'Virtual Panathlon' praised by schools

A virtual version of the Panathlon Challenge, the mini Paralympic-style event for schoolchildren, has been hailed as a big success at the end of its first term in schools.

Launched in response to Covid-19 restrictions forcing the postponement of the charity’s usual calendar of external competitions, the virtual programme has enabled pupils to take part in events safely within school, with internally-trained Young Leaders officiating and guiding their younger peers through a specially-adapted set of activities.

As of December 9th, 8,290 competitors and 601 Young Leaders had participated in ‘pre-season’ activities, with 6,550 and 508 leaders taking part in ‘game day’ competition. Those numbers are spread across just over 300 schools.

Primary and secondary-age students have developed skills within an engaging, inclusive and challenging competition framework – something they may otherwise have been denied during a period of many restrictions to school sport and PE.

“It has offered something fresh, accessible and different during times when our lives were under a lot of stress,” said Sarka Viehoff, Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator at Heritage House School in Chesham, Buckinghamshire.

“The games were simple, easy to follow and could be adjusted to different ability levels. Our students appreciated that they could all achieve and we made the rules flexible.”

In late November, the charity augmented the initial activity packs and guidance by adding two new activities to the programme – ten-pin bowling (pictured left) and new-age kurling – to provide even more engagement opportunities for staff. To date, 5,372 competitors and 450 Young Leaders have entered for bowling, and 3,451 (374 leaders) in the kurling.

Reactions were similar at Gillas Lane Primary School in Sunderland, which was the first primary school nationwide to sign up for the Virtual Panathlon programme in September.

The mainstream school’s High Level Teaching Assistant, Mark Douglass, said the experience for their Young Leaders has been “invaluable”.

“It gives them a sense of empowerment and pride that I feel they would not usually have access to,” said Mark. “It gave our leaders a sense of independence in preparation for secondary school. They learned how to communicate with younger children and to keep them engaged in the activities. They have gained new techniques to help them in everyday life.”

“School leaders place great importance on our involvement in Panathlon, so much so that it is a key feature of our school development plan under the Behaviour and Attitudes section.

“It has given the learners a great sense of achievement knowing that even if they have a disability, they can still take part in the same sporting activities as our able-bodied children.

“This gives them a feeling of equality within the school and the mentality that even though they may have a disability, that could be the best thing that could happen to them, as it gives them different opportunities than others would normally get.”

Read more about Panathlon’s in-school Virtual Programme here.