How Many More Deaths From Drowning Before We Teach Scots Kids to Swim?

Lewis Condy | Twitter

Lewis is a swimmer and soon to be graudate. He believes we can only achieve progress when we find compromise and work together. Education is an area he is interested in and has started a petition to get swimming lessons mandatory in the primary school curriculum.

In August 2021 I watched the news with disbelief as another tragic death had occurred whilst people took part in wild swimming. I wanted to make a change and hopefully help prevent these reports continuing. So I did something which I have never done before and started a petition. It can be found here.

The way I stumbled upon this topic was through a Sports Policy module I did whilst at University. We had to write a policy brief for a sport of our choice. As I am a swimmer I thought it would make sense to look at my own sport as it would keep me engaged with the assignment. I was also drawn to it as my mum used to work as a childminder (about 5 or so years ago) and I remember some of the children got letters saying that swimming lessons would be stopping for them. I thought that was disappointing as everyone should have the opportunity to swim. I was intrigued by this and wanted to find out more.

Scottish Swimming has the vision that everyone can swim. It is a fundamental life skill because it can save your life, and in some cases save other lives. Yet Scottish Swimming states that 40% of Scotland’s children leave school not knowing how to swim, well over a third. In Water Safety Scotland (2018) : Scotland’s Drowning Prevention Strategyit also showed how child water safety is poorer compared to several other European countries. This is extremely worrying as Scotland is home to a huge number of open water spaces which are often enjoyed in warmer weather. These distressing stories every summer of yet another young person found dead from drowning can be prevented.

A study by McIntosh found that when children between the ages of 1-4 are exposed to swimming lessons, there was an 88% reduction in the risk of drowning. It highlights one important benefit of Swimming Lessons. Swimming lessons also provide many health benefits for children, physically and mentally. We know that when children are more active it reduces the chances of developing obesity later on in life. Across the UK, obesity-related issues being estimated to cost the NHS £6.1 billion per year.

In 2010, The Scottish Government invested £800,000 into the Top Up Swimming programme which provided support to local councils to provide swimming lessons. In comparison, the UK Government proportionately far more for England: £320 million for extra teaching and more lessons to ensure all pupils know how to swim by the end of primary school.

In Scotland, depending on the funding available to the council they may or may not be able to provide swimming lessons. This is extremely unfair and for council areas which can’t provide lessons, it will force people into looking for private lessons, which not everyone can afford. Those from lower income families will be disadvantaged if the council doesn’t provide lessons in that area. Data from Scottish Swimming shows that from an evaluation of their Learn to Swim (LTS) framework in 2018, 10.5% of children in community LTS come from the 20% most deprived areas in Scotland.

The reason for the petition is that unlike other parts of the UK, swimming lessons in Scotland are not a statutory requirement. They are provided through councils and are essentially a postcode lottery. I want it to be statutory. Children are taught Road Safety in primary but Water Safety (and learning to swim) seems to get ignored. Why? When I started the petition many people were shocked to hear that they weren’t statutory, and I think that is why it got the support it did. Swimming is also one of Scotland’s most successful sports at the Commonwealth Games and you only need to look at the success of our Swimmers at the 2014 Commonwealth Games to see that. The petition is still under consideration but hopefully I can raise awareness through this piece.

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