Best Placed

Primary school teachers, I have known a few.

Well, more than just a few….

I know that day in and day out, they manage and deliver the high standards of teaching and learning set out in the National Teaching Standards.[1]

When you get to know them, you realise that they do a lot more than just ‘teach’.

Who Knew?

Over the years, I have had countless conversations with primary school teachers and learning/classroom assistants about why more of them don’t get more involved in their class’s swimming lessons.

The conversations are usually short and sweet, with pithy retorts about the first of never, snowballs in hot places and flying pigs.

I have discovered, amongst other things, that the reluctance to teach swimming usually comes down to the fact that without further training and support, they believe they would be unable to meet the high personal and professional standards they characteristically set for themselves.[2]

One told me: “I need to be confident that what I teach and what the class is doing, is the best they can get and the best I can give them.”

You can’t argue with that!

Many teachers receive just 6 hours of PE training. Some less. Several studies confirm that over a quarter of Primary School Teachers do not feel adequately qualified to teach it, PE that is. Who knows if they even mentioned ‘Swimming’?

I know that not every teacher or classroom assistant wants to be involved, even if they did have access to the appropriate training and support.

But many WOULD!

We can do that!  But we need to have a different sort of conversation.

First, we need to re-examine, demythologise, clarify, and simplify many historical and still current perspectives.

Chief among these is the suggestion that the most effective role for primary school teachers and support staff in curriculum swimming lessons – even with appropriate training and resources, is merely a support role.[2][3]We also need to place a much higher value on the comparative impact and value of the additional or wider outcomes for pupils, which are more likely when primary school teachers lead their programmes.

At the last count, over 11,000 primary schools in England contracted out the teaching of swimming to ‘specialist’ swimming teachers or coaches.

Most ‘local’ and many private lessons providers actively promote and advertise their readiness and competence to supply one or more of their teachers for ‘school swimming’.
In most cases this is a Level Two Swimming Teacher.
A level two qualification on the National Qualification Framework is similar to a single GCSE at grade A*–C or 4-9.

We know that many providers offer a lot more support and resources. Many Primary Schools make swimming lessons one of their priorities.
Many providers and primary schools up and down the country continue to manage the delivery of curriculum swimming successfully.

We know that others do not.

As a result, we are likely to see more headlines about the significant numbers of children who leave primary school unable to swim every year.
Headlines which are inevitably followed by renewed key messages and revised guidance from the major bodies in the swimming sector.

In my experience primary school teachers and support staff – with appropriate training and resources – are hugely successful in teaching their pupils how to swim competently, confidently, and proficiently…

The additional extended outcomes for pupils when they do so, are stunning.[4]

We need to change the conversation about WHO delivers curriculum swimming in Key Stages 1 and 2 and HOW it is delivered.


[2] A Guide for Swimming Teachers developed by Swim Group. 2019.(GST)

[3] A Guide For Primary Schools developed by Swim Group. 2019 (GPS)

[4] A point briefly skimmed in 10 bullet points in Swim Groups Guide for Swimming Teachers (ibid):
Pupils’ spoken language, reading, writing and vocabulary should be an integral part of every subject, including swimming. By the time they leave year 6 every child should be able to describe and explain strokes and swimming skills using correct swimming terminology.
Swimming lessons can also be opportunities to develop pupils’ confidence to use numbers and mathematical skills through inventive activities.
Opportunities should be provided for pupils to engage in pair and group work. This should include observing, discussing, and reviewing work with their peers.

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