Primary school pupils are showing that it’s never too early to learn leadership skills as they fulfil vital Young Leader roles at Panathlon competitions.
Young Leaders play a huge part in helping Panathlon achieve its positive impact – they support
competitors with disabilities and special needs during events as well as applying the rules and
keeping scores. At our 873 competitions in 2022/23, we had 7,359 Young Leaders – up 46% from the
previous academic year.
As recent independent research into Panathlon’s impact showed, Young Leaders not only contribute
to the positive experience of competitors, “they themselves benefit from their role, building self-
esteem, leadership skills, awareness and empathy.”
Traditionally, these volunteering roles have been fulfilled by secondary school pupils – but in the last
couple of years primary schools have also started using Panathlon as an opportunity to develop their
Year 4, 5 and 6 pupils’ leadership skills and confidence. It’s further proof that Panathlon’s reach is
expanding – not just geographically, throughout school environments and into communities, but to
different age groups too.
St Mark’s CofE Primary School in Kendal have provided Young Leaders for Panathlon’s primary
swimming competitions with Active Cumbria for the last two years. For their Year 6 leaders, the gala
is the culmination of a six-week leadership course in school to increase their social and
communication skills in preparation for high school.
Sherie Paxton, sports coordinator at St Mark’s, said: “As part of a unit in PE, our Year 6
pupils develop games for younger children at lunchtimes. Once they’ve done that, the Panathlon
gala gives them an opportunity to come out of the school environment and adapt their skills in an
unfamiliar place with children they don’t know.
“It’s been inspirational at this year and last year’s galas to see how much their teamwork and
empathy have developed by being Young Leaders. They have been very interactive with the younger
competitors and put into practice many of the skills we’ve learned. It an unforgettable experience
for them and I’m so proud of them.”
Parkinson Lane Primary School in Halifax, West Yorkshire, have embedded Panathlon’s sporting
activities and ethos into the whole school’s PE and sport curriculum – and leadership is very much
part of that.
They hold extra-curricular Panathlon sports sessions for mainstream and special needs pupils at
breakfast, lunchtimes and after-school, officiated by 30 of the school’s own fully-trained Year 6
Last year, the Year 6 leaders ran their own Panathlon competition at Calderdale College for pupils in
lower years and were assessed by local School Games Organisers for their Sports Leadership
qualification. All of them achieved their Sports Leaders awards and were able to graduate to high
school with a certified qualification.
Parkinson Lane staff repeated the event this year, with pupils from Year 5 taking charge of 10 teams
and running an inter-school competition for mainstream and SEND peers.
“Panathlon has completely changed the way we teach sport in our school,” said Nikki Goldthorpe,
Parkinson Lane’s primary PE specialist. “It’s given everybody an opportunity to be a winner.
Inspired by Panathlon, we have invested in a lot of equipment and used it to set up a sports
leadership programme. Those pupils have become role models at our school. It gives them
something impressive on their CV to take forward to secondary school.”
Gillas Lane Primary Academy in Sunderland is another school that has embraced the leadership
opportunities that Panathlon provides.
The school is situated in a deprived area (73% free school meals compared to a national average of
21%) and one in three pupils has special needs.
Panathlon’s impact on the school environment has been profound – with inclusive sport and PE
helping to put mainstream and SEND children on a level playing field. Pupils with special needs have
even been leading and training mainstream children in the Panathlon activities they’ve learned at
our local competitions.
The 2023 Panathlon Impact Report read: “[Gillas Lane] has been involved in Panathlon for five years
and the difference is clear… Panathlon has empowered the school to improve its sports curriculum
through professional development opportunities for the Higher-Level Teaching Assistant (HLTA),
who in turn has embedded inclusivity in sports into the DNA of the school, by creating adapted and
inclusive PE lessons and sharing this know-how with other staff.”
Head teacher Emma Monaghan said: “Virtual Panathlon has revitalised what we do in PE. Sport and
PE is a key part of the children achieving and living a fulfilled life. We need to give them
opportunities to find out what they’re good at, and this does exactly that.
“Panathlon has given our SEND pupils the chance to lead and train our mainstream children in
Panathlon games – and often, they’re beating them hands down! It generates a mutual respect
between children and creates a real harmony across the school.”
Panathlon Chief Operating Officer, Tony Waymouth, said: “During the pandemic, we saw primary schools use Young Leaders to help deliver our in-school virtual programme of activities. Now schools can compete externally, leadership is a logical extension of their development and can also form an important part of their transition to high school, helping them integrate quicker and more confidently into a new school environment.”