Same only Different

THE SAME ONLY DIFFERENT?
A Comparison between School Swimming lessons and Out of School Swimming lessons
Looking at CONTEXT and RELEVANCE

There are important differences.

Out of school swimming lessons tend to be characterised by:

  • High degrees of parental or adult support, incentive, and encouragement. Adults often watch the lesson from poolside or an observation area.
  • Ability to Pay; swimming lessons can be expensive – especially if there are several siblings.
  • Small classes grouped by ability; rarely exceeding 8 or 10 in a class. Some providers specialise in smaller groups.
  • ‘Softer’, closer relationships with swimming teachers, assistants; it is in the teachers best interests to know the names, ‘personalities’ and other circumstances of each member of their class, and to develop positive relationships with parents and carers etc.
  • More opportunities for additional peer friendship groups, often family or neighbour based. Parents or carers often sit and socialise on poolside or in observation areas and may even carpool.
  • Formal or organisational access to incentives and rewards schemes. Recognition of achievement is typically by the awarding of Badges and Certificates usually at additional cost.
  • Competition for places – it is not unusual to have waiting lists. Consequently, families are keen to retain their children’s places in the programme.
  • Continuity. Children stay with the same provider not just over a term or couple of terms but for many years.
  • Teacher planning and parental expectations of rates of progress, and levels of attainment are often linked to cost as well as a big dose of adult aspiration.
  • Outcomes based on an Awards based framework for assessment and progression. This is usually a National Framework or pathway with formats and tick sheets for recording and mapping progress and attainment.
  • The potential to generate considerable revenue or income. It can be a very competitive marketplace. There may sometimes be areas of conflict of commercial self interest. Swimming Teachers can earn quite a lot in the private sector.
  • Formal and informal progression links, access, and connections to other extra-curricular opportunities. A competitive or other club for aquatic activities for example, is often based at the same venue and there are negotiated links with teachers and contacts for swimmers in lessons.

School swimming lessons (KS1+2) tend to be characterised by:

  1. Being – for many – the only opportunity in childhood to not only go to a swimming pool every week, say for a term, but also to have a course of swimming lessons and be given the opportunity to learn to swim.
  2. Different levels and commitment to inclusion and diversity. Every child has equal access to the lessons and the same entitlement to take part as their peers.
  3. Costs have to be met by the school. Shrinking budgets and underfunding can reduce provision.[1] Many schools are forced to ask for voluntary contributions from parents and from parent associations.
  4. Stimulating and often formative and lively class dynamics which already exist; strong and influential peer and friendship groups which are school and classroom based. Children are already used to learning environments which are collaborative and involve cooperative group work and peer assessment. Schools may also be more likely use inquiry, problem solving and discovery-based learning approaches transferred from the classroom. It is much easier to develop cross curricular links.
  5. Behaviour and holistic whole-school based policies for behaviour and teaching and learning, already exist and need only to be transferred to the pool environment.
  6. The primary CONTEXT for school swimming lessons is that it is part of the National Curriculum.  Specifically, swimming lessons should align with the Purpose, Aims and Outcomes of the National Curriculum PE Programme of Study’s statutory requirements. These include cognitive, creative, social, and emotional outcomes for learning and growth as well as physical.
  7. Teaching groups are often larger; pupil/teacher ratios are recommended. External lead swimming teachers may find learning names of all pupils takes a long time.
  8. Larger groups are likely to have a wider ability range.
  9. Lessons may be led by a mixture of qualified swimming teachers, staff with some training and school-based assistants with little or no training.
  10. Weak or non-existent recording and reporting of assessment and progress. (51% of parents say they are not made aware of their child’s swimming ability by school. 55% were unaware of the 3 National Curriculum outcomes – Parent research 2016. More than 70% Secondary schools receive no information about year 7 swimming assessments.)
  11. Many primary school teachers lack the confidence and training to be more fully involved in the delivery of school swimming. Consequently, schools often contract out or buy in external swimming teachers. Many of these will be venue or e.g. Leisure Centre based.

Swim Group Guidance flags the fact that here are differences
“Unlike external swimming lessons where the swimming teacher has more time to focus on developing a young person’s skills, the school programme is about introducing children to swimming and water safety and giving them the knowledge to keep themselves safe.
Primary school swimming is not about learning the perfect stroke, it is learning about how to stay safe in the water“. 
(THE IMPORTANCE OF LEARNING SWIMMING AND WATER SAFETY SKILLS AT KEY STAGE 1 OR 2. A GUIDE FOR PARENTS Developed by the Swim Group to help parents understand why it is important their child learns about swimming and water safety at primary school and what to do if their school is not offering lessons).


[1] The NEU calculated in 2019 that £5.4bn had been cut from school budgets in England since 2015. The school sports premium has undoubtedly been valuable. Many question the sustainability when each year there is a discussion about whether it will be continued. Having said that many professionals have lamented the lack of investment in school swimming since 1994.