Panathlon’s Virtual Programme has had a hugely positive impact on a group of five Young Leaders at The Ashley School Academy Trust, a special school in north Suffolk.

Our in-school competitions have proved incredibly popular across England and Wales since we introduced them in September in response to Covid-19 restrictions forcing the suspension of all our external events.

Not only have in-school events allowed pupils to continue to benefit from engaging with Panathlon, they have also enabled Young Leaders to step up and perform important roles organising, officiating and guiding the athletes during competitions.

Almost the entire school (110 pupils in total) took part in Virtual Panathlon during the autumn term and Young Leaders Courtney, Dalton, Casey, Elsie and Keelan were on hand at every single session.

The Ashley School

The experience has contributed towards their Sports Leaders UK qualifications as well as helping them improve their communication skills, grow in confidence, build initiative and develop peer leadership.

On Thursday November 26, the five students were honoured for their endeavours by a virtual ‘visit’ from Panathlon Ambassador Nathan Maguire, the GB Paralympic wheelchair racer and Panathlon’s own Freya Levy, who has represented Great Britain in wheelchair basketball, wheelchair rugby and para ice hockey.

Pupils answered questions from Freya and Nathan about their leadership roles and then got the chance to quiz the para athletes in a Q&A session. Afterwards, pupils were presented with certificates and medals by the school’s head teacher for their endeavours.

Courtney’s Panathlon duties were the latest in a list of sports leadership roles she has performed in and out of school. She started her own lunchtime Zumba class for her peers in school last year and now does Zumba outside of school too where she helps leadsome sessions. She is also a qualified Boccia England official.

“We had quite a bit of help from the teachers at the first Virtual Panathlon days but I feel that as each session went on, we grew more and more in confidence,” she said.

Casey really enjoyed leading the games for Key Stage 2 pupils and said: “Now I’d really like to help more children outside of school.”

Head of PE, Andrew Deacon, commented: ““One of our young learners was really finding it exceptionally challenging to engage in some of the activities. Casey noticed the young learner required additional support during the competition and took it upon himself to guide him for the whole hour’s activity. It was a real achievement by Casey to show such initiative.”

Elsie said of her Young Leader experience: “I found it really tough at first to talk in front of the children and get them to listen. I got a bit of help from Mrs Gray in the first week but by the last week I was running it by myself. It’s given me confidence to talk in front of people I don’t know.”

Casey and Keelan have volunteered to go into the headteacher’s office and announce the results live to all the classrooms online in a virtual assembly. Ten pupils will then be selected to take part in a ‘game day’ in early December. After Christmas pupils will take part in Panathlon’s new virtual ten-pin bowling and new-age kurling competitions.

The Ashley School

Mr Deacon commented: “Covid-19 has presented a whole load of challenges so this programme has given me the platform to enable our leaders to fulfil the criteria of the Sports Leaders course and clock up the hours required. That practical, hands-on experience is where they learn best. Virtual Panathlon has been so helpful and supportive.

“Casey for example, has only been on the programme since September and he’s already saying he wants to go and help others in the community. It has given them all confidence, skills and self-belief to be active leaders in other environments.

“We’re very proud of these guys and what they’ve achieved in such a short space of time. They are taking ownership of their own development.

“We certainly don’t do it all for them. Panathlon have given us the ideas but the preparation of the hall, planning, leadership, cleaning of the equipment, compiling of results and the evaluation afterwards has all involved them.”

Jeffrey Hoey, Partnership Development Manager at North Suffolk School Games, was also full of praise for the Young Leaders and the programme.

“Virtual Panathlon has allowed many of our schools to continue their involvement in Panathlon, keeping hundreds of local children engaged in PE and sport during this difficult term.

“The programme has given a much-needed purpose to our schools and a focus for their PE lessons. This in turn has maintained their enthusiasm for inclusive sport. It’s been a real success and an asset and a champion for inclusive sport in our area.

“I’ve had the pleasure of watching The Ashley School’s internal events. The Young Leaders have done an amazing job and when we can get back to normal, fingers crossed, I’ve got a nice long list of external events I’d like them to support me with!”

All but one of the leaders are veterans of Panathlon competitions, having competed at the Copper Box Arena and London 2012 Aquatics Centre among other venues. As they were presented with their medals, Keelan said: “My mum says I’m going to need a new medal rack for Christmas because my current one is full!”

Panathlon would like to thank North Suffolk School Games, the Emma Holloway Foundation and Suffolk Community Foundation for their support for our activity in Suffolk.