As winter has turned to summer in 2021, the ever-increasing diversity, flexibility and accessibility of Panathlon’s Virtual Programme has allowed huge numbers of SEND pupils to get active – whatever the weather!

Our programme of outdoor activities for the summer term, as well as our swimming, football, ten-pin bowling, cricket, tennis and indoor multi-skills offerings have, crucially, given schools choice – to enhance what they’ve been doing already or try something new. We’ve provided a framework to deliver a huge variety of activities in school which can be easily adapted to suit their pupils’ individual needs.

Pre-Covid, schools competing in a Panathlon competition were usually limited to a minibus-full of competitors who had to travel to take part – now, in many cases, the whole school can participate in a Panathlon on-site.

As well as giving schools plentiful options to choose from in the content of the activities, we’ve also provided choice in the method of delivery: school staff can use our guidance to run activities using their own leaders; they can opt to have a Panathlon Events Manager on site to deliver it alongside them; and/or they can join some of the external events we have planned across the country over the rest of the summer term.

Events Manager Chris Sugden has been clocking up the miles helping teachers across the country put the Virtual Programme into practice. “The beauty of our Virtual Programme is it opens it up to the whole school,” he says. “We have lots of strings to our bow with the winter and summer packages that schools now have so many options.

“What we do is so flexible that everyone can have a go. It doesn’t matter whether they can throw a bean bag, hit a ball, swim a length, or not. We give teachers the framework to make it participation-based or really competitive, depending on the ability of pupils they’ve got in front of them.


“We’ve had such positive feedback from staff and School Games Organisers (SGOs). The numbers have gone through the roof. I thought it’d be popular, but not this popular!”

The Virtual Programme’s popularity and engagement levels have been so high partly because Panathlon has been able to collaborate with SGOs and schools to tailor activities in whatever way they choose.

For example, Sarka Viehoff from Heritage House School in Buckinghamshire picked nine games from Panathlon’s programmes and played them in class-based groups, using a placings system in some classes, and a non-competitive approach in others, depending on need and ability.

“It has provided more variety and lots of different options, especially during the times of various Covid restrictions,” she commented. “It has given us new ideas how to adapt outdoor games for indoors and how to use PE resources in a different way. It has given our learners lots of fun, teamwork and a sense of achievement.”

Several schools converted our summer activities into a whole-school sports day. Since starting Panathlon’s SEND cricket programme, William Cobbett School in Surrey have started an after-school cricket club on Thursday nights

We’ve planned external competitions (new Covid variant and spread permitting) for the rest of the summer which will spread the word to areas and schools who have not engaged in Panathlon before. Many new schools have already expressed an interest in participating.

In Cockermouth, Cumbria in July, we’re hoping five primary schools come together at the local rugby club for a safe outdoor competition using our summer activities, supervised by trained Young Leaders. In Shropshire we have an outdoor event planned to raise awareness of the opportunities we can offer for SEND pupils in the area. Other events are planned in Suffolk, North Wales, Cheltenham and across Cornwall.

Elsewhere, Panathlon Event Manager Howard Nicholls has been visiting Bridlington, Sheffield and Sunderland to helping schools adapt our summer programme to suit their requirements.

“What the programme offers is a framework,” he says. “Where required, we can then collaborate with staff to help them find out how best to implement that in the most suitable way for them as a school, within each class or group of children taking part.”

On his travels, Howard has been training Young Leaders to officiate and guide the participants. This leaves a legacy which allows schools to run sessions themselves, with pupils fully trained to help them run smoothly.

“The Virtual Programme has given a new buzz to the school,” says David Ball, Movement Coordinator at Kingsdown School in Southend, Essex. “The programme means teachers can see that it’s easy to teach PE. It’s all there on the Virtual Panathlon YouTube videos and session plans. There’s such a smooth movement through the activities and there’s adaptations throughout. It also meets all their targets in a fun, engaging way.”

At Ryvers School in Slough, Berkshire, pupils have adapted the summer games and multi-skills activities in PE lessons with SEND students and those from the school’s autism base. “It has helped our students gain so much confidence in PE and sport,” said PE Lead, Katie Taylor.

Panathlon’s summer programme has even extended into other areas of the school curriculum, with Ryvers pupils among hundreds around the country to design a lucky charm and logo for our ambassador Nathan Maguire as he competes at the Tokyo Paralympics this August.

Nathan and our other ambassadors, deaf England rugby union player Jodie Ounsley, England deaf cricketer James Dixon and two-time world blind tennis champion Rachel Morgan have also been inspiring pupils through the pandemic in Q&A sessions via Zoom.

Tony Waymouth, Panathlon’s Chief Operating Officer, said: “This summer, we have given schools the opportunity to choose from a wide range of activities and to implement it in a way that suits them. The options are so plentiful and flexible that they can be easily adapted to suit ever-changing coronavirus restrictions.

“That flexibility has been crucial to getting thousands of SEND students back outside, staying active and enjoying sport and physical activity which is adapted and delivered in ways that many of them have never experienced before.”