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Posted on 14/03/2023

Save Our Pools - A Win for 2023!

Drowning is still one of the leading causes of deaths of children under 5 worldwide. In the U.K. we are no different, with drownings of children, mostly in their teens, reported every year. Children’s swimming lessons are still on the curriculum, although the uptake is limited, especially as swimming and water safety lessons are currently only compulsory in Local Authority primary schools. Free schools and academies are not required to follow the curriculum so can opt out of providing this life skill, and often do if school funds are required elsewhere.

 In 2021, there were 277 accidental water-related fatalities in the UK, of which approximately 40 were of people under the age of 19.[1] Arguably, offering more swimming and water safety content into the curriculum could help to bring these alarming figures down, especially as much of our summer activities and holidays are taken at the seaside or lakes and rivers. Given these figures, even secondary school pupils would benefit from compulsory water safety education, particularly around swimming in ponds and open water during the summer.

Research from the National Water Safety Forum (NWSF) in 2015, has shown that 44% of drownings in the UK are people that didn’t even intend to enter the water[2] and their vision is to reduce the number of drownings in the UK by 50% by 2026. The NWSF state “This is a ‘call to action’ for current and future partners to contribute to the implementation of this strategy. It is a framework to guide the work of organisations and individuals who are interested in and have a responsibility for drowning prevention and water safety”[3]

To enable the NWSF to achieve their goal, schools need to follow the national Curriculum guidelines, which state:

“All schools must provide swimming instruction either in key stage 1 or key stage 2.

In particular, pupils should be taught to:

·        swim competently, confidently and proficiently over a distance of at least 25 metres

·        use a range of strokes effectively [for example, front crawl, backstroke and breaststroke

·        perform safe self-rescue in different water-based situations[4]”

To enable this to happen however, the facilities must be available, with most schools relying on public swimming pools to accommodate the National Curriculum requirement.

In September 2021 due to rising energy and pandemic costs, the government earmarked a £10 million fund to help councils and swimming pools reduce their energy costs, in the hope of them staying open. With the threat of this money running out in April this year, Swim England, UK Active and other organisations, have been campaigning to Save Our Pools in the hope of Swimming Pools being given the same level of respect as Libraries and Museums when it comes to government funding.

So, it is with great relief that the Government has announced a £63 Million investment, a one-year fund to help keep vulnerable swimming pools open. The fund will be managed by Sport England and local authorities can apply to them for help with operational and maintenance costs and energy bills. Pools run on behalf of councils by private companies and charities are also eligible for support.

A total of £40 million will help pools cut carbon emissions for the long-term, with more than £20 million available to tackle rising utility bills.

With over 350 swimming pools having closed in full or seen a reduction in level of service since October 2022 due to rising energy costs, this investment will be welcomed by Swim England, Local councils, schools and private swim schools and the goal for the NWSF to reduce drownings by 50% is a lot more achievable.

Now we have the support for the pools, we need school support to educate our children in water safety too. With a Water Safety bill currently being read in parliament seeking to make it compulsory to include water safety education in the curriculum for all schools (primary and secondary) in England and Wales[5] we are on our way to getting this. We will follow the outcome closely and hope the government see this is as imperative as the funding it has granted today.

[1] House of Lords Library Briefing Water Safety (Curriculum) Bill [HL] HL Bill 28 of 2022–23 Water Safety (Curriculum) Bill [HL] (parliament.uk)
[2] A future without drowning: the UK Drowning Prevention Strategy 2016-2026 uk-drowning-prevention-strategy.pdf (nationalwatersafety.org.uk)
[3] A future without drowning: the UK Drowning Prevention Strategy 2016-2026 uk-drowning-prevention-strategy.pdf (nationalwatersafety.org.uk)
[4] Department of education National curriculum in England National curriculum in England: physical education programmes of study - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)                                                           [5] House of Lords Library Briefing Water Safety (Curriculum) Bill [HL] HL Bill 28 of 2022–23  Water Safety (Curriculum) Bill [HL] (parliament.uk)