Natalie Akoorie

Natalie Akoorie is a reporter at the NZ Herald based in Hamilton.

Survey backs school swim classes

Michelle Dean with her swimming children (from left) Joshua, 4, Jeffrey, 5, Jazmin, 7, and James, 9, at Jenni's Swim School in Tauranga. Photo / Christine Cornege
Michelle Dean with her swimming children (from left) Joshua, 4, Jeffrey, 5, Jazmin, 7, and James, 9, at Jenni's Swim School in Tauranga. Photo / Christine Cornege

Pools and swimming lessons should be available in schools and many believe they should be compulsory, according to a Herald DigiPoll survey.

In the poll last month of 750 people, 44.5 per cent said schools should offer children the opportunity to have swimming lessons and almost 42 per cent said lessons should be compulsory.

Water Safety New Zealand chief executive Matt Claridge said that in an ideal world every school would have a pool and learning to swim would be a core curriculum subject.

But fewer than half of all primary schools had a pool and not all were operational. Twenty per cent had closed in the past decade.

Mr Claridge said many school pools were expensive to run because they were old.

Because of the lack of pools, children's swimming ability of children had declined

Water Safety NZ had poured $2.5 million into an annual initiative to improve children's water skills.

The Sealord Swim For Life programme has reached 215,000 children with 10 lessons every year for four years. The goal is to give 250,000 children the lessons.

"It's pretty basic. ... we try to target high needs so that will invariably be low decile schools without normal access to pools".

The programme concentrated on the basic swim to survive ability of children. The premise is the same as a new programme in Tauranga called Teach Our Children to Swim.

The programme, the brainchild of Jenni's Swim School owner Jenni Clarkson, has been implemented in one school and involves swimming lessons every day for two weeks for age groups, keeping the ratio to seven children for every instructor.

The programme is designed to take pressure off school teachers, use trained swimming instructors, and have low-ratio and low-cost classes.

Primary Principals Association president Brian Gower said swimming lessons were part of the curriculum to be taught through physical education.

But school pools were not funded by the Ministry of Education.

"That's where the issue is - they don't support schools as having pools on site in any shape or form so it's up to the community if they want pools, they have to fund it."

The ministry's head of sector enablement and support, Katrina Casey, said all children got an opportunity through their school to learn fundamental aquatic skills by the end of year six, whether at a school pool or off-site.

"While school pools are not part of the core funding entitlement, funding is provided through the operations grant and is calculated on the size of the pool.

"This can be used for pool maintenance and running costs such as chemicals, water, heating and testing charges."

She said schools without a pool could use the funding to pay entry charges and costs of transporting students to a local community pool.

Private lessons costly but only option

Michelle Dean can't swim. So when her eldest child turned 3 she enrolled him for private swimming lessons and has done that with every child since.

The 35-year-old Tauranga mum has five children aged from 18 months to 9 years, and all except the toddler have had lessons and can swim.

"Living where we do, with water all around us, it's a life skill and they have to know how to swim because I don't want any of them growing up like me where I don't even want to go to the beach."

Michelle was so traumatised by a bad experience in water as a child that she rarely goes to the beach or gets in a pool and won't go on a boat.

She pays up to $2400 annually for four of her children to have swimming lessons and when the youngest, Jared, turns 3 he'll start too.

The oldest, James, is at squad level and can swim in a 25m pool while Jazmin, 7, and Jeffrey, 5, are also water confident and even younger brother Joshua, who just turned 4, can manage five metres.

"I have no hesitation taking them near water. I still watch them but I'm not worried about them."

Mrs Dean said if it wasn't for these classes her children would only have two weeks of lessons each year at Greenpark School, which doesn't have a pool.

- NZ Herald

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