Panathlon veteran Ellie Stewart has become a confident, independent role model for other disabled pupils at Chadwell Heath Academy – and her inspiring journey has been recognised with an award.

Ellie, 17, was given the runner-up prize in Panathlon’s 16th annual Jack Petchey Outstanding Achievement awards in honour of what teachers have called her “remarkable progression” in dealing with cerebral palsy through high school.

When she joined Chadwell Heath in Year 7, Ellie was completely dependent on wraparound support from her Learning Support Assistant (LSA). Since then, she has had numerous operations, including a significant one in 2022 which caused her miss a lot of school.

Now in Year 13, Ellie no longer needs LSA support. During certain periods, she needed rehab at school and that physio time was designated instead of PE. However, her commitment to rehab has allowed her to embed back into PE and classes as a fully functioning student.

Using her support frame, she has now achieved total independence, ticking off milestones such as using the London Underground to get to 6th form class without the support of staff. 

She also now has an ambassador role at school – representing other disabled pupils’ views and working with the PE department on how PE lessons can become inclusive. She is consulted on equipment and how adaptations can occur in lessons, helping to give younger year groups full access to PE.

She has become a role model in PE and an advocate for Panathlon in school, having competed in our competitions for eight years. She has been school Panathlon captain has taken on leadership responsibilities at external events and in school. She has been a consistent cheerleader for other pupils with disabilities – inspiring and mentoring a younger pupil with Cerebal Palsy to do his best and become more independent.

During lockdown, when Ellie was recovering from various operations, the Virtual Panathlon ‘at-home challenge’ activities were important in keeping her motivated.

Ellie’s teacher Mrs Garratt said: “As well as excelling in her academic studies, Ellie has always put time aside to support the younger students and share her experiences of taking part in Panathlon. This helps motivate them and at times put their mind at ease, which they all really appreciate.”

Ellie won the Jack Petchey Speak Out Challenge in Year 10, putting herself forward to speak publicly on the subject of disability. After achieving outstanding GCSE results, she is currently excelling in her A Levels. She aspires to be a lawyer and has already had offers to study Law post-18 at a university away from home.

Mrs Garratt added: “Ellie is a fantastic student who is a positive inspiration to all, especially the younger students in the school who have disabilities of their own. She never gives up or sees her disability as a barrier. Although at times life has been mentally and physically challenging for her, she has gained so much strength and become the role model she is today here at Chadwell Heath Academy. 

“She sets herself high aspirations, particularly academically, and this has led to lots of exam anxiety and worry. Nevertheless, she has embraced the support and strategies offered to manage this.

“This is due in no small part to the confidence that participation in the Panathlon has given
her as it has always pushed her outside of her comfort zone and has boosted her confidence to be more independent.”