The importance of school swimming lessons

Headmaster of Bournemouth Collegiate School Russell Slatford highlights the important role swimming lessons play in students’ lives

As a dad I want nothing more than my children to be safe and happy. I was somewhat shocked therefore recently to read that there are over 400 deaths each year from drowning in the UK and that it is the third highest cause of death in children in this country.

Bournemouth Collegiate School, where I have the great privilege of being the headmaster, is a small school split over two sites, the younger ones on a campus close to Sandbanks with the older ones, including boarders, in a beautiful old building on top of the coast five miles to the east. Each school site has an indoor pool, this means that every week pupils aged from 2 to 18 have the opportunity to swim. Having recently read the startling death toll from drowning I was reflecting on the importance of our swimming pools at school. 

Over 45% of schoolchildren in this country do not get offered swimming at school

So, I looked up some facts, over 45% of schoolchildren in this country do not get offered swimming at school, so perhaps it is not surprising that nearly 40% of children leaving primary school cannot swim. 

Pools are not easy or indeed cheap facilities to run for a school. Any school that has a pool will know the high cost of maintaining and running one, but when faced with statistics like this it is worth every penny, surely?

It has long been proven that swimming is one of the best all round sports; great for cardio-vascular, balanced skeletal development, flexibility and developing a strong core. I also like the fact that it teaches discipline, control and focus, particularly with those pupils who are competing. Competitive swimmers, of which we are very fortunate to have many, show a level of dedication and commitment that is right up there for school sports.

45% of schoolchildren in this country do not get offered swimming at school, so perhaps it is not surprising that nearly 40% of children leaving primary school cannot swim

Let’s be honest, who likes getting up at 5am every morning and then charging up and down a pool for two hours? Swimmers seem to, but few other sports have that expectation from a young age. I remember my first set of GCSE and A-level results at Bournemouth Collegiate School, the top performer in each was one of our elite swimmers. That old adage, if you want something done find the busiest person you can, rings true. The top performers show extraordinary perseverance, fitting in lessons and homework around 10 training sessions a week, they learn the value of hard work, realising that it pays off and makes a difference. In the last few years we’ve had a Paralympic Champion in Alice Tai, a British record breaker in Kayla van der Merve and most recently Leon, a young lad in Year 10 was named Para Swim Talent Athlete of the Year. Their approach, and that of many other swimmers at school, rubs off on others; their focus and commitment sets a tone for pupils across the school.   


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Our pools are used a lot, not just by pupils at BCS but both facilities are used by many others in our community such as local scout groups and primary schools for swimming lessons. I was over at our senior pool on a Sunday afternoon, it was packed with the local lifesaving group, they are in the pool in the winter and sea in the summer. They were having an absolute ball, testing themselves, working in groups and thoroughly enjoying being in the pool. When we book a summer holiday do we check first that there is a pool? I certainly do. So, swimming is not just about keeping our children safe, helping them to grow-up fit and healthy, or teaching them the value of resilience and dedication, it is also great fun. There is much to be said for having a pool at school – as BCS we are very lucky to have two.