Year 6 pupils from Cumbria were “exceptional role models and learned so much” from the experience of being Young Leaders at a recent Panathlon swimming gala.

More and more pupils in the older primary age groups are taking on the responsibility of being sports leaders at Panathlon competitions in the last couple of years – and their positive experience is proving that you’re never too young to show leadership, compassion, empathy and guidance.

For six pupils in Year 6 at Robert Ferguson Primary School in Carlisle, a recent Panathlon gala at Workington Leisure Centre was the first time they had worked with SEND pupils. Officiating the competition and guiding children in the water meant the role was a big challenge.

But David Pearson, Year 3 teacher and PE Lead at Robert Ferguson Primary, said: “It was the first time we’ve sent leaders to a Panathlon competition and we would do so again in a heartbeat. There’s as much for them to gain being leaders as there is for our SEND children in competing.”

Mr Pearson added: “I taught all the leaders when they were in Year 3, so for me personally to see how encouraging, nurturing and caring they were with the younger ones was something which gave me so much pride. They embodied the school culture and represented themselves so well as young people. They were role models.

“They learned so much, especially on the communication side of things. They empathised, showed patience and a real sense of care and responsibility as more senior primary pupils.”

Robert Ferguson Primary has an above-average ratio of SEND pupils, so when Panathlon started delivering primary competitions in Cumbria several years ago, they jumped at the opportunity to get involved.

Since then, Panathlon’s ethos has spread through the school environment. For the past three years, staff have run a boccia and fundamentals club in the autumn term for around 15 SEND pupils in years 2 to 6.

“We’ve noticed real developments in them, in PE lessons, on the yard, at Panathlon competitions and School Games events,” said Mr Pearson. “That extra hour a week is having a really positive impact. Boccia is quite a friendly sport, but by the end of that term, they’re showing that competitive side of their nature.”

Mr Pearson has one important piece of feedback about the school’s participation in Panathlon: “Give us more!”

He added: “The certificates and medals look much better than those from other competitions and that really motivates the children. So we want more events!

“I’ve been PE Lead for over 10 years and it’s only in the last couple of years we’ve had access to Panathlon. We’ve got nothing but positive comments for you guys.”

Panathlon has delivered 32 events in Cumbria so far this academic year which have engaged 2023 young people. We will, of course, look to do more in 2024/25!

Panathlon’s Chief Operating Officer, Tony Waymouth, said: “Thank you to Active Cumbria and the Focus Foundation for their support with our leadership programme.

“It has been so rewarding to see Panathlon helping to develop younger pupils in the area of leadership. Taking on responsibility at a young age can only help set them up for bright futures.”