It’s time to dig out the goggles, swim caps and towels as Panathlon re-launches its external swimming programme with new and improved galas across the country which we hope will help rejuvenate the sport. 

New for the 2021/22 academic year are Panathlon’s ‘Discovery’ galas which introduce newly water-confident swimmers with a range of disabilities and special needs to inclusive, accessible and competitive challenge-based activities. They will suit schools who run swimming lessons but whose pupils aren’t yet proficient over 25m, giving them a platform to experience the thrill of a team event across water-based activities in a structured gala setting. 

This Discovery Galas have been adapted from our in-school virtual swimming programme which gave children the chance to compete via specially adapted challenges in their schools’ 5m or 10m pools during the pandemic. ‘Discovery Galas will operate alongside our long-standing inclusive galas for swimmers with SEND of all ability levels. 

This ‘two-tier’ approach of our pre-pandemic format (a gala consisting of races and challenges) and ‘Discovery’ gala consisting almost entirely of challenges is being rolled out through an extensive calendar of external competitions across the academic year. 

We have already had galas in Merseyside, Gloucestershire and Cornwall in October, and from November through to February half term 2022 we are ready to make a big splash with 22 competitions scheduled. 

One of these will be on 30 November when the Discovery format begins for schools in Southend and such is demand across Essex that three further Discovery galas are fully booked up in January. 

This extensive provision will help buck the national decline in children’s swimming participation. Swim England report that most primary school children will be unable to swim a 25m length by 2025. Pool closures during the pandemic have exacerbated the problem and swimming has dropped down many schools’ priority list due primarily to its expense. 

As part of the Panathlon swimming experience, we have created swimming activity sheets for schools to engage with before and after attending an event, giving pupils an opportunity to learn aspects of water safety as part of the experience. 

Panathlon Chief Operating Officer Tony Waymouth said: “Not only will our galas provide an outlet for SEND children to access swimming, they will enhance their life skills too. We hope the programme exceeds their expectations. 

“Our two-tier swimming skill development programme is the result of our observations and feedback from our pre-Covid competitions and our in-school SEND swimming events during the pandemic. 

“Both types of gala will give pupils an outlet to enjoy swimming, learn about water and progress to higher levels of competition based on their development during school lessons. Sadly these opportunities are becoming increasingly rare for SEND children, so Panathlon are seeking to fill the gap.” 

Between now and February, our swimming programme includes nine days of events at the Aquatics Centre at the London 2012 Olympic Park including galas for Special Schools, primary-age pupils, deaf/hearing impaired and visually-impaired pupils.  

The take-up for our Discovery galas has seen new areas experience our swimming provision for the first time. North-east Lincolnshire, Bury, Durham and Buckinghamshire already have confirmed dates. 

Across the rest of 2021/22, we will be staging galas in places as far afield as Liskeard in Cornwall, Accrington in Lancashire, Newcastle upon Tyne and Oxted in Surrey. 

Anticipation among schools is high. The Bridge School in Ipswich, for example, is using our virtual swim programme with 190 children putting in hard work in their pool in preparation for our upcoming competitions.  

Panathlon thanks Pentland Brands for supporting their swim programme and having a real desire to help keep swimming on schools’ curriculums and working with us to give SEND children priceless opportunities to participate.