Why primary schools need to do more to help kids swim

Schools aren't doing enough to give kids the push they need to get going in the water

The statistics are shocking. One third of school children in England leave Primary School unable to swim even one length of a standard 25m pool. And nearly 2 in 5 (39 per cent) aren’t offered any swimming lessons at all by their school. This, despite the fact that swimming is actually a compulsory part of the national curriculum and, unlike Maths or English, could help save your life.

Yet amazingly when this research from the ASA (Amateur Swimming Association) and cereal company Kellogg’s was published last week, it was met with a mixed response from parents using social media.

In a poll published by British Swimming, the official governing body of swimming in the UK, 67 per cent of respondents thought that parents should take sole responsibility for teaching their kids to swim and only 25 per cent thought that parents and schools should take joint responsibility. Just 4 per cent thought it should be the responsibility of local authorities.

I wonder though if the question was whether our children should be taught Maths it would have got the same response – that parents should teach their own kids and local authorities should be let off the hook.  I suspect not. Admittedly the survey was carried out by British Swimming so most parents on the site would be fairly confident teaching their own kids to swim, but even so….

What about those parents who can’t swim, perhaps because no one ever taught them, or who don’t have a car to drive to the pool – assuming there is one nearby? Or who can’t afford to give their kids private lessons or don’t feel confident enough to teach their own kids if they themselves can’t swim.

As a young swimmer whose parents were wealthy enough to afford for me to have private lessons and put me in a decent swimming club, I often wondered why my Dad never got in the water with me, even on holiday. It was only when I was an adult that he confessed he had never learned to swim and was too embarrassed to get in the water!

Lots of parents on the British Swimming Facebook page say that swimming lessons at school are a complete waste  of time. That their kids are completely bored because they can already swim. Of course they are (the same is true of my own son who has been having private lessons since the age of 5).

The fact is that swimming lessons are not meant for them and schools need to find a suitable alternative for the kids who can swim while those who NEED to learn to swim are given lessons (I realise this might be logistically difficult because of limited teaching staff etc.)

I think it goes without saying that local authorities/schools should be bound by the national curriculum and provide swimming lessons to all primary school children. If they don’t they should be fined. It simply isn’t acceptable in this day and age that around 200,000 children leave primary school each year unable to swim properly.

But I think it needs to go further. Often kids are taught for a single term in Year 3 and then not taught again until Year 4. Technically, this is adhering to the terms of the National Curriculum, but it isn’t very satisfactory.  What happens is that kids will start to get the hang of swimming after week 8 or 9, and then have to start all over again a year later!

Of course in an ideal world ALL these kids would get the swimming bug and all badger their parents to take them to their local pool (if they have one). But as I have pointed out not all parents are born water babies and they may not want to pay to take their kids swimming on a weekend.

I’m not saying that parents can not play a part in teaching children to swim. I think they can.  Just as spending time with children doing their homework will help them progress with their academic subjects, spending time with them in the pool will help them progress with their swimming. And if you want to really make sure they can swim then giving them private swimming lessons or putting them into a swimming club like the one my son Archie goes to will also be beneficial. Similarly giving children private tuition with their academic subjects will help them in their schooling and ensure they get the possible grades!

It’s just that not everyone is so lucky to be able to afford to push their kids. And for those children there needs to be a support network. In 2010 57 kids drowned in the UK including one boy featured in the video on this page who was unable to swim. Everyone should spare a thought for his grandparents interviewed in this moving video about the needless death of a small child.

Parents can get information on learning to swim here.