Burnt Mill Academy only joined the ‘Panathlon family’ in 2017/18 but they have embraced the programme so wholeheartedly that the 2018 Jack Petchey Foundation judging panel saw fit to inaugurate an award in their honour.

Burnt Mill Academy Trust – which consists of four secondary schools and five primaries in Harlow, Essex – were named the first winners of the School Newcomer of the Year prize at the 2018 Jack Petchey Outstanding Achievement awards on November 16 at John Lewis Stratford City, overlooking the Olympic Park.

The Trust has provided Young Leaders in several competitions and in return Panathlon events have greatly augmented the skills of pupils on their leadership programmes, some of whom have special educational needs themselves.

After being trained up by Panathlon COO Tony Waymouth, staff and students were given the opportunity to officiate and assist competitors at the East of England Multisports Final in February, the Essex Primary Swimming Final at the London Aquatics Centre and the East Region Deaf Boccia Final.

“Working with the children has been brilliant for them,” said Director of Sport, Phil Dawes (pictured above).“Initially the primary schools in our Trust weren’t getting access to inclusive PE sessions, so I started inviting the SEND primary children into the secondary school to use all our great equipment. Then we started getting our secondary students in to work with them as sports leaders.

“Through that, to make sure I was doing things right in these sessions, I got the Essex advisor for sport and PE to give me some feedback. She was quite impressed with what we were doing and she put me in touch with Panathlon. It built from there and our students have been doing local and county competitions and next week we’re helping out at the national Primary Finals at the Copper Box Arena.

“Our sports leaders get so much out of it. They can really see from working with them how to adapt activities, base things at their level and they get a real buzz out of it. It helps them develop, seeing all kinds of different needs people have and how to deal with them up-close. It teaches them to treat people with disabilities normally, rather than differently.

“It’s great for them to get on with them and have a laugh or a joke. It’s lovely to see that kind of interaction. It’s also really helping our leadership programme at the school, giving kids great opportunities and some amazing places to go, such as the Olympic Park.”

Burnt Mill pupil Olivia Tyne, 13 (pictured right, second from left), attended the ceremony and commented: “Working as a Young Leader has made me so much better at working with young disabled people. I understand their needs so much better and it’s been a lovely experience.”

The prizes on the day were presented by Panathlon Ambassador Liz Johnson, the Paralympic gold medallist swimmer, Jack Petchey Foundation’s Operations Director Geema Juma and special guest Matthew Key.

Liz said: “Young Leaders are integral to Panathlon’s incredible impact. They have such a good temperament, understanding of the rules and the needs of the youngsters taking part.

“It really prepares them for life once they finish school because these skills they get from being at these events can’t be taught, they have to experience them on the field of play. It requires them to think on their feet and access skillsets they don’t get to use in the classroom. It has been great today to see how much it means to the leaders to be recognised.”

Sir Jack Petchey added: “I think sport is important for all regardless of your ability. The Panathlon challenge gives young disabled people the chance to develop their skills, be part of a team and feel the joy and motivation created by taking part in an exciting competition with their peers. We want all young people to know that” if they think they can – they can”! We are very proud of the young people who are part of the Panathlon this year – well done all!”