Hundreds of thousands of 11-year-olds leaving primary school unable to swim


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The Independent Online

More than 200,000 11-year-olds quit primary school every year unable to swim, according to a report out today.

Figures show one in three are unable to reach the Government’s target of being able to swim 25 metres by the time they transfer to secondary school.

Worryingly, too, 39 per cent of those unable to swim have never had any swimming lessons despite the fact the sport is a statutory element of the national curriculum.

The findings come from a report published by the Amateur Swimming Association and Kellogg’s – which gleaned the figures through Freedom of Information Act requests  which urges the Government to take swift action to remedy the situation.

“Swimming is the only subject on the national curriculum that can save your life,” said David Sparkes, chief executive of the ASA.

“It’s essential that government, schools and parents join us in taking action and break the cycle before we create a generation of non-swimmers unable to pass on this life-saving skill to their children in the future.”

One reason cited for the lack of swimming lessons is the financial squeeze facing local authorities which has forced some to close their pools.

According to Sport England, 23 local authority pools shut in 2011 while 20 opened.  Twelve schools closed their facilities while eight opened new ones.  In Wales there was a net loss of three pools.

In some cases, small pools – convenient for neighbouring schools - were closed to make way for state-of-the-art facilities.

However, the closures last year pale in comparison with 2009 when 87 closed and just 58 opened to replace them. Critics point out that one of the Coalition Government’s first acts was to scrap[ free swimming for children and pensioners. They were axed to save £73 million from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport’s budget.

The report suggests that school swimming should be routinely monitored as a part of inspections by Ofsted, the education standards watchdog.

It adds that nearly one in three parents fail to take their children swimming because they either cannot swim themselves or do not feel confident of their ability to help their child if he or she gets into difficulties.

The Swimming Teachers’ Association is urging local authorities to follow the example of Shropshire County Council which set up its own Swim academy at its six leisure centres.

Zoe Cooper, the academy manager, said: “I am shocked but not surprised by the news that one in three primary school leavers cannot achieve the 25 metre target set by the Government.

“Over the last few years, local authorities have faced budget cuts and schools have reduced the time spent on swimming..

“The fact is that swimming is an essential life skill, the same as reading and writing.

“If a child is not introduced to football or netball at school they miss an experience. If they don’t learn to swim they lose their lives.”

Since concentrating its resources on the leisure centres as a result of squeezed budgets, Shropshire has seen a 567 per cent increase in the number of children learning to swim.

“Pools are a big overhead,” said Zoe Cooper, “so by maximising the pool space, you can recover the costs and pass the savings on to customers.”

David Walker, leisure safety manager at Royal society for the Prevention of Accidents,, added: “We are concerned to see that so many children are struggling to swim at an acceptable standard.

“RoSPA believes that a good awareness of water safety and the ability to swim are essential skills, one which everyone should have the opportunity to acquire.”

The report comes as statistics show drowning is the third most common cause of accidental death amongst children in England  with the number of deaths year on year increasing by 35 per cent.