Panathlon is leaving a strong footprint in schools across North Yorkshire by giving PE staff ideas and confidence and offering pupils precious opportunities to take part in competitive sport that they may otherwise never experience. 

Fran Nichol (local School Games Organiser and Inclusion Lead for North Yorkshire and the North Yorkshire Inclusive School Sports Partnership) has joined forces with Panathlon’s North Yorkshire event leader Val French to great effect, developing a programme of external Panathlon events as well as visiting schools to deliver in-house competitions on site. 

The benefits have been many and varied, but both Fran and Val highlight their delivery of in-school Panathlon competitions as “the biggest eye-opener” in terms of positive impact. 

“We delivered a competition for Key Stage 1 pupils at a special school and they had never been in the school hall for a PE session before,” reveals Fran. “A lack of numbers and confidence among staff meant pupils had simply never been given that chance. 

“By us going in and setting up the hall with Panathlon equipment and running the event, we allowed staff and pupils to experience something very different. Staff told us how amazed they were at what the pupils were capable of. 

“We’ve now given staff the confidence and tools to take pupils into the hall and run a similar event themselves. It’s progressed from them never having walked through the sports hall door, to staff saying, ‘We’re going to do that again.’ 

“Those in-house Panathlons are essential. Only seven or eight pupils would get the experience if they came to an external Panathlon event, but because we are on-site we can engage every pupil and make sure no-one misses out. It gives us such great flexibility.” 

Val explains further benefits: “In special schools, staff are often working one-on-one with pupils and it’s a massive barrier preventing them setting up sports activities. But if we go in and support it with Panathlon equipment, a strong and trusted rotation of activities and extra staffing to support children and officiate, it shows staff how it can work.” 

Val states that when she began working in the area there was “very little provision” for pupils with SEND in North Yorkshire. “It was a bit piecemeal,” she says. “Anything we put on was just for its own sake, it didn’t lead anywhere or have any progression. When we got on board with Panathlon there was a clear pathway.” 

Panathlon’s increasing traction across the county over the last 10 years has culminated in 14 inclusive sporting events for 573 children with disabilities and special needs being delivered so far in the 2022/23 academic year, with at least another three events for 90+ pupils still to come.  

Val hosts regular local Panathlons around the county across our different sporting programmes, with the best-performing teams progressing to county finals. 

Panathlon has become embedded at many schools in the region, with pupils taking part in external events as well as adapted activity in PE lessons and in-school competitions. 

“It is now helping to shape the curriculum at many mainstream schools we work with,” Fran reveals. “See how things work at Panathlons is leading to staff putting inclusive sports into the curriculum so it’s accessible for all types of pupils. They are doing research around things like boccia, new-age kurling and table cricket and including them at school. It gives pupils a greater depth.” 

Val agrees: “We’re showing them that the impossible is possible. They see that children with SEND can do anything that others can do with the right guidance and support. It’s all about what the pupils can do, not what they can’t do.” 

The positive ripple effect extends to the Young Leaders. Fran reveals that local schools now approach her as they recognise the benefits of their pupils taking on the responsibility of guiding SEND pupils at events. 

Fran and Val have formed a close relationship with local private schools including Queen Ethelburga’s College near York. Their pupils gain priceless leadership experience with SEND pupils and competitors with SEN from nearby school get to enjoy Panathlon in the school’s incredible, high-spec facilities: it’s a win-win for everyone. 

“Queen Ethelburga’s had heard about Panathlon on social media and wanted to work with us,” says Fran. “It’s gone from us having to chase facilities and schools to find Young Leader to them coming to us and asking what we can offer them.” 

Queen Margaret’s School for Girls, also in York, have also opened their swimming pool for Panathlon competitions and provided Young Leaders in return. 

Richmond School has also embraced the opportunities offered by Panathlon. They have since linked with nearby special schools and their staff and Young Leaders are delivering in-school events in the Panathlon format. 

“We’ve created a real legacy for those schools,” says Fran. “Those relationships are now really strong. Even if, God forbid, funding dried up or myself and Val aren’t there, it means there’s sustainability for the future.” 

Panathlon’s Chief Operating Officer, Tony Waymouth, said: “We offer heartfelt thanks to Val and Fran for spreading the Panathlon ethos across North Yorkshire and the annual progression of our programmes which means that opportunities for SEN children in the area continue to evolve. 

“Thank you also to the Ed De Nunzio Charitable Trust and RBC BlueBay Asset Management for their ongoing support of our North Yorkshire programme.”