Primary pupils denied life-saving skill

National governing body the Amateur Swimming Association is calling for greater priority for swimming and water safety

The Amateur Swimming Association (ASA) is calling on primary schools and politicians to show their commitment to school swimming as new figures reveal that 45 per cent of primary school children are unable to swim 25 metres despite it being a national curriculum requirement. The call comes as the national governing body for aquatics released its third annual School Swimming Census on the state of school swimming.

The report, published today, found that 45 per cent of children aged between seven and 11 are unable to swim the length of an average-sized pool unaided. While this is a six per cent improvement on figures released in 2013, the ASA believes more needs to be done to ensure all children leave primary school with the ability to swim and the knowledge of how to keep themselves safe in and around water.

 The 2014 census also revealed that despite school swimming being part of the national curriculum, nearly 1,300 primary schools (6.6 per cent) do not teach it in key stage two. This is despite drowning being the third highest cause of accidental death in children in the UK, and concern that if they do not learn to swim at primary school, one in five children will never be confident in water.

The ASA also found that while the average number of school swimming lessons made available in a school year has increased from 16 to 18 since 2013, the amount of time spent in the water by pupils was just under 10 hours. This is less than half the 25 hours of study time that the ASA recommends is required to ensure a child has sufficient opportunity to learn to swim. 

As a response to these findings, the ASA has developed the School Swimming Charter, a comprehensive package of support that aims to ensure every primary school in England has the necessary knowledge and resources required to deliver high-quality school swimming programmes.

ASA acting CEO Ashley Beaveridge said: “Swimming isn’t just a leisure activity or a way for young people to keep healthy, it’s a life-saving skill that every child has the right to learn. As such it is concerning that despite school swimming being a national curriculum requirement, nearly 1,300 primary schools still do not offer swimming lessons. â€¨â€¨

“Our research shows that school swimming is often the only opportunity many children have to learn to swim, so it is vital that we look at the barriers preventing primary schools from allocating the required time. As the national governing body for aquatics, the ASA has a unique responsibility to support schools with their swimming programmes. This is why we are asking every primary school in England to sign up to our School Swimming Charter so that together we can increase the number of children leaving primary school able to swim and with the knowledge of how to keep themselves safe in water.”

The ASA is also asking politicians to support calls for Ofsted to be more rigorous in their assessment and reporting process of school swimming. Currently the standard and regularity of swimming is overlooked in school assessments, resulting in schools sometimes prioritising other curriculum subjects over this important area. 

The ASA recommends that Ofsted should require primary schools to provide key stage two attainment levels as part of their primary school PE inspections, and to also publish results on their websites. This would provide transparency for the 40 per cent of parents who are currently unaware of their child’s progress or ability when it comes to water safety and swimming, and the 83 per cent of secondary schools that have reported not knowing the swimming ability of incoming pupils.

Beaveridge added: “The Department for Education has shown its commitment to school swimming by keeping it within the revised national curriculum and providing funding through the Primary PE and Sports Premium. We are asking those in central and local government to continue to show their support for the only sport that saves lives by supporting calls for Ofsted to be more robust in their assessments and encourage their local primary schools to sign up to the School Swimming Charter.” 


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