Panathlon’s virtual ten-pin bowling and new-age kurling events in Tees Valley – in which schools competed together live on Zoom – left SEND pupils “in awe”.

Panathlon’s partnership with Tees Valley Sport has seen the area (which comprises Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland) become a thriving hub of inclusive sport over the last few years.

Since the pandemic, Tees Valley Sport’s support has enabled schools in the area to embrace Panathlon’s Virtual Programme, using our frameworks to adapt their inclusive PE and sport delivery in response to the coronavirus restrictions.

The two live ten-pin bowling competitions were among the first of their kind to be held in the country. Children who were isolating joined in from home using a ball and household items to knock over, schools held matches in assembly halls and other schools held ten-pin events for different year groups throughout the same week, then sent in their scores to add to their overall leaderboard.

Tracy Raynor, Tees Valley Sport’s School Sport Project Officer, said: “Staff at all schools in our area said that it was a really great idea and an opportunity to network with other pupils. After so long without any competitive sport, it was amazing for them.

“From the moment me and Tony [Panathlon’s Chief Operations Officer] came up with the idea and he said, ‘Let’s make it happen!’ I was so excited. It was something that little bit different to anything the kids had done before. It moved away from traditional school sports. Everyone was really engaged and we were able to include a lot more children than we could at a face-to-face event.

“We had over 500 pupils involved in our second bowling event over the course of the week and at one point we had 18 screens online at the same time competing live! I led a warm-up with them from my dining room, which was an interesting experience!”

Panathlon had sent certificates, medals and trophies as well as the traditional pink Young Leaders t-shirts in advance of the competition. “We did a closing ceremony and Freya Levy [Panathlon’s ambassador] hosted it. We also had Nathan Maguire holding an online Q&A. It gave it the feeling of a proper event – or as close as we could achieve at that time!”

Following the success of the ten-pin bowling, schools couldn’t wait for the follow-up new-age kurling event, which consisted of another full week of activity with a ‘live day’ competing on Zoom.

“It was another really, really positive event,” says Tracy. “Schools have told us it gives so many more children the chance to access it, including those who it wouldn’t necessarily be easy for them to take out of school for face-to-face events. This gives them a new experience and a precious chance to represent their school.

“One competing mainstream school only has four SEND pupils and the logistics of them organising transport and staff for an external event are tough. For them to be able to take part in a big, organised event really boosts their confidence and gives them access to physical activity in which they can be successful and win a medal. They may not get that opportunity anywhere else.”

At the end of June, Panathlon helped to deliver an air trail event for 120 SEND pupils across eight Tees Valley schools over two days (pictured below). “Teachers said to us afterwards, ‘This is so much more than just getting them active,” said Tracy. “It’s about team-building and does wonders for their self-esteem.

“Overall, the Virtual Panathlon programme has been amazing for pupils in this area. Staff have also learned a lot from it. It’s made them think and adapt with their organisation and range of activities. The feedback has been hugely positive.”

Panathlon Chief Operating Officer, Tony Waymouth, said: “With Tees Valley Sport we have shown that experiencing live sport during lockdown was achievable with a bit of creative thinking. It added value for the participants and, within the restrictions, brought it as close as possible to the experience of face-to-face competition.”