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Hon. Members: Object.


Heswall and West Kirby Fire Stations

1.45 am

Mr. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South): I beg leave to present a petition organised by residents and businesses of the Wirral who are protected by the fire stations of Heswall and West Kirby. It is signed by 1,962 people who are resolutely opposed to the changes of shift to day manning only at the fire stations at Heswall and West Kirby as proposed by the Merseyside fire authority. The petition is signed in the main by my constituents in Wirral, South, but similar views have also been expressed in a petition signed by constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, West (Mr. Hesford).

To lie upon the Table.

18 Dec 2000 : Column 178

School Swimming

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. Dowd.]

1.46 am

Valerie Davey (Bristol, West): Despite the hour, I am pleased to have the opportunity to continue the debate about the state of swimming education in primary schools and particularly to follow the previous debate on the order which has established further funding for the new opportunities fund, especially the £750 million for school and community sport from which I trust that school swimming will benefit, as it should.

During my previous Adjournment debate on this subject in June 1999, also in the early hours, I concluded on the basis of information from more than two thirds of local education authorities in England that the resourcing of primary school swimming in terms of time, funding, professional staff and facilities was a matter of serious concern. I also reported, from the same source of evidence, that the percentage of children in school able to swim 25 m varied from 99 per cent. to as low as 28 per cent.

The then Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), stated the Government's belief in the importance of swimming, both for its intrinsic value as a sport and as an essential safety tool that all young people should have. He informed the House that Ofsted was considering a specific survey of swimming in schools which, he hoped, would help to develop a clearer picture of school swimming provision and help the Government to decide what policy steps to take.

The Ofsted report "Swimming in Key Stage 2", subtitled "An Inspection Report on Standards and Provision", was finally published last month and is available on the Ofsted website. Some 301 schools were inspected in November 1999. I am unclear as to the extent of swimming lessons inspected, as the report says that, where provision took place before the inspection or was planned for, inspectors' judgments were on the basis of evidence from discussions with head teachers and scrutiny of their records. The report also noted that, where a school did not make provision for swimming, this was clearly stated on the inspection record. How many of the 301 schools did not make provision, and why not? How were the children at those schools accounted for in the subsequent statistics on attainment?

Before turning to the main findings of the report, I want to register my disappointment that only 301 schools were inspected, and apparently no overall survey was made via the local education authorities. By comparison, the joint report into swimming in July this year by the Central Council of Physical Recreation and The Times Educational Supplement contacted 769 schools and found that one in 20 primary schools does not include swimming in the curriculum.

The Government are to be commended on retaining swimming as a compulsory element of the primary curriculum even when--between September 1998 and September 2000--some relaxation was allowed so as to give priority to the literacy and numeracy strategies. The swimming curriculum includes not only teaching children, by the age of 11, to swim unaided, competently and safely

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for at least 25 m, but helping them to develop confidence in the water and showing them how to rest, float and adopt support positions. Children must learn a variety of means of propulsion--using either arms or legs or both--and to develop effective and efficient swimming strokes on the front and the back, and--importantly--the principles and skills of water safety and survival.

Those are the requirements, but what is the picture of provision and attainment that emerges from the two recent reports? Both show a sharp decline in the time allocated to swimming. Ofsted states that 50 per cent. of schools report a decline in that time over the past three years--sometimes by as much as half. Three reasons are given. The first is the closure of local pools--especially learning pools--and their replacement by leisure pools that are often not conducive to the formal teaching of swimming. Secondly, there is the impact of the literacy and numeracy strategy and the resulting pressure on the remainder of the curriculum. Thirdly, increased costs are involved--especially for transport. The CCPR-TES report found that more than two in five schools ask for a parental contribution, which can be as much as £3.60 a week.

That confirms the statement made in July by David Hart of the National Association of Head Teachers. He said:

The Ofsted report also documents the worrying diversity in swimming attainment between schools, contrasting especially those in rural areas, where 91 per cent. of children reach the required standard, with those in inner cities, where the figure is 77 per cent. Ofsted found that nearly one in five children, or 17 per cent., could not swim 25 m unaided at key stage 2. That hides the more serious situation for schools in the free school meal band 5, where one in three, or 33 per cent., do not reach that level.

It is clear that provision of an appropriate swimming programme has not been an entitlement for all; those in the lower social and economic groups are more likely to receive an inadequate schedule. As the Amateur Swimming Association notes, there is a danger that the opportunity to learn to swim will become a privilege for those in higher income groups, while others will be put further at risk as a result of not having the opportunity to develop this essential life skill. That must be of concern to the Government who are so committed to tackling social exclusion.

