After years of careful consideration and much thought, I have come up with following model for delivering the 3 National Curriculum PE requirements or outcomes for Swimming and Water Safety.

Where time and resources allow, expectations and outcomes can be extended.

Not all children in a class have had the opportunity for extra out of school swimming lessons or to join a swimming club.
Activities and attainment – the curriculum –  should reflect the diversity found in many classrooms.

National PE Curriculum OUTCOMES Programme content, assessing attainment and progressWhat Counts as ‘success’?
Be able to perform safe self rescue in different water-based situations.
(The RNLI lists four reasons why people drown:
·         ignorance of dangers
·         unrestricted access to hazards such as strong currents
·         Absence of adequate supervision
·         Inability to save yourself or be rescued)

A swimming pool is the water-based situation all pupils will probably be most familiar with. It is one we can plan and prepare for.
Pupils should be able to demonstrate the sort of reaction or response, and decision making, which is likely to significantly increase their chances of survival and or rescue.
    Simple scenario: An accidental, unintentional, unexpected and involuntary fall and full submersion into water too deep to stand up in.
·         Similar Scenario; Imagined circumstances when sudden tiredness or fatigue is experienced in water too deep to stand up in. We can maybe add items of clothing as appropriate.

If we are honest and realistic- Different water based situations such as those in open or outdoor environments are generally much harder to access, replicate and assessWhere schools do access them through OAA [1] then there can be a useful cross curricular element to the programme.
Note also that many coastal and other locations offer excellent summer programmes such as
What we can do is ensure children and swimming teachers are aware of the effects of (i) cold water shock and (ii) different prevailing conditions associated with open water, such as; currents, tides, depth, debris, weather, water quality and clarity etc.
The RNLI website for Respect the Water Campaign is well worth a visit.
Children also need to Know:
o    And to understand key water hazards and safety messages, especially for local sites or environments as appropriate.
o    What to do if they get into trouble in cold water too deep to stand up in.
What is safe for them to do if they see someone else in trouble.

Be able to swim competently, confidently and profi
ciently over a distance of at least 25 metres
(Key descriptors are ‘confidence’ and’ proficiency’)

Generally, pupils should be able to demonstrate that they can use a choice of strokes appropriate to the demands and needs of a range of different situations*.
In this specific case, the curriculum requirement, it is to be able to swim at least 25 metres.
We are not looking at a one-off, all-out, never-to-be-repeated-if-I-get-any-say-in-it performance.
We are looking for a continuous, confident, and stress-free swim which can be repeated soon after or regularly from then on. Swimmers should not be unduly fatigued or tired at the end of the swim.
It should reasonably include swimming in depths they cannot stand up in for at least half the time.
What will it look like?
Swimmers will be using arms and legs in an efficient, coordinated, and skilful combination of movements. Some may use Front Paddle.
Many, but not all, will use proficiency in what is recognisable as Front Crawl, Backstroke or Breaststroke to achieve this.
Personally, I think that taking a short rest either by treading water or floating on the back is permissible in terms of outcomes for decision making, self confidence and proficiency in physical literacy and fundamental aquatic skills.[2]
Why would we not make connections in young minds to knowledge, understanding and competence learned in the curriculum requirement about self-rescue skills?
The 25-metre distance target is anyway, probably an arbitrary distance that has little context other than that it is the length of most local community pools.
I would say that if a pupil can swim 25 metres competently, confidently and proficiently, I would expect that they can probably swim 50 and 100 metres at the next few attempts.[3]
Use a range of strokes effectively.

*An effective stroke is one that can be used – and adapted – to enable a swimmer to achieve a chosen purpose or intended outcome.
That includes elements of self-rescue, speed swimming, life saving, water polo, open water swimming, fitness swimming and so on.”
The contexts for this outcome are not specified.
The general aims and purposes for the PE curriculum emphasise competition and excellence. For many swimming teachers this could be speed swimming, or water polo for example.

HOWEVER – In the context of leading healthy active lives and being able to sustain physical activity many schools may well prioritise other outcomes.

Scenarios and Situations involving covering extended distances and simulated conditions for both indoor and outdoor challenges.
o     Adapting strokes for a range of purposes to meet a range of simulated or actual conditions. eg Lifesaving both indoors and outdoors;
o    adapted games such as water polo;
o    other leisure or water sport scenarios.
·         Scenarios involving health and fitness swimming- often linked these days to participation in Triathlon, charity or fundraising swims, Masters and Open Water or ‘wild’ swimming.

Discussion: What IS abundantly obvious and clear, is that achievable outcomes for the three requirements can be delivered through a foundation programme of progressive aquatic and stroke skills.

It need not be complicated or difficult to deliver.

If time and resources allow or if the range of ability is wide, then each requirement can be extended to provide challenge and enable some to excel. This is just the sort of thing that schools do very well anyway.

The following is my suggested outline ‘map’ for delivering such a programme structured around the following milestones or ‘destinations’:

Through progressive small steps, the pupil has learns and acquires a set of core, ‘aquatic adaptations’ or foundation skills. They can float horizontally on the front and back and upright or vertical. On the front and back their body is stable, balanced, controlled, and streamlined. Such that when their arms are used to provide propulsion, the swimmer is able to travel short distances and change direction.

The same set of skills enables them to perform Basic Self Rescue in appropriate and relevant water-based scenarios. Pupils also know how to keep themselves and others safer in and around water.

The same set of skills is the foundation for being able to swim competently, confidently, efficiently, and proficiently during a continuous swim over a distance of at least 25 metres.

Be able to use a range of strokes effectively such as front crawl, backstroke and breaststroke as well a range of ancillary and supporting aquatic skills.(see 3 above)

Pupils feel ‘at home’ in the water and are able, when motivated to maximize their individual potential and aspirations, adapt their aquatic and stroke competencies to the requirements of a whole range of aquatic sports and past times. They enjoy the benefits this brings and the achievements and the pleasure which comes with it.


[1] I suggest elsewhere that traditionally taught aspects of individual and group personal survival relevant to ‘open water’ really need thinking through.
And that in some more specific contexts, within the context of an Outdoor Activity and Adventure programme for example, it would easily to set Challenge, Extension or Stretch activities for more confident swimmers.

[2] This view is not shared by many ‘swimming specialists’. I think it should be included in our conversations with school teachers.

[3] In September 2021 Swim England began a campaign to urge parents not to take children out of swimming lessons too early. They proposed that ‘In order to be a competent swimmer, children should be able to’:

  • Swim at least 100 metres without stopping
  • Tread water for at least 30 seconds
  • Experience swimming in clothing 
  • ‘Float to live’ (performing a star float on their back for at least 30 seconds)