School staff at our South East Regional Secondary Swimming Final revealed how older pupils’ leadership skills have flourished as a result of competing in Panathlon.

The competition on Friday 28 June at the London Aquatic Centre featured seven teams who had all reached the final via success in our local qualifying galas earlier this academic year.

Many of the Year 9, 10 and 11 pupils were Panathlon ‘veterans’ who had been part of their school team for several years in our swimming, multisport, football and other competition formats. Over that time, they have organically taken leadership roles within the team – so much so that staff have given them space to organise, strategise and encourage their team-mates.

Tom Parkinson, a teacher from Priory School, who finished in third place, said: “A few of our team have done Panathlon for three or four years, so I can now stand back and allow them to coach the younger ones. That has a massive impact on their leadership skills and potentially their access to employment in the future.

“That sort of responsibility gives them even more enjoyment and hopefully helps instil in them a lifelong enjoyment of sport. They wear their medals with so much pride when they get back to the school environment and learn so much from those informal leadership roles.

“This is their Olympic Games. They’re so inspired that they go back and tell their story to other students in Key Stage 2, 3 and 4 and they want to go and do it too.”

Two students who have thrived in these leadership positions are 16-year-olds Dylan Pewsey and Harvey Ling (pictured above). Dylan said: “I say to the others, ‘Just go for it!’ I love giving our team a morale boost because without that it’s more difficult to do your best when it’s your first time being part of the team.”

Harvey added: “It’s really special here because I don’t do any other sports. I help the others try their best and have fun.” Mr Parkinson added: “Harvey organises the team, which gives him a confidence boost in a different way to merely participating.”

Lesley Gadogbe, PE Lead at St Marylebone Bridge School, concurred. “Our older student give the others advice, explain how the event works and there’s a lot of conversation and encouragement in the build-up and while we’re here. The older ones are demonstrating leadership skills, for sure.

“When we get back to school, other students run up to them, look at those medals and see how happy they are and they want to be part of it. It shows there is a lasting impact.”

Mr Gadogbe said Panathlon has also helped to build friendships across traditional year group divides: “They have been messaging each other, encouraging each other to train and get to sleep early. These are kids who you’d never imagine talking to each other in school. Between Year 7 and 11 is a big range, but they’re all inspiring and motivating each other. It’s such an inclusive environment in so many different ways.”

Friday’s event marked the 20th and final Panathlon competition held at the London Aquatic Centre this academic year. This has given thousands of competitors and Young Leaders an invaluable opportunity to participate at the Olympic and Paralympic venue – truly exemplifying the 2012 legacy.

The gold medals were won by Moor House School & College and student Charlie Clelland (pictured above, centre) said it gave him a “real sense of pride.”

“This is where the Olympians swam and dived,” he smiled. “It makes you feel like you’ve achieved something, because we’ve worked our way to get here. Because we have additional needs it makes you feel like you’ve achieved a lot more compared to mainstream kids. We’re able to do what everyone else can.

“I’ve got a peg in my room with all my medals hung on it and I often sit down, look at my medals and reflect. I’ll remind myself stories about each medal, when we worked as a team and what we achieved together.”

Students from New City College wore our famous pink Young Leaders t-shirts and supported pupils in the water, and they were assisted by nine volunteers from our long-time supporters St. James’s Place. They described the event as “a privilege to be part of.”

Lorraine Simmonds was a primary school teacher before becoming Academy Relationship Manager at St. James’s Place. She said: “A wonderful former colleague said to me that every child has a gift and it was my professional duty as a teacher to find it and nurture it. Today is a perfect example of that.

“We’ve got children here who society might think don’t have a gift, but every one of the definitely does – where better to find it than here? As St. James’s Place employees, we give a covenant [part of their wages] every month to support these activities. It’s impossible to come here and witness this and not be moved by it. It has been a truly an amazing experience.”

Representatives of St. James’s Place also volunteered at this week’s Birmingham Primary Final at the University of Birmingham and last week’s North West Regional Kurling Final in Bolton. We are hugely appreciative of their support.