Peterborough’s School Games Organiser Sam Sly said he was “blown away” by Panathlon’s rapid impact on SEND children in his area. 

Panathlon has staged a primary event and two ten-pin bowling competitions in the city this academic year, and Sam is now eager for more opportunities to get children with disabilities and special needs active, learning new skills and experiencing the thrill of competition. 

Panathlon has a symbiotic relationship with School Games Organisers (SGOs) in most counties in England and several in Wales: we are able to tap into their networks of local schools to get more SEND pupils involved in Panathlon, and in turn they benefit from our expertise in giving children in their area a safe, inclusive environment to experience competitive sport. 

“Panathlon are fantastic in supporting my role as an SGO because they provide opportunities for those children who might not otherwise get them elsewhere,” said Sam. 

“As an SGO my role is to help those children who don’t represent their school get that chance. If you have those super competitive children at an event it might impact SEN children negatively, so this sort of platform does bring much more positive experiences. Having a level playing field is super important.” 

That level playing field was very evident at Panathlon’s Primary Ten-Pin Bowling Final in Peterborough on May 26, where 169 pupils from 21 schools took part in two competitions. 

“Often we see SEN children who may not be supported enough in schools but at events like today you can see those children gain confidence. This shows them they can go out and do things in their day-to-day lives. In just one day you can see the difference.” 

Raising children’s confidence and aspirations is a hugely important bi-product of Panathlon competitions. Our expansion into areas like Peterborough increases the appetite for more and more competitions for children who may have in the past felt marginalised from sport. 

The pandemic has only increased those feelings of exclusion and isolation for SEND pupil. One child at the ten-pin event said lockdown had felt like, “being trapped in a cage… But today feels like the cage door has opened!” 

Sam agreed that the last two and a half years makes tailored external sports competitions even more important for SEND pupils: “We’ve seen the negative impact Covid has had on students’ behaviour, development and confidence. Getting out and about to events like this can hopefully get us back on the right path. 

“I’m a big advocate of finding people who know more than you and can support you in any way. Panathlons are the specialists, so I’m delighted we are supported by them.” 

Schools travelled to the ten-pin bowling competition from across Peterborough but also South East Lincolnshire, where Rupert Gibson is the area’s SGO. 

For him, Panathlon greatly augments his existing calendar of sporting competitions, including those for SEND pupils. 

“We’re moving more and more towards targeted intervention to involve groups who don’t typically take part in school sport and physical activity,” said Rupert. 

“We’re at the stage where we’re happy to step away from the proportion of the school population who already love PE, go to sports clubs and represent their school. They are well provided for, so we must look at the most disadvantaged, ethnically diverse, girls, and those with disabilities and special needs. 

“For us, Panathlon really fits into that by providing activities for our SEND pupils, giving them a taste of how great sport and physical activity can be and the excitement of competition. 

“When we have a Panathlon event, we know we’ve got professionals coming in and have no qualms about the quality of the event. It takes big pressure off us locally. You bring specialist kit, medals, certificates and t-shirts. We couldn’t afford to hire a ten-pin bowling venue like this. It’s a vital additional opportunity for us.” 

Rupert believes Panathlon entwines with the School Games values of passion, self-belief, respect, honesty, determination and teamwork. 

“It fits in with our ethos. Look at the children; they are having fun, learning, getting better and it makes them want to play more sport and be more physically active. All we can hear is cheering and laughing. Panathlon and School Games fit together perfectly.”