Park Community Academy in Blackpool have hailed Panathlon’s Virtual Programme as “invaluable” for keeping pupils active and motivated – both at home and school – throughout the pandemic.

Park have a prestigious recent history as Panathlon participants, with victories in our Northern Swimming Finals in 2017 and 2019, as well as winning our Lancashire and North-West Swimming Finals in recent years.

Since Covid-19 struck, they have thrown themselves into our Virtual Programme from an early stage, playing a vital role in testing out some of the activities before we launched nationwide.

“The Virtual Programme has been terrific for us,” said the school’s PE coordinator Stuart Johnson. “It has given us a structure to achieve our aims in PE and sport. The teachers have appreciated it as much as the kids. It’s been invaluable, to be honest.

“The format has allowed us to really emphasise those key principles of competing, participating, enjoying yourself, and setting personal challenges – all the important things.

“It’s given our PE lessons a real focus and has given the students something to work towards.”

During the spring term, Park Community Academy achieved the afPE Quality Mark with ‘Distinction’ in recognition of their commitment to improving PE, school sport and physical activity.

As part of this award, Mr Johnson sent a case study explaining how PE home learning had benefited a pupil, Jack in Year 11 (pictured left), in a variety of ways. He took part in many of Panathlon’s At-Home Challenges and loved the opportunity it gave him to get outside, get active and test himself.

Jack said: “I usually go to a lot of competitions with school and we have stopped doing them now so it was good still being able to enter stuff. It also made me try a bit harder and I practiced for longer.

“They were easy to follow especially when there was a video with it to explain it. The activities as part of the Panathlon competitions made me try harder and were good fun.”

Mr Johnson commented: “Every class throughout the school was set Panathlon challenges. When speaking with Jack he commented on that he liked this work set and that it motivated him to try his best.

“A major benefit of the home learning work the school has delivered is the relationships with external organisations we have fostered, especially with Panathlon. We are looking to build upon these in the coming years and are excited at the prospect of our pupils having access to new opportunities.”

During a special Zoom call with Mr Johnson and students on Friday (March 5), Park students reported that they had enjoyed the in-school Panathlon football, ten-pin bowing, New-Age Kurling and boccia activities most of all during the lockdown.

Whilst on the call, pupils got the chance to meet Panathlon Ambassador Nathan Maguire, the GB Paralympic wheelchair racer, who will be heading to Tokyo this summer to compete in multiple racing disciplines. They greatly enjoyed a Q&A session with Nathan and were inspired by his achievements as a disabled athlete.

Although our Virtual Programme takes place within individual schools, Mr Johnson said it had still given pupils a similar feeling of inclusion and fulfilment they got from competing regularly in our external competitions.

“They do get that togetherness from it, even though we’re physically not there alongside other schools,” he commented. “We feel like we’re part of something.

“We’ve been able to set the challenges as part of our home learning. You don’t always need the specialist equipment for it, our pupils at home have been able to adapt as well. It keeps everybody engaged at home and school.”

Despite their enjoyment of the virtual activities, all at Park Community Academy are nevertheless looking forward to competing for medals when our external competitions resume. They have already signed up to complete our swimming challenges to prepare for a competitive return to the pool!

“We know Panathlons are only on the back burner, not gone forever, which is a nice thought to have had through this pandemic. We’re really looking forward to getting back and competing and meeting other schools on the programme,” Mr Johnson concluded.

Tony Waymouth, Panathlon’s Chief Operating Officer, added: “Many, many thanks to Stuart Johnson and Park Community Academy for being so open to road-testing our virtual activities. The process helped us ascertain which activities would work in lockdown settings and was vital in the successful development of the programme.”