Doucecroft School in Colchester is a treasured member of the Panathlon family. In the last six years, we have become a “crucial piece of the jigsaw” in how they achieve their wonderful impact on pupils with autism and complex needs.
Since their first entry into one of our competitions in 2015, Doucecroft have embraced Panathlon’s inclusive ethos and have adopted it across their entire PE and sport provision. The ripple effect through the school has been far-reaching.
Doucecroft’s Head Teacher, Louise Parkinson, praised Panathlon for “allowing our young people to experience new activities and pushing them out of their comfort zones”.
She added: “Watching their peers achieve success and win trophies has a big influence on some of our other pupils. It makes them want to try harder themselves, not just in sport but in other aspects of their learning. It is really important to us at Doucecroft that we’re able to be part of Panathlon. It means a lot.”
Training for upcoming Panathlon competitions has become a major focus of PE lessons, which often consist of setting up the school’s ‘PE barn’ with the same equipment and layout as a Panathlon competition. This gets pupils familiar with the individual activities, format and schedule – something that’s especially important for children with autism.
Doucecroft’s sports coach Andrea Griffiths (pictured above with John Stubbings from Panathlon’s supporters Woodland Group) has done so much to embed Panathlon at the school. She says: “Panathlon’s structure is perfect because they know exactly where they should be, what they’re doing and what’s coming next. It doesn’t matter what event we take them to, they know what to expect, which is crucial for autistic children.”
Many pupils arrive at Doucecroft having had challenging experiences in mainstream education, particularly in PE where they typically face many barriers to participating.
Pupils, parents and teachers have reported that Panathlon has awakened a love of sport within its participants that had never been allowed to prosper before. The accessibility of our activities and structure enables students to overcome barriers and get that precious feeling, ‘I can do it!’
One such example is nine-year-old Connor Fenn, who recently won Panathlon’s Woodland Group Essex Primary Special Recognition award.
“I believe if it were not for Connor attending the Panathlons, he would not have come on as far in PE as he has done,” commented Andrea. “Being part of our team has given him 100% more confidence and self-belief.”
James Barrett (pictured above, centre, at the Woodland Group Essex Primary Outstanding Achievement Awards) is another Doucecroft pupil to have benefited hugely from Panathlon following a tough early educational experience. He had had five schools by the age of eight as his parents struggled to find the right environment to meet his complex needs. At Doucecroft, he finally settled.
“Panathlon has really helped build up his confidence, not just in sport but every day in school,” said James’ father Peter. “He hangs his medals above his bed at home and he loves looking up at them. On a daily basis he gets a reminder of his achievements.”
James’ mum, Nina, added: “Doing sport in school and building up to the Panathlon competitions helps regulate him, helps his concentration and focus, his listening skills and being part of a team.”
Nina also explained how Panathlon has had a positive ripple effect into the classroom too: “It definitely has a knock-on effect on the academic side,” she said. “Supporting James with his anxieties and difficulties contains many different elements and Panathlon is a crucial piece of the jigsaw.”
The theme of Panathlon being a springboard for achievement in other areas of academic and general life is continued by another pupil, 11-year-old Chloe Wingrove. She also arrived at the school having never taken part in PE at her previous mainstream schools and having been separated from her classmates.
“Doucecroft has made an unbelievable difference to her – and Panathlon has undoubtedly been a key part of that,” said Chloe’s father Leroy Wingrove. “All along she’s just needed the right access and opportunities and now she has those.”
Due to her ADHD and autism, Chloe (pictured below with her mum) initially really struggled with turn taking, sharing and winning and losing. Gradually, though, she developed a great love of sport, and she now goes horse riding, swimming and wants to be a PE teacher when she’s older.
The impact of attending Panathlon’s external competitions (which will hopefully return soon post-Covid) also cannot be under-estimated for children with autism, who can often find crowds and noise an intimidating prospect.
This was something that Doucecroft pupil Jack Greer found especially challenging. He has a multitude of complex needs and physical issues, and often displayed challenging behaviour when in noisy environments such as swimming pools or sports halls.
However, his courage in overcoming these anxieties to participate wholeheartedly in Panathlon gave him the confidence to pursue many other pursuits outside of school too. For doing so, he won our 2020 Jack Petchey Foundation Outstanding Achievement Award.
“With his anxieties and behavioural problems when he was around other children who made noise, we never would’ve believed he could thrive as he has done in team sports, which is thanks to the fabulous Doucecroft staff and Panathlon,” said his dad Tony.
His mum Barbara added: “My hear is bursting with pride. My thanks goes out to Doucecroft School and Panathlon for encouraging him to try new experiences, for their passion for getting all kids involved in sports and creating the opportunities to participate in competitions. It builds their confidence, gives them the feeling of being part of a team and pride at representing their school.”
Head teacher Louise says: “At Panathlon competitions they learn so many things – taking risks, being OK if they don’t win, building resilience and overcoming their anxieties. These are huge lessons.
“They’re going to get nervous, but Panathlon enables them to channel that and develop ways to cope. It encourages that ‘can-do’ attitude which, as we know, acts as a springboard to success in many areas of their lives.
“It’s also about being able to go to the bowling alley or swimming pool and simply be accepted. Nobody is going to question why they’re walking along the lines, as they like to do, or shouting things out.
“Panathlon’s biggest impact is on the young people’s self-esteem. They come back from events and feel proud that they have really achieved – but more than that, it’s about the opportunity to see and work alongside other autistic pupils from different schools and match themselves against them.”
‘AMAZING LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES’
Head of Year, Kuben Reddy, added: “Opportunities to participate, have fun, build their social skills and get a sense of enjoyment are so rewarding.
“I must admit, when we were first introduced to Panathlon, we thought, ‘How is this going to work?’ But it has been nothing but positive. It has given our kids a platform to extend their learning, opportunities to participate in new activities, to test themselves, see other settings and form relationships. These are all amazing learning opportunities and experiences for a young person.”
Sports coach Andrea says Panathlon’s positive effects have radiated around the staff room. “Staff can see how happy the students are at the events and on return to school, and how PE is so important for our students. Panathlon events have open our staff’s eyes. I can’t tell you how much it has changed the school.”
Tony Waymouth, Panathlon’s Chief Operations Officer, said: “It has been wonderful to see the evolution of our partnership with Doucecroft. So often, children with autism are deemed to be ‘difficult to engage’ in sport and physical activity, but the way Doucecroft have fuly embraced our offering and adapted their practices shows that incredible results are possible. We look forward to working with them for many more years into the future.”