Monday, January 30, 2012

The Great Swimming Debate

Suddenly, with a massively high number of drownings this summer, the press and many agencies have got on the band wagon for swimming and the responsibility of schools to teach all children to swim.

The primary school that I attended took us to swimming lessons once a year for a block of time, and it was then my parents' responsibility to teach me or take me to lessons. I have taught in schools with their own pools and schools without them. Wherever there was a school pool, we flogged the lessons for a short 6-8 weeks if you were lucky, one lesson every 2-3 days, too many children in the pool at one time to be effective or children sitting on the side waiting for you to stretch yourself 4 ways in the 30 minute sprint that was the session.

The schools who have pools struggle with the high costs of maintaining a piece of equipment which is only able to be fully utilised for a maximum of 3 months a year. They have the problem in many cases that the children who need to learn water safety the most urgently are the ones who don't bring togs or have parents who opt them out of the swimming.

As a parent, I have never left the responsibility to someone else. From the moment my kids were cleared to swim after their first vaccinations, they were water babies, dipping in and out of the pool in every season. Only ear infections or tummy bugs deterred us and we lived in the local pools during the winter and swam almost every day at the beach when the weather allowed in the summer. I paid for lessons from experts, even though I am a qualified swimming instructor. I wanted my children to be taught by professionals in a sequence that was considered correct for their age and stage. They did block lessons of 5x a week during the holidays, learning snorkelling skills and other water skills. They attended a school that took them to Waterwise and ensured that they experienced challenges in the water within the safe boundaries of a supported programme.

Do you imagine then, for one second, that I would ever consider the life of my child and their personal safety in the water to be the responsibility of their teacher or school?

The ONLY way to ensure that our children in New Zealand are safe in the water, as much as we can, is to look for ways to give access to swimming lessons to the children who are most at risk. The children whose parents cannot afford lessons. The children whose parents do not swim confidently themselves. Our local council gives every child in every local school free lessons - okay, it's only 8 lessons over 8 weeks, but this is a start. Our school community provides volunteers who go with our children to Waterwise for 4 days a year. We include water safety and water activities at our school camp. We take every child to swimming lessons at our local pool - again, our council has stepped up and bears the majority of the cost for this. Why? Because they see the lives of our children and their safety in the water as far more important than the cost of lessons. Our local pool is free which means everyone has free access to a safe place to swim and learn water confidence.

So here is my thinking - what if we simply stopped griping as a nation about the lack of pools in schools and the lack of help from teachers around the country, and actually put some pressure on all of the local councils to provide free lessons for every child? And how about getting some sponsorship for all children to have 4 days of Waterwise in Year 5 or 6? And what about all local pools being free so that families who cannot afford the cost of lessons have the chance to get their kids in the water, with no costs involved?


  1. We get free block of lessons for 6 year olds and up in school time at local pool. Professional coaches swoop in. Very good too. Also had additional lessons provided for at-risk students.

  2. I agree with all that you have said. Another concern I have is that the children who only learn at school may not be receiving the best education in swimming there is. I put my hand up that I dont have the time or swimming teaching skills to feel confident the kids learn enough from me to be fully competent and confident swimmers, it is better as an extra alongside lessons from qualified instructors. So I totally agree with your proposed solution...let's all start pushing.

  3. Well said KR!
    I had a discussion about school pools with the man who made the Inside NZ Poverty documentary. He sees a correlation between school pool decline and increased rates of drowning and believes school pools should be brought back. I personally agree with you (and said as much to him) that council pools and lessons need to be made more community friendly/accessible rather than placing financial and social responsibility for water safety with schools/teachers.
    I am 100% with you on the push!

  4. They did block lessons of 5x a week during the holidays, learning snorkelling skills and other water skills.
    Thanks for sharing with us.

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