West Hatch High School in Essex has received Panathlon’s Jack Petchey Foundation ‘Special Recognition’ award for their whole-hearted approach to inclusion in PE and sport.

The school in Chigwell has been competing in Panathlon events for over 10 years – and staff have been inspired to create a busy programme of extra-curricular clubs and end-of-term sports festivals for pupils with disabilities and special needs.

West Hatch’s Learning Support Assistant, Lucy Pearce, said: “I feel very privileged that the school has been acknowledged for the work we do in inclusive sports for our students. It’s my priority to provide SEND PE lessons alongside the curriculum PE lessons.”

For many years, SEND pupils at West Hatch have been part of a special PE group called the ‘Target Team’ who practise alternative sports such as new-age kurling and boccia. This group has three lessons per week for Years 7-9 with around 20 students in each class. It has more recently been extended for social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) pupils too. As pupils graduate from the programme at the end of Year 9, they become Target Team Ambassadors in Year 10 and guide their younger peers.

To celebrate this group’s success, Lucy started holding a ‘Festival of Sports’ at the end of each term with pupils taking part in a carousel of activities which includes self-defence, lacrosse and trampoline as well as Panathlon sports.

This academic year alone, West Hatch have competed in several of our multi-sports events as well as a swimming gala at the London Aquatic Centre. “That was an amazing experience,” said Lucy. Over the years, pupils have amassed a large collection of gold medals and trophies.

Lucy added: “Our children really encourage each other at the events and love being able to compete against other schools. It is really nice to see students remember and say hello to students from other schools. There is a real sense of camaraderie.

“Panathlon events embed teamwork and reinforce our school motto, Be the Best You Can Be. I use the events to develop ideas at school for inclusion through sports.

“Being part of Panathlon events has given me a drive to look at ways we can improve and deliver inclusive sport as a school. Its like a refreshment and renewal – I am able to take ideas back when I plan my lessons for my sports intervention lessons.”

The impact that Panathlon and the school’s in-house inclusive activity has on pupils has been profound, particularly on those who suffered most during the pandemic at their primary schools.

“Working with Panathlon offers more than just PE to our students,” says Lucy. “Pupils experience the social interaction being around other school children and have time outside of lessons to interact and get to know each other further. More than anything, seeing the students’ growth in their skill development and confidence is something that makes me really proud.”