The costs of maintaining and repairing school pools are forcing rural Northland kura to cut expenses in other areas or close pools completely.
Mangakahia Area School's largest pool has been closed for 18 months, Poroti School's pool has been closed because of a leak, and while Pakotai School's pool is open, the principal says maintaining it is a big chunk out of a small school's budget.
Phil Reynolds, principal of Mangakahia Area School, said while the school's shallow pool has remained open, enabling the juniors to continue swimming lessons, its largest pool has been closed for 18 months as it needs to be re-plastered and totally repainted.
Maintaining the pools alone costs between $6000 to $10,000 each year, and while the cost of the repair work has not been confirmed - Reynolds said it's looking like it will be upwards of $50,000.
"It's big stuff for a small school," he said.
"They're expensive things to run but we talked to our community and because our kids live up and down the valley right next to a river they want their kids to learn to swim and schools the place where that can best happen."
The New Zealand curriculum specifies that all children should be given the opportunity to learn fundamental aquatic skills by the end of Year 6 - whether schools provide that opportunity in their own school pool, at a neighbouring school pool, or a community facility is up to them, according to the Ministry of Education.
Reynolds said his school had happily opened their large pool to other schools in the area but they hadn't been able to do that in the last 18 months.
Transporting kids to town pools was not viable for rural schools, he said.
Nearly $800,000 of government funding comes to Northland
"Pools in rural areas - for all those water safety reasons - are really really important."
Water Safety New Zealand (WSNZ) statistics show in 2018 Northland had the highest rate of drowning-related hospitalisations in the country and the second highest drowning rate with 4.5 deaths per 100,000 people, or eight deaths in total last year.
This year there have been 14 preventable drowning fatalities to date, provisional data shows.
WSNZ chief executive Jonty Mills said school pools played an important role in the aquatic education of schoolchildren.
"We have seen a large number of school pools close over the last five years and while we do what we can to support local fundraising efforts, maintaining school pools remains a significant challenge for schools and communities," Mills said.
For 2019/20 WSNZ is funding Sport Northland to provide Water Skills for Life lessons, from trained instructors, to 8500 year 1 to 8 students from 65 schools.
Sport Northland will also co-ordinate two portable pools for schools without a pool.
Pauline Johnson, principal of Poroti School, said their school pool was not up and running at the moment because there was a leak.
It's meant they have had to use Maungatapere School's pool.
"I would say in the next couple of years we won't have a school pool because we just won't be able to get it fixed," she said.
"These kids they live on farms, they have dams and rivers they swim in around here and they've got to know how to swim and how to be safe."
She said there should funding to help schools run pools.
Kim Shannon, Ministry of Education head of education infrastructure service, said the Ministry believed its support to schools regarding swimming and water safety was sufficient.
She said the Ministry does not tag funding for any curriculum item and operational funding was available to help schools meet curriculum requirements.
Schools also receive Five Year Agreement funding for capital maintenance which can be used for essential infrastructure of existing pools.
"We encourage schools without pools to collaborate with local community groups, councils and each other, to ensure pool access for their students.
"In some cases, schools work in partnership with local community groups and councils to co-own facilities and redevelop existing pools.
"We believe this approach provides the best value for money both locally and nationally and leads to better use of existing facilities," she said.
Meanwhile, Pakotai School principal Puataata Tia-Ward said buying chemicals for the two terms the pool was open cost $1000 - a big bite out of a small school's budget.
"For me as long as it benefits our kids there is a way around it - something will have to give and our kids need to learn to swim," she said.