Water safety body fears closures could affect drowning rates as Givealittle pages set up for upkeep funds

Schools are turning to fundraising website Givealittle to help keep pools open and Water Safety NZ is concerned about the effect on drowning rates if pools are allowed to close.

Labour has called on the Ministry of Education to do more to keep pools open, particularly in rural areas and given it requires children to be taught basic swimming skills.

There are about 1300 schools with pools in New Zealand - roughly 60 per cent of all state schools.

However, the cost of running pools and replacing infrastructure has caused difficulty for some.

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Around 156 school pools have closed in the past six years and a further 130 nationwide are at risk of being shut down permanently, according to the latest figures from Water Safety NZ.

Schools don't receive extra funding to run a pool, and cover the cost from an operations grant.

The ministry does not provide pools in new schools or fund the replacement of pools at the end of their economic life.

Water Safety NZ has expressed concern that fewer school pools may already be affecting the 15-24 age drowning rate, and has provided money to help some schools keep a pool open.

The charity has set up a Givealittle page for that purpose, as have some individual schools.

Hamilton's Silverdale Normal School received a Water Safety NZ grant last year which enabled the replacement of the pump and filters, including help from Garnier and Waikato Filtration.

Principal Stuart Armistead said the roughly $10,000 expense would otherwise have had to come from cuts to other areas in the decile 4 school's budget.

"It would have been to the point where the board would have had to decide what was going to be sacrificed. [The pool] means a lot ... we are quite some way away from the local pools."

Labour's children's spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern said the fact some schools had launched Givealittle campaigns showed how desperate the situation had become.

"Despite the importance of kids learning to swim in a country like New Zealand, the Government has basically ignored the plight of schools, saying the decision to keep them open or not is down to boards of trustees.

"The Ministry of Education needs to step in and form a plan rather than stand by while communities lose an asset that helps save lives."

Jerome Sheppard, acting head of the ministry's education infrastructure service, said all children had an opportunity to learn swimming skills, either at school or at a community or council-owned pool.

Schools without a pool can use the operations grant to pay entrance fees elsewhere, and schools were able to use capital funding to provide maintenance on pool infrastructure.

"Using community swimming pools can provide a safer swimming environment, better year-round facilities as well as trained instructors. Shared community facilities are also a more cost-effective solution than putting pools into every school, which is why we don't fund new pools at schools."

School pools

• 60% of New Zealand's state schools have a pool.

• 156 have closed in the past six years and a further 130 nationwide are at risk of being shut down permanently, says Water Safety NZ.

Learning to be safe

Amelia Jones, 4, is learning to swim with the help of her mother Asia Jones at the Glenfield Pools. Photo / Dean Purcell
Amelia Jones, 4, is learning to swim with the help of her mother Asia Jones at the Glenfield Pools. Photo / Dean Purcell

Amelia Jones and her mother, Asia Jones, take advantage of the free Whanau Nui water safety lessons this summer holidays at the Glenfield Pools.

Ms Jones wanted her young daughter to learn how to be safe and confident in the water to ensure the family had an enjoyable time when out on their boat.

This summer's Whanau Nui lessons, run by WaterSafe Auckland, are offered free at a number of swim schools in the city over the holidays.

The lessons cover swimming survival, beach and water safety, rescues, lifejackets and what to do in an emergency.