Panathlon has inspired the creation of a weekly Inclusive Sports Club at St Joseph’s RC High School in Bolton and has “totally changed pupils’ opinions about sport”.
The after-school club started six years ago after pupils from St Joseph’s were invited to take part in Panathlon boccia and multisport competitions. They loved it so much that demand grew to be able to play specially-adapted games at school.
The Inclusive Sports Club has grown to over 60 highly enthusiastic weekly attendees. “It has just snowballed,” says Teaching Assistant Abby Wiggans.
“We are a mainstream high school and previously we’d run the traditional football and netball clubs,” Abby explains. “After we went to our first Panathlon, I asked if we could create our own club initially just for SEN pupils. Now we get a mixture of SEN pupils and those who wouldn’t normally join a school sports club.”
As well as Panathlon favourites like new-age kurling, boccia and table cricket, the club offers seated volleyball, table tennis, diamond cricket and even quidditch. “The pupils are open to trying anything,” says Abby.
This huge participation and passion make selecting teams for external Panathlon events a tricky task for staff. “We have to do it randomly now,” says Abby. “But if we want to encourage any pupils to join the Inclusive Sports Club, taking them to a Panathlon is the perfect way to inspire them.”
Two staff and an apprentice teaching assistant run the club assisted by Young Leaders who are trained by Panathlon’s Event Officer in Bolton, Debbie Davies.
Abby says: “Our Young Leaders will actually take over from the staff and say, ‘No, Debbie told us to do it this way!’ For them to have that confidence is amazing, whereas a couple of years ago they wouldn’t have said boo to a goose.
“The Young Leaders have become role models and the younger ones will ask their advice. Hopefully the current Year 7s and 8s will fulfil that role themselves in a few years’ time.”
Staff set up activities, such as boccia or ten-pin bowling, specifically so pupils can practise for upcoming Panathlon events in those disciplines.
When external competitions weren’t possible during the Covid-19 lockdowns, Debbie or the local School Games Organiser, Bernadette O’Hare, would drop off sporting equipment at the school for pupils to take part in Virtual Panathlon on school premises.
Abby says Panathlon’s impact across the school has been profound. “Honestly, Panathlon has changed so many pupils’ opinions about sport,” she says. “It has created friendships with children from other schools which is lovely and wouldn’t normally happen with SEN pupils.
“Panathlon and the impact it’s had here is about more than just PE. It’s to do with social and emotional development, communication skills and forming friendships. It has made our SEN pupils more integrated with the rest of the school and built up positive relationships. I can’t speak about it highly enough.”
On October 12, St Joseph’s competed in Panathlon’s Bolton Ten-Pin Bowling Final our first event of the year in Bolton, the first event of the year in the town which lead into a calendar of north-west regional finals across the academic year.
“The atmosphere was great and it’s always a pleasure watching pupils enjoy themselves outside of a classroom environment,” said Abby. “It was a great way to introduce Panathlon to our Year 7 pupils. The pure enjoyment of the event can be visibly seen on pupils’ faces and they were so excited to go back to school and tell their friends and teachers about it.”