City is not waving, but drowning

5th July 1996 at 01:00
In a recent edition of the Sheffield Telegraph there is an article entitled "City in the swim", but in the week that the city stages the World Master Swimming championships, let us examine the reality behind the headline.

Peter Price, the Lord Mayor, was due to swim in the 50m breast-stroke during the championships, but sadly that is something an increasing number of his young citizens will never be able to do. In five weeks, 50 per cent of my Year 6 class will leave unable to swim 25 metres. They, like many other Sheffield primary pupils, will leave without achieving the basic national curriculum physical education requirement "to swim unaided, competently and safely, for at least 25 metres". How can this occur in what city council leader Mike Bower describes as the UK's first National City of Sport? The answer is that Sheffield offers its primary children a meagre nine- week swimming programme. As a qualified teacher and swimming instructor, I know this to be "mission impossible"!

Ten years ago, we had a fully-funded two-year swimming programme. By July of their final year, out of a class of 30, 21 could swim 800m, 14 could swim 1500m and everyone at least 100m. Twenty-three children had bronze survival awards, 15 silver, and six were about to take their gold. This was by no means untypical of a class.

Ironically, at about the same time as draft proposals for the World Student Games were appearing, Sheffield's programme was cut to one year and in the year the city staged the European Swimming Championships in its newly-built facilities, the primary swimming programme was abandoned.

As a result of intense pressure from schools, parents and governing bodies, the city council provided us with a nine-week programme and that is all pupils will receive throughout their school life - there is no programme for secondary schools. As the long summer break approaches, I worry about the 50 per cent of my class who cannot swim 25m because I know that many of them will never be able to save themselves in water, or experience the sheer pleasure of swimming and its benefits for fitness and well-being.

I also worry about those with just 25m, because this is not enough, and sometimes children think they are competent when they are not. Twenty-five metres in a clear, warm swimming pool is very different from a choppy sea or murky canal.

Sadly, increasing numbers of Sheffield's children are leaving school without a basic grounding in this vital area of water safety, and unless the programme is restored to at least one year, these numbers will continue to grow.

Between 1984 and 1994, every child from our school that had received a one- or two-year swimming programme left having achieved the basic requirements and usually much more.

To add insult to injury, last December our excellent swimming teacher at Concord Sports Centre, where our children attend for their nine-week programme, left her temporary contract in Sheffield for a permanent one elsewhere. She has gone to Wakefield, where children are offered a two-year programme.

Congratulations, Sheffield? I think not!


Deputy headteacher

Southey Green junior school

Crowder Avenue


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