Swimming and Water Safety in Schools

Explore our new School Swimming and Water Safety Charter website and register to access free digital resources

Why does your child learn to swim at school?

The Department for Education understands the importance of learning to swim – it is the only physical activity which can save your life.

All schools must provide swimming lessons in Key Stage 1 or 2. Swimming is the only statutory sport within the Physical Education (PE) programme of study – and in particular, pupils should be taught to:

  • Perform safe self-rescue in different water based situations.
  • 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.
  • Regular Learn
    to Swim lessons

    Technical ability and proficiency

  • +
  • School Swimming and Water Safety lessons

    Safe, competent and confident

  • =
  • A great


What’s the difference between swimming in the national curriculum and the Swim England Learn to Swim Programme?

Don’t give up on your regular swimming lessons once your child starts swimming lessons with school.

This is crucial to their continued development and ultimately safety. The national curriculum framework is designed to build water confidence and safety, rather than stroke technique.

We recommend you continue with your regular private lessons at the same time as the school swimming lessons. This is because your child will be taught more in-depth skills and techniques in regular lessons than they will at school. The aim of school swimming and water safety lessons during physical education, are to teach your child to be safe in and around water, with the emphasis on water safety. Regular lessons progress way past the minimum national curriculum requirements and continue their aquatic education towards an active and healthy future.

What will they learn in School Swimming and Water Safety lessons?

As well as learning to swim the basic strokes, your child will learn how to be safe around different water environments e.g. beaches, lakes, canals etc. Your child will know how the skills they learn in their swimming lessons can be used in an emergency situation.

Your role is vital

As a parent, guardian or carer you play a vital role in encouraging your child to swim and learn about water safety, survival and lifesaving.

There are several ways to help your child:

  • Growing their water confidence
  • Go along to family fun sessions
  • Talk about water safety know-how
  • Make sure your child has everything they need to take part in their school swimming lessons
  • Find out what your child’s current attainment level is and what they should be achieving
  • Sign your child up for additional lessons at a local facility as soon as possible – they can start to learn as a baby. Find out more from our Swim England Parent hub.
  • Ask if the lessons at your local pool follow the Swim England Learn to Swim Programme. These focus on learning through fun so they enjoy learning to swim, and links in with what they’ll be learning in their school swimming lessons.

What to pack in your child’s swimming kit

  • Swimwear This may be a swimming costume, trunks, shorts (must be swimming shorts), t-shirt and/or leggings. Check school guidelines on what swimwear is allowed during swimming and water safety lessons. Some pools will not allow certain swim suits. There is no set guidance for pupils who wish wear full body suits for religious beliefs, or a pre-existing medical condition for school swimming and water safety. We recommend talking to the school to make sure your child is able to swim inclusively. Online swimwear retailers are available for those looking for modest swimwear.
  • Towels A towel is essential for drying off after your swim. You may want consider taking more than one. Always good to be prepared.
  • Swimming cap Swimming caps can be useful for pupils with longer hair. They not only keep the hair out of the face, but also reduce ‘drag’ to make swimming that bit easier.
  • Goggles Although not essential, wearing swimming goggles during the lesson is acceptable for pupils who have a specific need. Ideally pupils need to experience swimming without goggles, particularly for water safety development. But discuss and check with your child’s school policy. For example, if your child falls into a lake they won’t have goggles and may panic. Wearing goggles guidance.
  • Toiletries The chlorine and other chemicals used in the swimming pool can leave skin and hair a bit dry, so make sure you remember shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and any other toiletries your child may need.
  • Hairbrush/Comb For those with longer hair, bringing hair clips or hair bands is an idea if you they are planning to swim without a cap.
  • Locker coins Some pools allow bags on to the poolside, but at others there are lockers which usually require coins or a token. Check with your child’s school to ask what they need for the lockers.
  • Water Swimming is a form of exercise. When swimming it’s important to keep hydrated. In a pool your child won’t notice how much they sweat. Remember to give them a water bottle, keep it on the side of the pool and take regular sips.
  • Snack Depending on school rules, it might be an idea to pack a small snack such as a banana for straight after their swim. This will help to replace energy.
  • Jewellery Personal effects, such as jewellery (including body piercing) religious artefacts, watches should ideally be removed to establish a safe working environment. This should be included in the schools own policies.

Take a look at our Just Swim guidance on how to pack for swimming here.

I’m in a Parent Teacher Association (PTA)

You have an important role to play. Children who don’t learn to swim at school, often never learn at all.

In your regular meetings, you can encourage and support your school to sign up to the Charter and take swimming and water safety seriously – and make sure it stays on the agenda.

Do you home school your children?

According to latest BBC figures, home-schooling in the UK has increased 40% in the past three years – that’s around 48,000 children.

As a parent who home-schools, you must make sure your child receives a full-time education from the age of 5, providing a broad and balanced curriculum.

When planning any educational programme, it’s good practice to take notice of what the Education Act outlines, but you don’t have to follow the national curriculum.

To make sure your children can swim to the standard required by the national curriculum, we recommend your child follows the Swim England School Swimming and Water Safety Charter – completing all eight Awards to be competent and confident in all water environments, and proficient in all the swimming strokes.

This will ensure they can swim the minimum required 25 metres (by the time they would normally leave primary school at age 11). We suggest continuing your child’s development by enrolling them on regular lessons that follow the Swim England Learn to Swim Programme.

Talk to your local lesson providers about the potential for taking part in bespoke school swimming lessons.

We also recommend they participate in water safety campaigns such as Swim Safe.

You can contact the AfPE and your local education authority for more information about the PE curriculum or visit gov.uk/national-curriculum. Also check out gov.uk/home-education