That was the startling statistic that emerged from the largest-ever investigation into the state of school swimming.
“We did a survey of schools and the results suggest 51% of children at KS2 have not achieved the national curriculum target of being able to swim 25 metres,” says David Sparkes, Chief Executive of the
Amateur Swimming Association(
“We are concerned there is potential for people to not be aware of the dangers of swimming in open water, and the tragedies over the summer highlight the importance of being able to save yourself.
“Swimming is a skill for life. We are all increasingly concerned at obesity in children, and children love to swim and be more active.”
ASAsurvey found that the average state school pupil spends just eight hours and 15 minutes a year in swimming lessons at school, which is far less than the recommended 22 hours study time.
Sparkes says there are a range of factors holding schools back from delivering for all pupils in England.
“Some schools do have their own pool but they are few and far between,” he explains.
“There is a good supply of public pools around the country so broadly speaking access is easy, and operators of public pools are keen to work with schools.
“But the operators have real concerns that not all schools are taking up the opportunity.
“We would ask all political parties to stress the importance of swimming. There is now well documented evidence that an active young person is a high achiever in their academic studies.”
Parents are often unaware that their children cannot swim properly.
1,000 parents of primary school children were surveyed for their thoughts on the state of school swimming.
Just four in ten parents say their child is currently receiving lessons at school.
And more than half of parents wanted the new additional Government funding to help rectify this by putting school swimming over and above other sports.
52% of parents do not think or are not sure if their child could swim to safety if they found themselves in danger in open water.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) backs the
ASA’s call for curriculum swimming and water safety to be a priority in schools.
David Walker, RoSPA’s leisure safety manager said he was “astounded at how bad some of these figures are”.
“Parents believed their children could swim, only to find their abilities were little more than being able to float and doggy paddle.
“Worryingly, in our work with bereaved parents and coroners, RoSPA hears all too often how parents believed their children could swim, only to find out their abilities were little more than being able to float and doggy paddle.”
Sparkes said he was “really encouraged” by a recent meeting with Edward Timpson, Minister for Children and Families.
“We have always found cross-party broad support of swimming in schools and it is our desire to work in partnership with the Government of the day, whatever its colour,” he says.
Last month Department for Education included swimming and water safety in the revised national curriculum for schools in England.
It says all schools must provide swimming instruction either in key stage 1 or key stage 2.
In particular, pupils should be taught to swim competently, confidently and proficiently over a distance of at least 25 metres, use a range of strokes effectively such as front crawl, backstroke and breaststroke and perform safe self-rescue in different water-based situations.
From September each primary school will receive a minimum of £9,000 additional ring-fenced funding as part of the Government’s £150 million injection into PE & School Sport.
ASAis calling for curriculum swimming and water safety to be a priority for part of this funding.
“It is local schools that make the decision and they have the budget to do the job,” says Sparkes.
“They should be transporting the children to the pool.
“It could be argued that schools already have ‘swimming money’ in their delegated budgets as they are expected to deliver curriculum outcomes.
“I understand of course there are challenges in any budget and schools face transport challenges and the hiring of specialist teachers.
“But with the additional money for PE, and swimming would come into that category, there is no excuse for schools not to deliver.”
Sparkes says the
ASAis “always willing to work with schools” to overcome the challenges they face.
“One thing that is needed is more teacher training, and we are happy to provide support in that area,” he says.
Swimming is one of the few areas of a child's statutory education that is all too often left unmeasured, unchecked or unfulfilled.
“On inspections, PE should come under much more scrutiny by Ofsted – that is a view shared by Edward Timpson - and physical activity should have a higher priority among head teachers.”
ASA, encouraging swimming among adults is also a priority.
They have created an Active Workplaces programme designed to help boost the health and well-being of workforces across the UK.
By teaming up with local swimming pools, the Active Workplace initiative aims to get more people swimming more often by building new partnerships, developing new pathways and targeting new people with ASA products and programmes such as
“Active Workplace is where an employer encourages their employees to be more active and adopt a more flexible approach,” explains Sparkes.
“For example, they might allow them to start half an hour earlier, or finish earlier, so they can go swimming and be more active.
“Employees who swim regularly are fitter, and have less absence through illness and achieve more in their jobs.
“We are working with major employers to build in some flexibility – that might for example by four or five workers taking the same car to the pool.
“It takes a while to get the ‘buy in’ of senior management but it had worked really well for
British Gas, one of our partners, and we are in discussions with other organisations.”
As we continue to enjoy a hot summer, many people young and old, benefit from knowing how to swim and how to be safe in the water, skills far too many do not possess.
“My key message is that swimming is important for young children today and for all ages,” says Sparkes.
“We ask that MPS continue to press schools, local authorities and government itself to ensure the right provision and priorities. Swimming must remain an important part of the leisure provision for the British public.”