Panathlon has been hailed for its “massive ripple effect” on pupils and schools after last week’s two National Finals at the London Aquatic Centre.

The showpiece national swimming galas for special schools and primary schools on Wednesday and Thursday signalled the return of the top strata of our competitive pathway for the first time since the pandemic. 

Previously, schools had been reluctant to travel long distances, partly due to Covid-19, but the re-establishment of our pathway gives children who are so often starved of competitive opportunities a clear route to high-level success.

Our National Primary Swimming gold medallists were Coldfall Primary School in Muswell Hill, north London. The event marked the pinnacle of their two-year participation in Panathlon which has made a hugely positive impact.

Coldfall’s Head of PE, Mitchell Browning, said: “At our Year 6 leavers’ event last year, some pupils made speeches and all they could talk about was how proud they were to represent the school in the Olympic pool at Panathlon.

“Panathlon really is the whole package. Until two years ago, all the competitions we entered were mainsteam, so to have something that’s specifically catered to their needs is indescribable, it really is. It’s the first time they’ve had the opportunity to excel and show something they can do themselves. The whole school is invested in how they get on.

“Regardless of what medal they get, they’re beaming when they go back into school and all their class mates are proud of them. That’s not just for one day – they talk about it all year. It has a massive, massive ripple effect across the whole school.”

Mr Browning added that three Year 5 pupils have joined external swimming clubs, having been inspired by their participation in Panathlon’s galas.

The parent of a pupil from Buttsbury Primary School, who finished as primary runners-up, also revealed the profound impact that Panathlon had on her autistic son (whom she wanted to remain anonymous). He has competed in our multisport, 10-pin bowling and previous swimming competitions and is a previous winner of one of our Woodland Essex Outstanding Achievement awards.

“Sport has been the making of him in terms of personal confidence and attitude towards school – and Panathlon has been a massive part of that,” said his mum. “It has been a gateway for him. It has encouraged him to try out lots of other things which he might not have wanted to before. In fact, it has inspired us all as a family.

“There are often unknowns in school trips which he can find difficult. To face his fears and know that he can do it has been brilliant. To feel that identity, teamwork and achievement as an individual as well as represent his school is just phenomenal. We are so proud of him.”

Ten-year-old Douglas Hook (pictured below) from third-place Hempsted Primary in Gloucester was overjoyed with his experience at the London Aquatic Centre (and it was his second Panathlon gala in two days, having competed in our local event in Gloucester on Tuesday!).

“I’ll have to go up on stage in assembly with my medal. It will make me blush – but standing up there makes me feel so proud, it’s hard to explain with words. I’ve enjoyed every single experience I’ve had with Panathlon. They’re just incredible. I keep all my medals in a drawer but I have to be careful because my sister likes to steal them – she’s like a magpie!”

Moor House School and College are long-time participants in Panathlon and have even hosted competitions in previous years. Although it was her first visit to one of our external events, the school’s principal, Helen Middleton, was fully au-fait with our impact on her pupils.

“Our children swim regularly so to use the skills they’ve learned in an environment like this is wonderful. The confidence they get from achieving something they didn’t think they were able to do, and tell their peers about the experience, is incredibly valuable.

“It’s so positive for the curriculum to be of use beyond just the teaching – and to benefit from the 2012 Olympic legacy like this by swimming in this stunning arena is wonderful.”

Sue Basquil, Special Needs Coordinator at Holy Family Primary in Slough, said the children would treasure “feeling important” when they returned to school proudly wearing medals.

“Some of our children struggle but this is where they can excel,” she said. “It’s very important to have this level playing field because they can’t always access everything we provide at school. For them to feel included and represent our school – which they don’t often get to do – is superb. Any time we’re invited, we’ll be at the next Panathlon event. We’re hooked!”

The Young Leaders for our national galas were from Great Baddow High School and Colchester Prep & High School in Essex.

Our swimming programme is supported by Speedo and their staff also attended both finals to help guide the competitors and officiate the competitions.