Teachers at our North West Regional Kurling Final praised Panathlon for offering “a pathway to excellence” for pupils with disabilities and special needs.

Seventeen schools from across the North West competed for primary and secondary titles at Bolton Arena, having qualified from their respective county finals earlier in the academic year.

“Our pupils understand that there is a pathway to excellence. That’s so important for them,” said PE teacher Nicola Steele from Kearsley Academy.

“It’s an invaluable opportunity. It’s not just the pride of representing your school, but representing your area too. They get to compete on a level playing field in a friendly environment and they get the opportunity to be champions.

“Participation and engagement are important, but I think having an excellence strand to it as well is vital. Why shouldn’t these children be offered a higher level of competition? It’s important we don’t dumb down what’s being achieved here. They gain confidence as they progress through the levels and it becomes more challenging. The impact is immeasurable.”

Kearsley were beaten to the secondary North West title by Derian House, a children’s hospice in Bolton who participate (and win!) regularly in Panathlon events. St John’s Roman Catholic Primary won the primary gold medals, which were presented by 11 volunteers from our long-time sponsors St. James’s Place.

Miss Steele from Kearsley Academy spoke of “growth in pupils’ confidence and communication skills when interacting with other children and adults outside the school environment” through competing in Panathlon.

No-one better exemplified this than Mariam Nawaz Khan Khan (pictured below). She said: ” I want to thank my teacher for bringing me somewhere so lovely! I feel so proud of myself. Receiving a medal in front of so many people is something awesome. I hope my mum and dad will be proud of me, but my sister and brother will be jealous!”

Emily Hodge, High Needs Support at St Cecilia’s Primary in Liverpool, explained the ripple effect that participating in Panathlon has had on her team members back at school: “We previously competed in the boccia so I bought a set for them to use at school. The other [mainstream] kids had never seen it before, so these guys explained and demonstrated how to play. They were so proud to say they had been chosen for the school team.”

She added: “When children become over-emotional and are taken out of class, my first port of call is to get them playing these sports. It helps regulate them until they’re ready to discuss why they were feeling like that. Sport allows them to direct those feelings in a positive way.”

Miss Hodge also explained how the opportunity for children to compete away from their mainstream peers is so valuable: “Getting through to a regional final is something that unfortunately they will never achieve in mainstream sports competitions, so the chance to be part of something like this is incredible. Sometimes they shy away from joining in with games on the playground, but this is allowing them to feel comfortable and relaxed. They will remember today when they’re older. It’s quite special.”

Ben Catlow, sports coach at Deepdale Primary in Preston, also stressed the importance of offering children with SEND a priceless and rare chance to represent their school.

“When you’re picking your sports team, it can be the same children over and over again,” he said. “These children don’t get the opportunities very often. You can see what it means to them, just putting the kit on and representing the school – the buzz and excitement. You can see on their faces that it means the absolutely world to them.”