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Help all children 'enjoy the benefits' of the water says MP in school swimming debate

An MP has called on school swimming to be made a priority amid a worrying decline in the number of state primary schools offering swimming and water safety lessons.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of swimming being a national curriculum requirement but statistics show that some primary school children are not able to access lessons in a pool.

John Cryer MP, Labour MP for Leyton and Wanstead who is vice-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Swimming, highlighted this alarming trend during a Westminster Hall debate.

More than 35 per cent of state primary schools offered either none or fewer than 10 swimming lessons per pupil across the 2022-23 academic year – up 8.2 per cent compared to the 2017-18 academic year.

Mr Cryer told the debate that “the importance of swimming and water safety lessons in school should never be underestimated” and is backing calls for PE to be made a ‘core’ subject.

He said: “Core subjects are generally considered to lay the foundation for learning in other subjects and, as a result, are generally advantaged in terms of their status, preparation for teaching, and their time and resource allocation in schools. PE is not currently a core subject.

“As a consequence, key foundation subjects such as physical education tend to be marginalised and ‘squeezed’ in terms of time and resource.”

Ensuring every child has the same opportunity

Whilst recognising the financial pressures schools are currently under, Mr Cryer called on school leaders to be held accountable for swimming and water safety attainment as he highlighted an alarming rise in child drownings.

He added: “In 2022 there was a 46 per cent increase in the number of child drownings against the five-year average and although 2023 data sources are not yet officially launched, early indications suggest that child drownings may have increased significantly again in 2023.

“When adjusted for socioeconomic status and ethnicity there is a further worry in the data with the National Child Mortality Database reporting that the risk of children from low-affluence backgrounds drowning was 2x higher than those with higher affluence and the risk of drowning was 3.5x higher for children of Black ethnicity compared to White.

“Swim England has also seen concerning examples of where parents are being requested to pay for their children’s school swimming lessons, which risks exacerbating the existing inequalities and I don’t think would be accepted if it was for an English or maths lesson, but is sadly indicative of the financial pressures schools are under.”

His calls were echoed by Catherine West MP, Labour MP for Hornsey and Wood Green and chair of the All Parliamentary Group for Swimming, who said: “I’m particularly passionate about ensuring every child has the same opportunity to develop water safety skills and knowledge, so they can enjoy all the many benefits and the joy that being in, on or around the water can bring.

“It can’t be right. It certainly isn’t acceptable to me – and I’m sure to every member of this house – that children from poorer backgrounds, or those from ethnically diverse communities, are currently being failed so badly when it comes to being equipped with these essential skills.”

Swim England head of public affairs, Philip Brownlie, said: “We are delighted to see the provision of swimming and water safety lessons in primary schools being debated in parliament as it’s such an important issue.

“We will continue to work with the All Parliamentary Group for Swimming as we look to ensure that all primary school children are given access to swim lessons.”