The beaming smiles of 169 primary school children in Peterborough was all the evidence needed of ten-pin bowling’s impact as a sporting confidence-booster for SEND children. 

Bowling is an activity accessible for children with all sorts of impairments and special educational needs. It excludes no-one and quite simply, it is huge fun. Most importantly, it offers a platform for SEND pupils to come out of school, broaden their horizons and gain the confidence to take on further sporting challenges they previously didn’t believe they were capable of. 

<< Click here for a full gallery of pics from our Peterborough ten-pin bowling competition >>

Panathlon’s ten-pin bowling programme has grown massively in recent years. We stage impairment-specific competitions (e.g. deaf and visually impaired) and some areas such as the North West have developed a pathway of local and regional finals. 

Our two events in Peterborough on May 26 comprised 32 teams from 21 schools and were the 95th and 96th ten-pin bowling competitions we have held this academic year alone. 

Emma Melville, Special Needs Coordinator and St John’s Primary in Peterborough, said: “The needs of children in our team vary, but they are all able to do this. Even the ones we expected to use the ramp have opted not to, because they feel comfortable and confident here. 

“Children in our school get given a special postcard when they achieve something great. This group of children don’t get them as often, but they certainly will for what they’ve done here. I can’t wait to make a big deal of them in assembly tomorrow!” 

Carly Pearson, SENCO at Nene Valley Primary, said the format “really plays to our children’s strengths”. “It’s just fabulous,” she beamed. “We’ve never seen anything like it before and I honestly cannot speak highly enough of it. 

“One member of our team finds school pretty tough but he is dealing amazingly with all the lights and noise and we’re seeing a different side of his personality. It shows ‘the whole child’, not just the version we see at school who might feel sometimes like they don’t come up to scratch. 

“It’s amazing for them to get out of the classroom to do something which isn’t maths or English. It may not be education-based but they are certainly learning a lot of things while they are here.” 

The bowling ramps and bumpers to each side of the lanes enable primary-age children to compete on a level playing field, whatever the severity of their impairment or special needs. That platform gives pupils the opportunity to express themselves. So many teachers in Peterborough commented that they had seen a different side to their pupils’ personalities.  

“We really notice the quiet children come out of their shells,” said Dawn Coleman, PE Lead and Leighton Primary, who competed in a Panathlon multisport competition back in February and were delighted to return for a second event in a different format. 

“This is an experience a lot of our children simply don’t get in or out of school so it’s powerful for them to be here. They are more confident at Panathlons because ability-wise everyone is fairly even and it is adapted to their needs. 

“We have children here who probably wouldn’t come to other sporting events because they would be overwhelmed. They would never have the confidence to take part in a grassroots football team, for example. That’s why this is so important.” 

David Spence from Bishop Creighton Academy agreed with those sentiments: “It is amazing to see all of the children so well included,” he said. “They are loving a ‘neutral’ environment where they can have the same experience as everybody around them. 

“They have had limited experiences outside of school since Covid, but in the build-up to today staff have seen a real difference in their engagement in school. There was a buzz and excitement. 

“We don’t underestimate the importance of these events in lifting their week, because sometimes they face challenges on a day-to-day basis that we can barely comprehend.” 

David Harrison, Learning Mentor at Market Deeping Primary, said many of his pupils rarely have the means to travel outside of their small market town. Only one of his seven-strong team had ever been bowling before. 

“One pupil in our team doesn’t speak, but he is really, really coming to life here today – in fact he has barely stopped talking!” said David. 

“This is going to have an amazing impact on their confidence. They are like completely different people. Their self-esteem has gone through the roof! Celebration assembly tomorrow is going to be a great one.” 

Eyrescroft Primary had competed in two primary Panathlon events before, but teacher Adam Clemence noticed a difference in his pupils’ experience in the ten-pin bowling environment. 

“I have seen some of the children who are shy and timid within the school environment really come out of themselves socially in this setting. The chance to test themselves by improving their own score but also work as a team is fantastic. Being here is great for their mental health and the sense of achievement at representing their school really increases their confidence.” 

Our Events Manager Dom Fenton has run many Panathlon ten-pin bowling events up and down the country. He said: “The atmosphere is also unlike any other Panathlon event. It’s great for introducing Panathlon to new audiences because you can get so many children into the space and it gives the chance for teachers to stand back and observe the positive impact. 

“The ramps and bumpers mean absolutely everyone can take part and achieve, regardless of their physical disability of learning difficulty,” he said. “They are competing almost without being aware of it and challenging themselves within a team environment. 

“Our aim is that, due to the inclusivity of ten-pin as an activity, everyone here gains the self-belief to push themselves and compete in some of our other activities such as multisport, swimming, football and more.”