The truly incredible Miriam Skinner has won our London Primary Outstanding Young Leader trophy for selflessly helping SEND pupils excel in Panathlon at Valence Primary School in Dagenham.

During the first lockdown, 10-year-old Miriam went to the local park with her best friend Kizzy, who has autism. Together, they used Panathlon’s at-home challenges to stay active and have fun through the pandemic (whilst adhering to social distancing). 

In the autumn term, pupils at Valence Primary took part in Virtual Panathlon with Miriam enthusiastically taking the role of Young Leader. When school resumed after the second lockdown at Easter, Miriam supported Kizzy and other SEND classmates with Panathlon again as well as in activities like basketball and dancing. Miriam’s time with Kizzy has inspired her ambition to become a SENCO. 

It was a privilege for the Panathlon team to meet Miriam when she was presented with her Outstanding Achievement trophy via Zoom by Freya Levy, our Ambassador and multi-para sport international. 

Miriam said: “Being a Young Leader makes me feel like I’ve got the power to do anything. It’s amazing. I loved helping at the Panathlon because I can encourage younger kids. When I do that, I’m making people happy and that makes me happy. 

“I used to hide away when I was younger and be invisible. Sports leadership has helped me feel like I matter. Helping people and making a difference in the world shows me that I have an important role. 

“Meeting up in the park with Kizzy meant I could still be with one of my best friends during the lockdown. It was really fun. During school, we love doing sports together. We do anything with a ball. I’m always with her and it’s a really great experience because it’s helping me prepare for my dream job as a SENCO. I definitely got that ambition from her. 

Miriam with her friend Kizzy

“When our classes were moved around in Year 3, I lost a lot of my old best friends. I got put next to Kizzy, and at first I didn’t want to get to know her because she was different. When I did get to know her, it just went from there and now we’re besties. 

“It was so fun to be with Kizzy doing activities and being able to help children with special needs. They’re no different to us.” 

Miriam’s love of dance was sadly curtailed by the closure of her dancing school during lockdown. She is looking forward to advancing to nearby Robert Clack High School next year and joining in their inclusive dance provision. 

“I love dance because I can express myself and be free and happy without any worries. I invent new moves, fly through the air and have fun. Dancing at high school is an amazing opportunity and it looks like the best thing ever. 

“After secondary school, I want to get a degree in computing because that’s a really good way to communicate with people who have special needs and can’t talk.” 

There was barely a dry eye in the assembly hall after Miriam had spoken. Once she had recovered her composure, Miriam’s teacher Andrea Wylde called her Year 5 pupil “just an absolute super star”. 

She said: “She is such an amazing young woman. We had a lot of children we could have chosen as our Outstanding Sports Leader but it was quite an easy choice to nominate Miriam. Whatever we ask her to do, she exceeds every time. She is utterly kind and always tries to do what is right. 

“It’s not just during the Panathlons; any time you see her in school, she’s helping children, encouraging them to do sport and be active. That is one of the most wonderful things to see. Her positive attitude has a ripple effect on those around her. We really, really are ever so proud of her. 

Miriam leads Panathlon activities with SEND pupils

“Thank you to everybody at Panathlon for organising the fantastic sports events. They make such a difference to the children, they really do.” 

As part of Miriam’s presentation, other Young Leaders who had excelled during the year were given Panathlon certificates by the Deputy Head: Alice Adjei, George Gavillet, Vinny Miller and, of course, Kizzy Owosu-Asante. 

After the trophy presentation, Panathlon Ambassador Freya told Miriam: “We’re blown away by your story and how mature and caring you are as a person. I’m really excited to see what you go on to achieve in the future.” 

It was truly a family occasion with Miriam’s mum Caroline as well as Miriam’s auntie, nephews and grandparents following via Zoom, all full of pride and emotion. 

Caroline said: “Valence Primary School is incredibly inclusive. The children in Year 6 don’t boss the younger ones about, they set the example and look out for the younger ones. They are taught that being the oldest in the school is about responsibility and respect. I’m proud of Miriam but so much credit goes to the school for what they do.” 

Panathlon Chief Operating Officer Tony Waymouth said: “Inspirational children like Miriam can help prepare younger children with SEND for the next stage of life. Miriam simply fills us all with hope for the future.” 

Thank you to St. James’s Place Charitable Foundation and the MCKS Charitable Foundation for their support.