A further concern, which I share with Ofsted, is that almost half of all schools make no special provision for children who do not develop sufficient competence in swimming, or who are unlikely to be able to swim, by the end of key stage 2. Ofsted also points to a minority of schools that do not cover the element of the curriculum relating to water safety and survival. Ofsted notes that this is "a worrying omission". It is worrying--especially because the 1999 report of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents showed a 50 per cent. increase in drowning in the under-15 age group; 54 drowned in 1999, compared to 36 in 1998. RoSPA stresses that deaths occur especially among those able to swim, but unable to recognise danger. To make an analogy with cycling,

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learning to cycle for 25, 50 or even 100 m is not sufficient to allow a person to venture alone on to the quietest road. Thanks to the Ofsted and CCPR-TES reports, we now have a clearer, albeit still incomplete, picture of swimming in primary schools.

For the future, however, monitoring needs to be improved. Swimming is part of the national curriculum, and it is not enough to rely on ad hoc reports. Within the regular inspection of primary schools, swimming provision should be documented. With this information, evidence-based comment on swimming standards can then be made by Her Majesty's chief inspector in the annual report.

Monitoring, however accurate, does not in itself improve anything. The Government must now decide what action to take. The priorities remain the same: the availability of time, funding, trained staff and facilities to ensure that all children have the opportunity to learn to swim.

The Ofsted report shows a clear correlation between the time allocated to swimming in the curriculum and the standards achieved by pupils. At present, there are no guidelines on how much time should be spent in the pool at key stages 1 and 2, and I recommend that some guidelines should be drawn up, requiring, as recommended by the Amateur Swimming Association, that at least two terms at key stage 1 or 2 should include swimming tuition.

Resources should be earmarked to provide lessons, and more intensive courses, outside school hours or during school holidays for children who are unable to swim to the required standard. As swimming is not a requirement within the secondary school curriculum, there is no obligation to follow up non-swimmers.

I pay tribute to the qualified teachers and instructors at primary and secondary school level, at swimming clubs such as AquaPlan in Bristol and in voluntary youth groups, for it is their skill and commitment that give many children a level of proficiency which, as is not the case in many other sports, they can enjoy and benefit from for the rest of their lives, into old age.

I thank BT again for the £0.5 million that it has contributed towards training primary school teachers. I trust that, given its proven value, that training programme will be supported with further Government funding. I also urge that swimming training be reintroduced into initial teacher training courses, to include the effective teaching of water safety as well as the teaching and development of swimming itself.

Within schools, funding has to be improved and ring-fenced, so that a parental contribution is not necessary. With an ever-increasing proportion of funding delegated to schools, the disparity in the cost of swimming needs to be reflected. For example, of the 90 schools using local authority pools in Bristol, in 19 cases the children can walk to the pool, and in the rest transport is needed, but with differing journey lengths.

Mention of pools brings me to the most urgent and costly of the requirements to improve swimming standards at every level. The Sydney Olympic games highlighted the fact that there has been chronic underfunding in swimming infrastructure over many years. It was revealed that there are only 19 Olympic-size pools in Britain. The Australian state of Queensland alone has more such pools than the whole of the United

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Kingdom--and for the first time since 1936 our Olympic swimmers came home with no medals. Investment in swimming is a long-term requirement and necessity.

The situation in Bristol is probably reflected in other cities. Of the eight main local authority pools, one was built in the early 1920s, four in the 1930s, two in the 1960s, and the most recent in 1974. The city council is beginning to address that issue, and last September it set up a citizens jury. The jury did not make detailed recommendations, but it produced a useful list of principles for improving swimming facilities. In summary, members stated that future provision had to attract new swimmers, ensure access and inclusiveness in the widest sense--that includes meeting the needs of disabled swimmers--guarantee future viability, and invest in young people.

Bristol councillors are now drawing up proposals to link swimming pools to other sporting and leisure facilities, and to bring into the equation both school requirements and what provision schools may already have. A citywide swimming strategy involving leisure and education departments is both exciting and daunting, with the inevitable questions to be answered about cost and time scale.

Today, Sport England informed me of the work that it is doing to upgrade and develop new pools. It gave me a list of 11 such school pools. Interestingly, those receiving the greatest sums were dual use, and I welcome that, but there were only 11 pools on that list. My spirits genuinely lifted when, last month, Minister for Sport announced the creation of the School Sports Alliance to oversee the £750 million lottery fund allocated for school sport and community sport, together with further Government funding promised for future years.

The Minister replying to this debate welcomed that announcement and her Department's involvement, working closely with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. I hope that she will be able to assure the House that the needs of school swimming, as highlighted in recent reports, are on the agenda for action by the Department for Education and Employment and the School Sports Alliance.

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