Panathlon has helped a huge number of schools achieve the required standards in swimming provision set by the Government. Lack of facilities and expertise make it difficult for many to fully meet the needs of SEND pupils, but with our help, children are flourishing and having positive experiences in the water.

The facts

Previous statistics have shown one in three primary school leavers cannot swim one length of a pool. Curriculum pressures squeeze swimming off the weekly timetables, according to the Curriculum Swimming and Water Safety Review Group.

Whilst provision is improving, around one in 20 mainstream primary schools in the UK do not offer swimming lessons, and even where they are offered, just over a third reach all three national curriculum standards. With disabled children, these figures are far worse as access to pools is more -scarce in special schools, while in mainstream environments disabled children can be left out due to negative attitudes regarding what they can do.

Panathlon swimming

How Panathlon has helped

At Panathlon, we understand that a positive early experience of water can encourage a lifetime of participation among disabled children. The freedom and weightlessness that water provides often reduces, and sometimes almost completely eradicates, the mobility issues they face. It builds muscle tone and strength, helps with balance and co-ordination, and develops motor skills.

Additionally, swimming helps disabled children develop better spatial awareness as they use reference points and explore water depth. Water-based activities provide sensory stimulation for children with sensory processing disorders and those on the autistic spectrum – helping engage one of the most inactive groups of children. Most importantly, swimming develops a life-saving skill.

Panathlon’s unique format encourages swimmers and non-swimmers to participate in individual and team challenges. Children get the opportunity to participate in water experiences and team competition through a variety of races and challenges – from 10m freestyle with floats and ‘push and glide’, through to non-swimming activities such as a treasure hunt and raft race to help build water confidence. Each child ends the competition with a medal, swimming cap and certificate and the top three teams receive trophies and towels.

Panathlon launched its swim programme six years ago. Since then, we have given even those with the most complex needs a priceless participation opportunity. Many of these young people had never participated in an external swimming gala before. For a small number, it is their first ever swimming experience.

Primary school swimming provision over the past year has grown as schools have used Primary Sport Premium money for top-up lessons and improved attainment. Primary schools with SEN pupils have seen Panathlon as a vehicle for delivering swimming lessons and secondary schools have used Panathlon as motivation to keep swimming on their curriculum.

Panathlon swimming

What the schools say

Emma Turnbull, School Games Organiser in Tees Valley:

“We love Panathlon swimming galas because they provide an opportunity for all pupils to be involved in a team event but gain points individually too. We also like the flexibility that pupils can use a variety of swimming aids to support them and build confidence. Panathlon is the one outlet for SEN swimming that enables children to test their skills in the water.”

“The gala also links with the ‘Personal Development’ section under the Ofsted framework. Active Citizens – Equality & Diversity, Developing Character through cooperation, Good Health and Wellbeing, resilience and confidence are all aspects of the gala structure.”

Fran Nicholl, Inclusion lead for North Yorkshire:

“Panathlon swimming galas provide a fantastic opportunity to compete against other schools in a structured, inclusive, fair competition. The programme is well designed so disabled pupils of similar ability compete against each other.

“Swimming is part of the Department of Education’s desire to improve standards and this gala structure and competition at all ability levels challenges pupils and makes them strive to get better. Without Panathlon swimming competitions, many children in North Yorkshire with SEND would not get the opportunity to participate and to also compete regulary at regional levels.”

Wayne Brown, PE teacher at Rosetta Primary School in LB Newham:

“We haven’t had the opportunity to do lessons with these guys, let alone competitions. Panathlon has helped us put swimming back on the map. Leisure centres don’t provide specific lessons for autistic children as they need specialist providers. That’s why this is so, so beneficial for our pupils. They wouldn’t be able to compete normally but here the playing field is level – and to get to compete at the London 2012 Aquatics Centre – it just doesn’t get any better!”

Leslie Kojo Gadogbe, teacher at St Marylebone C of E Bridge School in Westminster:

“It was an amazing experience socialising and competing against other schools. The set-up of the event was perfect to meet our students’ needs. It was inclusive and allowed students to express themselves in the pool. The impact has been huge in school with other students wanting to come to future Panathlon galas. The students that engaged in the competitions are now taking on more swimming sessions outside of school and have shown more confidence and interest in school sports.”

Anne-Marie Ormondy, PE teacher at Sacred Heart Primary in Wandsworth:

“The kids in our autism base swim every other week but they have never done any competition. It’s brilliant – it’s just the best thing! The variety of activities is fantastic. People forget that even though they’re SEN, they still love competition. The teamwork and social elements are also crucial.”

Rebecca Taylor, teacher at Doncaster Deaf Trust:

“Today’s gala gives children confidence and it’s wonderful for their self-esteem. This is their first time in a swimming gala and it gives them a brand new experience. The variety of activities means the children can participate at a level of relevant competence.”

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