Lack of basic water skills sure to put more young lives at risk

Students at some Tauranga schools will miss out on swimming lessons because their school has no pool and the cost and time involved in transporting them to Baywave makes it unviable.

Principal at Te Akau ki Papamoa School, Bruce Jepsen, said this year the school would trial sending only Years 3 to 6 to Baywave for lessons, because of the time and supervision required to send the junior children.

The cost of teaching children to swim these days is quite exorbitant.

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Mr Jepsen said the school subsidised the cost of swimming but the remaining $30, to cover bus transport and 10 lessons, was another expense for parents when the cost of living was rising.

"The cost of teaching children to swim these days is quite exorbitant," he said.

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Mr Jepsen said swimming was a basic life skill for children who lived near the beach.

"Walking around with a nation of young people who can't swim is not something we should be proud of. We're coastal kids here."

He supported every New Zealand school having a pool - provided the necessary government funding came with it.

"Some of those [drowning] statistics could be curbed through it," he said.

Principal at Papamoa's Tahatai Coast School, Ian Leckie, said students in Years 1, 2, 7 and 8 would not attend swimming at Baywave this year, which cost parents $20 per child for the bus and 10 lessons.

"The distance from here to Baywave [about 5km] is too far," he said.

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"We've got to weigh it up alongside everything else ... Yes, we'd love to have our own pool but they're too expensive to build."

Mr Leckie said swimming was not just the school's responsibility and encouraged parents to take their children to surf lifesaving and spend time with them in the water.

Partnership and sector development manager for Water Safety New Zealand, Cory Sweeney, said there were nine existing school pools at risk in the Bay of Plenty, none of which were in the Western Bay, and 130 on the organisation's radar across the country.

"We know that school pools are pretty essential to being able to develop swim-and-survive skills."

Getting a lesson at a private swim school costs about $10 to $12 a session.

"It's unrealistic to expect families to access that," he said.

"Without school pools there just isn't going to be the access to water."

Drowning statistics were on the rise for people between the ages of 15 and 24, and Mr Sweeney expected these deaths would increase.

"We would expect that to be the trend going forward if they [school pools] continue to close," he said.

Of the 68 state schools in Tauranga and the Western Bay, 47 have their own school pool.

However, head of the education infrastructure service at the Ministry of Education, Kim Shannon, said some of these pools may not be in use.

"School boards make their own decisions about closing pools, whether temporarily or permanently, and we are not always informed that a pool has closed."

Shared community facilities are also a more cost-effective solution than putting pools into every school.

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The ministry provided all schools with an annual operations grant which could be used to fund the running of a swimming pool.

"Schools which don't have a pool can use the operations grant to take students to a nearby swimming pool, including covering entrance fees. Schools may also use their capital funding to do maintenance on the essential infrastructure of the pool."

Ms Shannon said using community swimming pools could provide a safer swimming environment, better year-round facilities and a more supported learning environment for students.

"Shared community facilities are also a more cost-effective solution than putting pools into every school."

Schools without pools were urged to collaborate with community groups and regional councils.

"For most schools this means using a nearby community or council-owned facility. In some cases schools have worked in partnership with local community groups and councils to co-own facilities and redevelop existing pools.

"We believe this approach provides better value for money both locally and nationally, and leads to a better use of existing infrastructure," she said.

In central Tauranga, Otumoetai Primary School has a large 25m pool, built in the 1950s.

Principal Geoff Opie said the school spent $12,000 to $13,000 of its annual operations grant on running the pool, including keeping it filtered and cleaned through the winter.

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"There's no specific funding for school pools, just like there's no funding for playgrounds," he said.

"We've just got to be very wise how we spend the money."

Five years ago the school also paid $35,000 for the pool to be fibreglassed to stop leaks.

The school maintained the pool as a school community asset, he said.

Each year the PTA rented keys to school families from Labour Weekend to Easter at a cost of $70, including a $20 refundable bond.

The most recent pools that have opened in the Western Bay are at Paengaroa School in 2012 and Omokoroa School in 2013.


Drownings in New Zealand

• As at February 12, 2006: 17
• Under-5s:1
• 5-13:1
• Males: 16
• Rivers/Beaches/Tidal Waters: 14
• Maori: 7
• Same time last year: 25

Source: Water Safety New Zealand

Community effort saves pool from going under

A $15,000 fundraising effort will see the Oropi School pool taken off Water Safety New Zealand's 'high-risk' of closure list.

The pool was saved thanks in part to a large anonymous donation, which helped cover the cost of re-painting, fixing the pool heating system and replacing the cover.

Principal Andrew King, who is a member of Papamoa Surf Life Saving Club, is passionate about children learning to swim, with every student attending five intensive swimming lessons each year at the school pool, with an instructor from Tauranga Swim School.

"Drowning is so easy, it's learning how to deal with different situations and recognise them," he said.

The five lessons cost parents $10 per child.

Senior students from Oropi School also complete a water safety course with instructors at the Bay of Plenty Polytechnic pool.

"The bottom line is the school has to actually pursue it themselves."

Mr King said classroom teachers could pick up tips for class swimming sessions through watching the instructors.

"It's also about educating the adults charged with looking after kids," he said.