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Swimming gets into deep water

More than half of primary pupils are taught to swim by unqualified teachers. Diane Spencer reports

SCHOOL swimming, already in decline, is in danger of being squeezed out of the timetable when the primary curriculum is relaxed in September, the Government was warned this week.

The Amateur Swimming Association is angry because Estelle Morris, the schools minister, has refused to meet members to discuss their concerns.

Most primary schools have no teachers qualified to teach swimming and it found that more than half the schools used unqualified teachers. The association said: "This poses a clear threat to children's safety."

The ASA's report Swim for Life, due out today, details research from nearly 4,000 schools. It shows that 23 per cent reported a decline in swimming lessons over the past three years, 47 per cent said without parental contributions these would be further reduced, only 14 per cent of primary schools had their own pool and 68 per cent received no financial support from their local education authority.

The national curriculum says that pupils should be taught to swim unaided, competently and safely for at least 25 metres by the time they leave primary school, but the ASA's research showed that schools were finding this basic requirement hard to meet.

Evidence also showed that many of the schools able to offer swimming withdrew pupils when they reached the minimum standard.

From September swimming will be under greater threat as theGovernment is giving primary schools leeway in the curriculum to concentrate on English, maths and science.

The ASA wrote to MPs last week alerting them to the dangers and seeking support to keep swimming as a statutory part of the primary curriculum. The report says drowning is the third most common cause of accidental child deaths.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents calculated there were 411 drownings in 1996 with 80 per cent in inland waters. The ASA also emphasises the importance of swimming for a healthy lifestyle in the light of concern about children's obesity.

The Government is also under pressure from the Central Council of Physical Recreation which represents the governing bodies of sport, including the ASA, and the main teacher unions, to keep physical education's place in the primary curriculum.

In a letter to Tony Blair, the council said it supported the drive for literacy and numeracy, but believed that PE would help, not hinder it. Exercise at a young age would also improve the health of the country's future work force.

"Anything less than a recommendation of two hours' PE and sport a week will be seen as backsliding by the Government in its attempts to improve the health of our children" and would contradict manifesto pledges to improve primary PE, it warned.

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