The Conversation About School Swimming





The most recent and probably the most useful guidance is produced by Swim England on behalf of – and following on from, the Swim Group [1] review (2016) and their report to Government in March 2017.

It was completed against the backdrop of another survey which found that since 2012, only half of children aged between seven and 11-years-old had met ‘the required swimming standard’. Swim Group has published refreshingly comprehensive guides for primary schools, parents, pool operators and swimming teachers, “…designed to ensure all children meet the requirements of the national curriculum PE programme of study by the time they leave primary school in Year 6.

Historically, the conversations, from MP’s questions, debates and Parliamentary Working Parties to those on poolside, have centred on a familiar and circular tour. Funding, geography, access to facilities, transport, timetabling, resources, stronger statutory and other enforcement and monitoring, communication with providers and naturally – increased government support.

The current conversation about school swimming – who delivers and how it is delivered – is well represented in the Swim Group Guides. [1] developed for schools, providers, parents, and teachers.
Presented no doubt, in the interests of balance, they represent the usual historical and traditional range of sector interests and views as well as a few recent, more balanced and informative perspectives.

At face value the guides are all credible and informed. Together they can be somewhat confusing.

Either way it would be interesting to know if they have promoted much useful discussion or review since their publication.

Guidance of course is one thing- implementation and maintaining consistent messaging, standards and high-quality teaching and learning across the board, is another.

For one thing there are a number of systemic problems and constraints.

For another, it is likely that most people will tend to ‘find’ and be comfortable with the guidance or advice which most suits their existing perspectives and views.
In other words, ‘confirmation bias’; where what you take away probably depends on your point of view in the first place.

It has become clear that many schools have mixed perceptions and indeed may well have been given mixed messages about delivering and meeting the required standards for the National Curriculum requirements for Swimming and Water Safety[2]

School Lost and Confused Signpost by Wonder woman0731 is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Not surprising maybe, given that since swimming was included in the PE Primary Curriculum in 1994, there have been several ‘definitive’ support resources and guidance documents published. These have in turn been revised and reviewed several times.

I have been familiar with pretty much all the changes over some 20 years or so now and I am not surprised of reports that there is confusion amongst parents, teachers and even specialist practitioners as to what they should be teaching. [2]

For most of that time, and even in the Swim Group Guidance, the three requirements are discussed or covered in the order they appear in the national curriculum programmes of study.
Namely and in short:

  • Swim 25 metres
  • use a range of strokes effectively
  • and perform self rescue.

IT IS NOTICEABLE THAT … recently a conspicuous ‘trend’ has been to emphasise the outcomes for safety and SELF RESCUE. [3]
You could be forgiven for thinking that by flagging it more often, and ‘promoting’ it to the top of the list of 3 requirements, the self rescue requirement is being ‘prioritised’. Sometimes there’s hardly a mention of the other two.  

Many schools and parents would understand the logic of that and probably welcome it.

In a recent on-line conversation with primary schoolteachers, however, Swim England lead presenters hastened to add, that nevertheless, all three curriculum swimming requirements are “equally important”.

All requirements are equal maybe, but some are more equal than others?
Did somebody say that?


[1] In May 2016 the national Swim Group, on behalf of the Government, established the Curriculum Swimming and Water Safety Review Group (“the Group”) to consider the challenges around delivering curriculum swimming and water safety lessons, and make recommendations on how to tackle these issues. The Group comprises representatives from across the education, sport and leisure sectors and included a technical group of frontline expert deliverers.

[2] Swim England research in 2017 found that 88% schools were unaware of ALL THREE requirements.
In a recent online seminar several schools were evidently under the impression that the only swimming attainment target was a 25m swim using recognised stroke.
A Sport England Active Lives Survey in 2018 found that 28% children who left primary school were unable to swim 25m; 44% could not use a range of strokes effectively; 66% could not perform self-rescue.

[3] Swim England, working with nine large lesson providers, and stating “the stark reality that a generation may miss out on learning a valuable life skill”, went all stats in May 2021. Referring to TWO of the National Curriculum requirements, they urged parents and guardians to ensure children return to ‘safe and secure’ swimming lessons.
“More than two million youngsters missed out on the chance to go swimming due to the coronavirus pandemic – resulting in almost a quarter of a million children being unable to swim the length of a standard swimming pool.”
“The statistics show that more than five million swimming sessions – the vast majority being swimming lessons – were lost following the closure of public pools for the first time on 20 March 2020.”
“That has already led to an additional 240,000 missing out on learning how to swim 25m and 50,000 fewer children now being able to perform a safe self-rescue.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s