There was a time when every school kid, it seems, not only learned to swim, but also carried out basic life saving. Talk to any child brought up in the 1960s and 1970s and they’ll probably tell you funny tales of how they blew up their pyjama bottoms to make a float, trod water for minutes, swam up and down in their T-Shirt and dived down to the bottom of the pool to pick up a black plastic brick. That’s just what you did. OK it may have seemed pretty crazy at the time, but there was a serious point. LEARNING TO SWIM CAN SAVE YOUR LIFE.
In 2011 407 people in the UK died from drowning. Drowning is the third biggest cause of death among children with the latest case being a little girl Chloe Johnson who drowned in Sharm El-Sheikh last weekend in a hotel pool. She was 5 years old. Yet it seems schools no longer teach kids even the basics of how to swim, let alone how to save someone’s life in the water. The latest report from the ASA and Kelloggs (know I don’t really understand why the producer of sugary cereals sponsor British Swimming – maybe it’s to assuage their guilt) reveals that 51 per cent of children can’t swim a length – that’s 25m – when they leave primary school, aged 11. That’s over 1 million school kids who can not swim a length. SHOCKING.
Now there may be cultural reasons why today’s kids don’t swim as much as we did when we were kids. Certainly there is anecdotal evidence to suggest some parents who are immigrants to the UK are not strong swimmers themselves and therefore are less likely to take their kids swimming to learn. Maybe they weren’t brought up in an island nation surrounded by water or didn’t have any local swimming pools in which to learn.
Which is why I think it’s even more important that schools take swimming more seriously. Shockingly, while swimming provision is a compulsory part of the school curriculum, it is not something that OFSTED checks up on when they do their inspections. So what’s happening is that some schools are skipping it completely in order to focus on providing better academic results – something which they are of course judged on! Even if your child is lucky enough to be given swimming lessons at primary school, chances are they will not be enough on their own without being supplemented by parents or a swimming club.
While 22 hours of swimming per year is recommended, the average number of hours our children spend in the water with the school is just 8 hours 15 minutes. Typically just as many of the kids are getting the hang of learning to swim, the lessons stop (usually they are held for just one term a year). Much better would be to provide lessons all year round so that kids could spend more time in the water learning the basics and, hopefully, even getting to enjoy it. But that would require investment from the councils, which many seem unwilling to prioritise, and until OFSTED start taking swimming seriously unfortunately kids will continue to drown.