Deaf children from Heathlands School in St Albans, Hertfordshire, have made a big impact in Panathlon’s swimming competitions, culminating recently in gold and silver respectively in our National Primary and Secondary Deaf Finals at the Aquatics Centre in London. We caught up with Heathlands’ PE Lead, Sean Priestley, to ask him about Panathlon’s impact on the school for deaf children.

What particular difficulties do deaf pupils face in participating in sport?

Many deaf students who attend a deaf school do not live near to any of their deaf friends and so they do not have friends from school to play with when they go home at the end of the school day.  Also very few sports clubs, if any, near to their homes will have access to BSL for the deaf students to be able to communicate.  If the deaf student wished to attend a sports club with BSL access this may be far away from their home which may not be possible for them to get to. In general sports are aimed towards mainstream pupils, and although clubs are more inclusive these days, coaches still lack skills to be able to fully include children with a hearing loss.

What benefits does Panathlon bring to deaf children at your school?

Panathlon allows our students to participate in more competitive activities for deaf children. This allows students to develop physically and also socially through meeting and interacting with students from other schools. Students enjoy the competitive nature of events which is good for their overall development and the events also teach them transferable skills such as respect, team work, communication and leadership.

What has been the impact more widely across the whole school? 

Students have looked forward to events year on year and have wanted to practise prior to events taking place to ensure that they do well and try to the best of their ability. All certificates for taking part and any trophies have been presented in school assemblies with students proud to receive these and reflect on their successes. 

Heathlands have won the Panathlon National Deaf title twice already; have you been surprised by your early success?  

Yes of course as there are some excellent deaf swimmers out there!  Our students have good abilities and enjoy participating in many sports, but swimming seems to be one that Heathlands has excelled in.  Some students attend swimming with their families and friends at weekends and, as they say, ‘practice makes perfect!’    

What is the existing swimming/sport provision like at the school? How has Panathlon added to and augmented that? 

Swimming at Heathlands is included in the primary school curriculum with students attending swimming lessons once weekly for a term.  With the introduction of the Panathlon national swimming event we would like to try and include some further swimming opportunities into the secondary curriculum so that students can continue to develop on the skills they have developed at a primary level.