Panathlon’s sporting competitions enable deaf students to feel “valued and connected,” according to the PE coordinator at Elmfield School for Deaf Children in Bristol. 

Young deaf people are often vulnerable to isolation and exclusion from sport and physical activity, but Panathlon’s deaf programmes give them the opportunity to take part alongside deaf peers in a safe, inclusive environment. 

That is certainly the case for Elmfield pupils, who have taken part in Panathlon’s National Deaf Swimming Final since 2019. Our 2022/23 gala was just before the Easter holidays at the London Aquatics Centre at the Olympic Park – and the Elmfield team went home as champions.

Jade Philip, Elmfield’s PE Coordinator, said: “Our students come from eight different local authorities and some have a very long journey to school every day, so shared experiences and competitions with other deaf children are very rare and very worthwhile. 

“Not only is the Panathlon gala smoothly run, our children get to compete with other deaf children just like them. It is so important to feel valued and connected to the wider deaf community and it’s lovely signing with all the staff and pupils from other schools. 

“The gala is a huge highlight on our calendar. We are so appreciative of all the hard work from the Panathlon team.” 

Jade says Panathlon’s competitions fill a void for deaf pupils who tend to lack access to sporting events that are tailored specifically for their needs. 

“Meaningful deaf competitions are hard to come by as most organisers will group deaf students with all other SEND categories, and the deaf community doesn’t always fit nicely into that box,” she explained. 

“The deaf community is a cultural and linguistic group that need some visual adjustments to replace the oral commands and signals in sports. Panathlon’s National Deaf Swimming Gala provides us with an appropriate, competitive event where our students can come together and experience the same as their hearing peers; an exciting, diverse and accessible challenge!” 

Panathlon’s accessibility to pupils of all ability levels is an important factor in Elmfield’s participation (which is no mean feat, with its team members travelling to school from so far away, before even beginning the journey to the Olympic Park in Stratford!) 

The content of our swimming galas, with a mix of swimming races and fun games to build water confidence, means all pupils can be rewarded for their achievements. 

“Elmfield students can come to a competitive and accessible sports event, and every student can feel successful, whatever the result,” says Jade. 

“It is not always about bringing your best and fastest sports team to win medals and a trophy. The range of events means that all our students can achieve and succeed at their individual level. 

“Every student who wants to compete, can! Panathlon is about celebrating the individual progress, effort and achievement of all those involved. It’s a perfect mix of ability and inclusion.” 

As a perfect illustration of this, one young member of the Elmfield team at this season’s gala was a refugee who had arrived in Britain in October and had got into a swimming pool for the first time ever in November. 

Jade explained: “Their family really wanted their child to be involved and the varied gala events meant that they were able to ‘swim’ (or walk!) their events and were celebrated the same as their friends.” 

Tony Waymouth, Panathlon’s Chief Operating Officer, said: “Elmfield’s participation shows that schools will participate in high quality and inclusive deaf sporting competitions, no matter how far they have to travel or what barriers they have to overcome. 

“Our events are the highlight of their sporting calendar, which means people invest in us – and we thank them for that wholeheartedly. We appreciate hugely the lengths schools like Elmfield go to be part of Panathlon.”

Thank you to Ovingdean Hall Foundation for their support for our programme of deaf competitions.