Doucecroft School in Colchester have been competing in Panathlon competitions for four years. Andrea Griffiths is the driving force behind their involvement and says it has made a “massive difference” to pupils’ health and wellbeing.

The Essex school caters for pupils on the autistic spectrum and with a range of additional physical, learning and communication needs. Prior to joining Panathlon, they had never before had a competitive sporting fixture against another school.

Andrea, the school’s sports co-ordinator, says it has transformed the PE curriculum and the pupils’ attitude towards sport and physical activity.

“Competing in Panathlons gives them self-esteem, confidence and independence,” she says.“We don’t have to be on top of them all the time. We can give them that little bit of freedom to mix with other schools and teachers and make friends.

“Some of our pupils are little monkeys in school but out at Panathlons it’s so nice to see them smiling and talking to other children. They don’t get that opportunity otherwise because most of them are looked after one-to-one.

“The boys now constantly ask me to do more sports and activities, it’s created huge demand. We never integrated with other schools before. No-one had heard of us. Panathlon has given them a taste for competition and we’ve had matches against Columbus School [Chelmsford], Market Field [Colchester] and Shorefields [Clacton].”The Panathlon Challenge - Jack Petchey Outstanding Achievement Awards 2017 - John Lewis - Stratford - London - 15/11/2017 © Andrew Fosker for Panathlon

Andrea says the school’s sports day now follows a Panathlon format and she runs weekly Panathlon training sessions with identical activities such as precision bean bag, standing long jump and field athletics.

All this activity has clearly worked wonders. Doucecroft are one of Panathlon’s most active and successful schools, with no fewer than three award winners at the annual Jack Petchey Outstanding Achievement Awards – Ethan-Beau Howes (winner in 2016, pictured above left), Jamie Green (2015 runner-up) and Tony Chaney (Highly Commended in 2017, pictured right in blue). In addition, Dean Davidson was chosen as our Woodland Primary Outstanding Achiever for Essex last summer.

Andrea says there are several potential award winners of the future amongst her primary-age pupils who are currently itching to get involved in Panathlon, including 10-year-old Ewan Ambrose. “He’s so good with our younger students,” she says. “He’s the next one who will move up and follow in the footsteps of the others.”

She concluded: “I can’t tell you how much Panathlon has changed the school. It has opened the eyes of our staff and they can see how happy the students are at your events and on their return to school and how PE is very important for our students.

“Another big part of attending Panathlons is for our students to be polite and teach them to manage their behaviour in the community. Our students find change to their daily routines and unfamiliar settings very stressful and I can assure you we took them all out of their comfort zones. We are so proud of all our students.”