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‘Swimming is the most important thing you learn at school’ - Fight to keep swimming a priority for schools

Eaton Primary School swimming pool.
Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Eaton Primary School swimming pool. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2016

A fight is underway to make sure swimming remains a priority in education, as pool upkeep and transport costs stretch schools’ already squeezed budgets.

Norfolk primary school pupils at the final Winter School Games competition earlier this year. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY Norfolk primary school pupils at the final Winter School Games competition earlier this year. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Spiralling repair and maintenance costs have forced many schools to close their pools, while transporting pupils to and from lessons can be a costly burden in the tough climate.

It has seen school swimming slide across the country, with Swim England figures from 2015 showing that just 52pc of key stage two children are able to swim 25 metres unaided - despite it being a national curriculum requirement.

Our Summer of Swimming campaign, launched last week, has highlighted how swimming participation, though still the nation’s favourite sport, has dwindled.

And with research showing that children who don’t learn at primary school are more likely to become one of the one in five adults unable to swim, efforts are ongoing to ensure all children earn their water wings.

The Hewett Academy principal Tom Leverage.
Picture: ANTONY KELLY The Hewett Academy principal Tom Leverage. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

MORE: Launch of our campaign to equip youngsters with life-saving skills

At Drayton Junior School, parents and the community are desperately fundraising to keep its pool open - with £26,000 already collected for a replacement part last year.

Headteacher David Oldham said: “The community and Taverham High School were absolutely brilliant and pulled together to save what is a community resource as well.

“We use it for probably four or five hours a week, and for the rest of the time it’s used by other schools and clubs.

Headteacher David Oldham with teachers Donna Boyes and Michael Silvester at Drayton Junior School swimming pool. It reopened last year after a replacement part was found, but is now facing more repair work. Headteacher David Oldham with teachers Donna Boyes and Michael Silvester at Drayton Junior School swimming pool. It reopened last year after a replacement part was found, but is now facing more repair work.

“But now it needs a new roof and cladding and we’ve been told that, in turn, it might need a whole new steel structure.”

The cost, he said, will spiral into tens of thousands of pounds.

“Swimming is easily the most important thing you learn at school. If you get into trouble in water, no-one cares what you know,” he said. “It’s life or death. But we are completely on our own saving it.”

Eaton Primary School last year found itself in the same position, forced to close its pool after it was faced with short and long-term costs totalling more than £125,000. Today, it remains closed.

Pupils with teachers Donna Boyes and Michael Silvester at Drayton Junior School swimming pool, which reopened following a successful £26,000 appeal last year. It now faces further repair work. Pupils with teachers Donna Boyes and Michael Silvester at Drayton Junior School swimming pool, which reopened following a successful £26,000 appeal last year. It now faces further repair work.

For the schools which do still have pools up and running, it is a feat which often requires careful book-balancing.

Tom Leverage, principal of Norwich’s Hewett Academy, said: “It is costly to run a swimming pool and we have to look very carefully at how we operate it, but we think it is important for our own students and young people locally to have the chance to learn to swim and to exercise.”

MORE: Instructors and clubs donate free lessons for Norfolk families

He said the pool was well-used by students, local schools, clubs and community groups.

Plenty of schools rely on council leisure centres and nearby pools for lessons, but one headteacher, speaking anonymously, told us that “even the cost of transport made regular lessons feel unachievable”.

Active Norfolk is working with the Sportspark and greater Norwich councils to help schools strengthen community use of their pools through its Greater Norwich Access to School project.

Stephen Hulme, development manager for children and young people at Active Norfolk, said though the project had a wider remit, it had prioritised schools with on-site pools because of their importance as community faciltiies.

“We know that the ageing stock of school pools are facing maintenance issues that could lead to closures that will be further damaging to school and community swimming,” he said.

Meanwhile, Swim England is due to publish a report exploring how to improve swimming in primary schools.

Olympic medallist Steve Parry is chairman of the Curriculum Swimming and Water Safety Review Group that has been working on the report.

He said: “Swimming has been part of the national curriculum since 1994, which means every child who has been at primary school over the last 23 years should be able to swim.

“Unfortunately, the data suggests otherwise. For the last five years, the number of young children at primary school who can swim at least one length of an average sized pool remains around the 50pc mark, which is totally unacceptable.”

He said work was needed to support under-pressure schools.

Drayton Junior School pupils will take part in a sponsored walk on Friday. Call 01603 867504 to donate.

• Do you have a story for our swimming campaign? Email lauren.cope@archant.co.uk

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