All young children should be receiving free swimming lessons

Former Olympic swimming gold medallist Duncan Goodhew has been in the news this week urging parents to prioritise swimming lessons for their children now that swimming pools are able to reopen. His intervention is a timely reminder of the importance that swimming plays not just in promoting children’s safety but also in terms of their overall physical and mental health and wellbeing. However, despite swimming lessons being part of the national curriculum, it is likely that around one in three children are unable to swim by the age of 11.

Goodhew is president of Swimathon, a charity involved in staging swimming events to help people to raise money for good causes, which has so far helped to generate more than £50m. In a recent message on the Swimathon website Goodhew highlighted the importance of swimming, not least in the context of the Covid pandemic. Calling for a post-lockdown “resurgence” in swimming, he said that:

  • Covid-19 is “a wake-up call to the nation, and will hopefully help drive people to get fit and be more active”
  • swimming provides immense benefits to people’s physical and mental health, and the combined economic and social value of taking part in community sport and physical activity in England is estimated at over £85 billion per year
  • swimming saves the health and social care system £357m per year

According to the website of Swim England, which describes itself as the only recognised national governing body for swimming in England, drowning is the third most common cause of accidental death in children. It makes the point that, although many children learn to swim outside of school, primary school will for some be the only opportunity they have to learn vital swimming and water safety skills.

The national curriculum states that all schools must provide swimming lessons either in key stage 1 or key stage 2. It should, however, be noted that academies and free schools do not have to follow the national curriculum. Moreover, research published by the Amateur Swimming Association (ASA) in 2018 indicated that one in three children leave primary school unable to swim, up from the previously reported figure of one in five.

The three key swimming outcomes specified in the national curriculum are that children learn to:

  • swim competently, confidently and proficiently over a distance of at least 25 metres
  • use a range of strokes effectively [for example, front crawl, backstroke and breaststroke]
  • perform safe self-rescue in different water-based situations

The Swim England website includes lots of resources to help primary schools and others deliver swimming and water safety lessons, as well as helpful information for parents and carers. In particular, the resources area of their website includes a downloadable guide for primary schools and a booklet of support materials, with separate checklists depending on whether schools are delivering swimming lessons themselves or via a third-party provider.

Swim England features in the Links area of the Forum website. There is a page for each of the nine life-based learning themes, with links (a) to sites with teaching ideas and resources for immediate use in the classroom and in curriculum planning (b) to a range of information-rich websites relevant to life-based learning.

We are always looking to expand the Links area of the website and welcome suggestions for additional links to high-quality websites. You can contact us here.

Image at the head of this article by Fredrik Bäckman from Pixabay.

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