PE Lead Ben Clark said his pupils were “absolutely glowing” after an “unforgettable” first ever experience of external sporting competition at Panathlon’s 10-pin bowling competition in Harlow.

Eight pupils from Moundwood Academy in Essex – a school for pupils with social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) issues which is part of the Beckmead Trust – took part in the event in October.

Most were entirely disengaged from sport, in and out of school and highly reluctant to take part in PE because they become emotionally overwhelmed.

Reassured by Event Manager Dom Fenton and Gill Newlyn from Active Essex’s inclusion team, Mr Clark took what he calls “a bit of a gamble” by entering his pupils into the event and splitting them into two groups of four.

“It was the first ever sporting event for us as a primary school,” said Ben. “It was daunting but we didn’t tell the children it was a competition, it was just about familiarising themselves with a new sport and having fun.

“Four of my children had never been bowling before. A lot of them thought it was an overarm throw, but they soon got the hang of it!”

To Ben’s and the children’s amazement, his younger group ended up winning the competition and receiving a trophy and gold medals, with the older group finishing fourth.

The winning team included one girl who had never bowled before and never joins in with PE lessons. “She hates PE and has never been the best at anything, but got the highest score out of both our teams,” smiled Ben.

“We only have two girls and they get a bit of a raw deal. Afterwards, the boys were giving her high-fives and you could see she was just absolutely glowing.

“It was quite emotional for the children because they never usually talk like that to one another. Afterwards, they were all so happy. It shows how powerful events like that are for children.

“One of our Year 5 boys, who’s very disengaged with school, got a gold medal. He said to me, ‘Mr Clark, I’ve never had a medal before and I’m never taking it off!'”

Ben felt the atmosphere at the event was pitched perfectly to allow his children a pressure-free yet competitive environment.

“The inclusivity and structure meant it was set up so they couldn’t fail. It was really relaxed, there were no time restrictions and no pressures. Everyone was so focused on their own games so the competitive element wasn’t too obvious for them.

“I’ve been to events for eight years now as a PE teacher, including SEND competitions, and that competition was the most relaxed competition I’ve been to in terms of making everybody feel worthy.

“For them to be in a public space with 70 or 80 people, they held themselves together so well. The benefits for our children were huge. To give them that trust and allow them time out of the school environment was so beneficial.

“The positivity was incredible. There can be a lot of negativity at times which can be a bit demoralising, so this was so refreshing. The teachers who came with us were shocked with the attitude of the kids – they couldn’t believe it was the same children!”