Special needs charity and Includability Charity Partner, the Panathlon Foundation, has reported a record-breaking year of participation.
Panathlon is a national charity which has been operating for over 25 years, giving young people with disabilities and special educational needs every year the opportunity to take part in competitive sport.
Includability has been supporting Panathlon since we launched in June 2021. We donate 1% of our annual revenue to this amazing charity focussed on equity and inclusion.
What Records were broken?
In 2021/22, a record 52,476 young people participated in Panathlon sporting competitions as face-to-face events made a roaring return to school calendars to blend with in-school and virtual programmes.
Last academic year, 33,197 pupils with disabilities and special needs took part in face-to-face competitions across England and Wales, supported by 5,013 specially trained Young Leaders.
Tony Waymouth, Chief Operating Officer at Penathlon, said: “To have broken our all-time participation records during the continuing uncertainty of the pandemic period is hugely satisfying for everyone at the charity who has worked so hard throughout it.
“For many school staff and pupils, Panathlon competitions have been their first opportunity to leave the school gates for nearly two years. The benefits go way beyond mere sporting provision, boosting mental and physical health, self-confidence, inclusion and social skills and having a ripple effect across academic attainment. We followed the mantra of meeting all the children’s needs, whether they were at their own school or atone of our external events. We are proud of our agility in adapting to yet more challenging circumstances throughout this academic year.”
How did Panathlon weather the pandemic?
In a tough time for Penathlon during the pandemic, competitions had been wiped out the previous academic year by Covid-19. Although the pandemic continued to cause complications this year, especially when restrictions returned in January, they still managed to stage the highest number of competitions in the charity’s 25-year history.
A Virtual Programme continued during restrictions. The programme was conceived at the start of the pandemic to allow schools to host internal competitions safely on-site for pupils with additional needs. Schools loved it so much they continued to engage after Covid restrictions were relaxed, and its visibility and impact grew, with 13,305 pupils participating in 2021/22.
In total, 2,078 schools across England and Wales took part in Panathlon activity across 758 events and activities in and out of schools.
Panathlon’s blended approach gives pupils the opportunity to practise activities first in school before then transferring those newly honed skills into a competitive environment against other schools at face-to-face competitions (particularly evident in Panathlon’s primary-age and swimming programmes).
The ever-changing Covid-19 regulations and concern over pupils’ health and wellbeing meant 2020/21 delivery had to be adapted to create an environment where schools could feel comfortable mixing with others. By incorporating social distancing, reducing numbers, creating extra space, delivering outside or making innovative format changes, gave schools confidence to participate again.
One pupil in Peterborough encapsulated the mood of many competitors across this year’s events. He said: “Lockdown felt like being trapped in a cage, but today feels like the cage door has opened!”
What sports do Panathlon provide?
Panathlon also launched a Discovery swimming gala format to help address the decline in swimming participation during Covid. These galas gave pupils an accessible and positive experience and rebuilt water confidence, which had become a barrier to participation along with draining of school pools, time, expense and lack of lesson time in the dwindling number of local authority facilities.
School staff and pupils were ecstatic to return to traditional competitions including primary, secondary, Xtend, swimming, football (including girls’ football), boccia, ten-pin bowling and new-age kurling.
They also diversified their offering by adding bespoke activity for areas with existing community links, including tennis, basketball, cricket, power hockey, judo and ice skating.
Panathlon activity grew exponentially in many areas during the year resulting in 29regional (multi-county) finals with schools showing their dedication by travelling hundreds of miles to participate.
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