm.

“They were so inspired by their own past experiences with Panathlon that they wanted to lead younger children from our school at the event,” said Alleyn Court’s Director of Sport, Noel Smith. “It was really sweet to see them supporting our Year 1 and 2 children, but they were brilliant with the other teams as well. They cheered whenever they did something well.”

This willingness to give back is only part of the story of how Panathlon has positively impacted Alleyn Court pupils. The parents of one former pupil, Emma Strain, were so thankful for the effect that participating had had on their daughter that they donated £1000 for the school to spend on Panathlon equipment.

The polybat, new-age kurling, table cricket, basketball hoop and bowling sets are now used in the school’s Panathlon club every Tuesday. The club, run by Karen Montellier, is invite-only for pupils with disabilities and special needs, with participants’ impairments ranging from a wheelchair user to learning difficulties.

The club runs alongside the school’s traditional football, rugby, cricket and netball clubs and is considered very much of equal status, with their achievements celebrated wholeheartedly in assemblies and awards ceremonies. “The club is great fun, they all absolutely love it,” said Mr Smith.

The school has also partnered with local charity Whizz-Kidz which funds young wheelchair users. They have supplied further adapted sports equipment and Panathletes help lead activities for pupils with lower-body mobility issues.

Additionally, the school awards the Strain Cup (named after the same former pupil) each year to the highest-achieving Panathlon competitor alongside the traditional mainstream annual sporting prizes. The winners’ names are engraved on it forever. “Emma’s parents saw the massive confidence and benefits it brought her and wanted to reward others who excelled in it too,” said Mr Smith.

Mr Smith uses the Panathlon equipment and ethos to differentiate activities for SEND pupils within the curriculum. If less-able pupils are unable to access table tennis, for example, the table cricket set will be set up alongside for SEND pupils.

“Panathlon has taken off at our school massively,” says Mr Smith. “If every school did it – which they can because every primary school has Sports Premium funding – it would make as huge a difference as it has here.

“We give every child the opportunity to play football and netball for the school, regardless of their ability, but a couple of years ago we realised there was something missing for a certain cohort of children. I got together with my staff and the SENCO and got involved in a local Panathlon competition with the Southend School Sport Partnership. From there, we wanted to do more and more.”

Witnessing Panathlon’s impact on pupils on a weekly basis inspired Mr Smith to volunteer for a charity called Camp Jojo during the summer holidays. Camp JoJo offer summer camping experiences for families with children who have complex needs. Mr Smith now takes the school’s Panathlon equipment along to the camps.

He revealed: “Previously, there were table tennis tables at the campsite, but only the parents used them. The Panathlon activities are completely accessible and fun for everyone. The children can now take part, but the adults do too!”

Panathlon has also given Mr Smith a broader view on the delivery of PE and sport. “I’ve been teaching PE for 19 years and I’ve always been very old-school – very traditional,” he explains. “Panathlon has been important for my development as a person and a PE teacher. It’s changed me. It’s opened my eyes to the whole world.

“I was always a football, rugby, cricket kind of guy, but now I understand more about various needs and disabilities. Panathlon came along at the right time for us as a school to give children more opportunity to access and enjoy competitive sport. I’ve now got so much more empathy for families with children with SEND and what they have to go through on a daily basis. I’m happy that we can impact so positively on their lives.”

Panathlon’s Chief Operating Officer, Tony Waymouth, said: “The work we have done in Southend with local School Games Organiser Kirk Edwards has really borne fruit – and Alleyn Court is a prime example.

“We give special thanks to Noel Smith for embracing everything we have provided and helping us leave a legacy for children with disabilities and special needs at the school.”