Swim England

A nation swimming

Millions failing to meet minimum swimming standards as they stop lessons too early

More than 3.4 million seven to 11-year-olds in England are failing to meet minimum standards that have been brought in for swimming lessons outside of school, it’s been revealed.

The research, released by national governing body Swim England, found that 96 per cent of youngsters are stopping lessons too early – a figure which has risen slightly during the coronavirus pandemic.

Only 142,000 seven to 11-year-olds – four per cent – are meeting the required grade.

The research also found that while 81 per cent of parents want their children to learn to swim so they can look after themselves if they get into trouble, the majority of mums and dads are taking their children out of lessons before they are able to do so. 

As a result, Swim England is recommending that parents and guardians only consider stopping lessons for their children when they are ‘competent’ swimmers, rather than just displaying confidence in the water.

In order to be a competent swimmer, children should be able to:

  • ‘Float to live’ – perform a star float for at least 60 seconds
  • Tread water for at least 30 seconds
  • Have experience of swimming in clothing
  • Swim at least 100 metres with ease and without stopping

Only one in seven parents correctly thought that their child would ‘float to live’ if they fell into open water, with more than a quarter believing that they would try to swim to safety – which is far more dangerous.                   

The research also looked into how much time parents spend with their children in the pool. 

Nearly three-quarters (72 per cent) said they hadn’t been swimming with their children in the last month or even longer. 

Parents also said the main reasons for not providing formal swimming lessons outside of school were; being too busy because of other extra-curricular activities, not seeing the need because of lessons in school and their children being able to swim already.

Swim England is hoping the minimum standards for swimming competency will ensure parents can make an informed decision about when to stop their child’s swimming lessons.

Jane Nickerson MBE, Swim England chief executive, said she was worried by the high number of youngsters who had not reached the minimum standards of a ‘vital life skill’.

She said: “Most parents mistakenly think their child is competent in the water if they are able to put their head under water or they enjoy jumping into a swimming pool. 

“That’s not the case. There is a fine line between being confident and knowing what to do if they find themselves in a difficult situation.

“By introducing the new swimming competency standards, we hope more parents will be able to make an informed decision about when to stop their child’s swimming lessons.

“Swimming is a lifelong activity, and all children should have the opportunity to carry on swimming. Not only is it a vital life skill and helps develop healthy lifestyle choices but it also opens the door to lots of other water-based activities.”

Duncan Goodhew, president of Swimathon and Olympic swimming gold medallist, said: “Learning about when it is safe to swim and how to look after yourself is vital for children across the country to enjoy a lifetime of water fun and adventures.

Vital life skill

“Many families will have stayed in the UK this year and we’ve heard many stories of children getting into trouble which is a particularly frightening experience for parents. 

 “These new standards are great for making it clearer for parents and guardians to make informed decisions. I urge parents to prioritise keeping your child in swimming lessons until your child is water competent.” 

Swim England’s Learn to Swim Programme is the only official programme in England of the British Swimming team.

James Guy, who won two gold medals at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, said: “Learning how to stay safe in the water is a vital life skill.

“It’s really important that kids become competent swimmers so that they can enjoy the water safely on a family holiday, or to ensure they would know what to do if they were to get into trouble.

“It’s an adventure which could lead to you becoming Olympic champion or just enjoying the huge physical and mental health benefits that exercising in the water can bring.”