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Swim England backs calls for swimming and water safety to be taken more seriously

Swimming and water safety should be taken even more seriously due to the ‘astonishing and worrying’ number of children leaving primary school unable to swim.

Former Minister for Children Edward Timpson MP raised the issue during a debate on whether physical education should be made a core national curriculum subject.

English, mathematics and science are currently the only core subjects on the national curriculum across all key stages.

However, Mr Timpson, the MP for Eddisbury in Cheshire, said there was evidence of schools reducing PE time.

He said ‘better scrutiny’ was needed around school swimming to ‘ensure that all children get what they are entitled to’.

Making PE a core subject was one of the recommendations from the 2021 Swim England and All Party Parliamentary Group for Swimming report into school swimming.

It recognised the importance of physical education in a child’s development and that it was particularly at risk as schools dealt with the impact of the Covid disruptions.

An essential life skill

During his speech, Mr Timpson told MPs: “There is evidence of PE being side-lined by some schools as a ‘nice to have’, rather than a ‘must do’, reducing PE time in order to focus on catch-up in other areas, which is understandable but to the detriment of PE.

“I want to mention swimming and water safety.

“It is a statutory element of PE that every 11-year-old is required to be able to swim competently, confidently and proficiently over a distance of at least 25 metres.

“Despite the requirement being in place since 1994, one in three children, around 200,000 every year, leave primary school not being able to do so.

“I find that astonishing and worrying.

“It lends further credence to the need to take swimming even more seriously as an essential life skill.

“I hope the Minister will use the funding already announced to look at improving access to facilities, including pop-up pools, and better scrutinising this aspect of PE, so that we can ensure that all children get what they are entitled to.”

Responding to the debate, Will Quince the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education said: “My hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury has called for PE to be made a core subject.

“He rightly pointed out that no curriculum review is under way but I am very sympathetic to the case and the arguments that he makes and I will raise them at length with the schools Minister.”

Too many leave school unable to swim

Jane Nickerson, Swim England chief executive, backed the calls from Mr Timpson.

She said: “It is good to see this important issue being debated by MPs from across the political spectrum and a number of important points were raised.

“We know that too many children leave school unable to swim and be safe in and around the water.

“We have produced a suite of materials to help schools confidently deliver school swimming and water safety lessons and we also continue to work with the Department for Education on classroom-based additions to the curriculum to further support schools.

“Swim England fully supports the placing of Physical Education as a core subject.

“Such a move would send a clear message about the importance of PE and help ensure that it gets the attention and resources it deserves in all schools, benefitting pupils’ development in a number of ways.

“We also wholeheartedly endorse the comments regarding the need for better scrutiny of school swimming and water safety provision in schools, which could be a key driver of improvements.

“It would allow better sharing of best practice amongst schools and enable organisations with expertise in this area like Swim England to provide much more tailored support to those schools who were struggling to achieve the school swimming and water safety curriculum requirements.”

Whilst it is not classed as a ‘core’ subject, swimming and water safety is specifically referenced in the National Curriculum. The curriculum requirements are that by the end of Key Stage 2 (year 6), pupils are expected to be able 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

Despite this, the latest figures in Sport England’s Active Lives Survey revealed that just 63.3 per cent of children in years 3-6 can swim 25 metres unaided.

This figure falls to under 50 per cent of children from ethnically diverse communities, demonstrating clearly the importance of taking further steps to take school swimming and water safety even more importantly.

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