Parents plug the gap

MANY schools rely on help from parents to enable them to teach pupils to swim. More than two in five ask parents for contributions towards the cost of providing lessons and others rely on parental volunteers to help supervise children when they travel to and from the local pool, or even to act as lifeguards.

The cost to parents can be as much as pound;3.60 per lesson although the average charge is pound;1.29. Schools' most common reason for charging is for transport to and from an off-site pool (34 per cent), followed by tuition (26 per cent) and use of an off-site pool (26 per cent).

One teacher at a school which takes all pupils swimming for half an hour a week emphasised the importance of parents paying. "Ninety per cent of our parents make the voluntary contribution. If a substantial number didn't we would be unable to afford to take all pupils swimming throughout their schooling."

Others are determined not to ask parents for money. "If the cost of swimming continues to rise we will stop doing it - I won't ask parents to contribute," a headteacher commented. However, without parents' help, the school can only afford to provide half an hour a week fo pupils in Years 5 and 6.

But even if the financial pressures were lifted, schools would still face problems, according to Clive Hallett, head of Wheatley primary in Oxfordshire. "With increasing pressure on schools to perform to a high standard in academic areas and to jump through the tests hoops, it is increasingly difficult to make time for sporting, leisure and personal safety activities," he said.

Few schools have on-site pools and the average time spent travelling to and from swimming lessons is more than half an hour. When the time it takes pupils to get changed is added, a half-hour swimming lesson can easily take nearly two hours out of the school day. And for some schools this is a serious under-estimate. One school's pupils make a two-hour round trip every time they go swimming.

Perhaps this is why more than one in seven schools in England stop swimming lessons for pupils who reach the targets.

Even those schools lucky enough to have their own pool are not without problems. One head at a school where they have a pool said: "We rely on volunteers to act as lifeguards. If they fail to turn up the class does not swim."

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