Panathlon’s recent spread into North Wales has had a huge impact on pupils with disabilities and special needs in the region – with one teacher commenting “it is rare to have events so suited to our school”.

Since the Panathlon Foundation held its first ever competition west of the border in November 2018, word of its inspiring effect has spread quickly.

Nine Welsh Special schools have so far joined the Panathlon family and have participated in an ever-expanding programme of competitions including multi-sports, swimming, boccia and ten-pin bowling, for both primary and secondary age groups.

In addition, teachers have been sufficiently inspired to improve and adapt their PE lessons and curriculum to better SEN pupils’ needs and equip their students with the skills and confidence to perform at their best in Panathlon events.

Deio Brunelli, Health and Wellbeing Coordinator at Ysgol Hafod Lon in Penrhyndeudraeth, explained the ripple effect that participating in Panathlon has had on his school.

“The introduction of Panathlon events has had a massive impact on us here in the school as well as other SEN schools in North Wales,” he said. “We have had small clubs at school in the past, but we now structure our clubs with specific practices for upcoming Panathlon days. We use our equipment properly, so things like boccia and kurling sets are used in accordance with competition rules. Our swimming also has an outlet now with the Panathlon gala to work towards.

“All the events are brilliantly structured and ensure that every child has an equal opportunity to take part and achieve in a competition. Staff are very welcoming and quickly build bonds with all children. Children love to come to these events and always ask when the next one is. For some of them it is the first time they have taken part in a competition, and they feel very proud to represent the school. To take home a trophy or medal gives them a massive confidence boost and I find they are now much more motivated to improve in sporting aspects.”

Ysgol Plas Brondyffryn in Denbigh have also thrown themselves into our programmes with gusto, with primary age lead, Jessica Catherine commenting that events are “wholeheartedly aimed at meeting the needs of pupils with additional learning needs”.

Jess added: “The Panathlon team has the resources, the kindness and respect to put on a suitable sports event for our pupils. It is lovely being able to participate fully alongside other special schools.

“It is a wonderful opportunity for the pupils to socialise with each other in a safe and respectful environment. The activities push our children to become social, competitive and to work as a team. It is rare to have an event so suited for our school and we look forward to participating in future events.”

A Ysgol Plas Brondyffryn pupil said: “I like Panathlon because I can play fun games with my friends. It doesn’t matter if we lose. I am good at boccia and I can say hello to other schools. I like it because we can take a break and then play again.”

SEN teacher Iola Jones revealed that Panathlon marked the first time many pupils at Ysgol Pendalar in Caernarfon had been able to attend an external sports competition. Ysgol Pendalar send many different classes out to Panathlon days and this allows a cross-section of children and staff to experience events

“Competitions are usually not available and tailored for our children, but the pupils now love bringing back their medals to show in the school assembly – a first for many of them,” said Iola.

“The staff at a recent boccia competition really enjoyed their first experience of Panathlon and couldn’t believe how engaged the children were. Using students from Llandrillo College as Young Leaders makes the events inclusive and they are very good at supporting our pupils.”

Panathlon’s relationship with Llandrillo College also is increasing, with College pupils now engaging with the Special Schools involved in coaching and Panathlon becoming part of the sport and leadership modules for the College.

“Panathlon has had a huge impact on provision of sporting events for pupils with additional needs in North Wales,” commented Phil Thomas, Deputy Head Teacher of Ysgol Tir Morfa in Rhyl.

“These events have been very well organised with all pupils and staff reporting back how much they have enjoyed them. We (all the schools) look forward to a continuing relationship with Panathlon and would love to see the range of competitions and events extended and broadened, thus enabling even more children to be able to experience the thrill of Panathlon.”

At Pen Coch Specialist Primary School in Flint – Key Stage 2 PE teacher Rebecca Roberts is effusive about the impact Panathlon has had.

Inspired by that early success, Rebecca now bases lessons entirely around Panathlon’s activities. Using the school’s existing PE equipment, she sets up lessons based on Panathlon’s traditional boccia, new-age kurling, precision beanbag, ten-pin topple and flight path events.

She said: “Every child, regardless of disability, is now getting a chance to access a sport. Each class I have is so varied in age, disability and need, but all of the events and games can be adapted ever so slightly, or indeed significantly, to meet the need of every child who comes into the PE session.

“Going to that first Panathlon event gave me so many ideas to bring back to the school and implement. The impact has been so big in such a short time. They’re absolutely loving it.

“The children are learning so much more than just the physical side of it – waiting skills, working with a peer or groups of three or four, the social interaction. All this learning is from us incorporating Panathlon-style events into PE. We hadn’t seen many of these sports before and the children can’t wait to come back each week and see which games we’ve set up in the hall. They get so much out of it.

“We’ve always had things like boccia kits in the cupboard and now the impetus is really there to get all the equipment out every week and make the most of it, because these events are fun, exciting and engaging for the children.”

Panathlon’s Chief Operating Officer, Tony Waymouth, said: “The feedback and engagement from teachers and young competitors has been absolutely fantastic since we started delivering in Wales – we have had a major impact on helping develop the region and provide opportunities that children in North Wales wouldn’t have had access too.”