If children don't learn to swim, they can lose their lives," says Roger Millward of the Swimming Teacher's Association (STA). The educational charity is developing a range of water-safety materials for teachers.
Every year, around 40 children under the age of 15 drown in the UK. Most are swimmers who overestimate their abilities, says Peter Cornall, water and leisure manager of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA). "It's vital that when children learn to swim they are taught water safety," he says. "Non-swimmers tend to avoid dangerous waters, but many swimmers, particularly young men and older boys, swim in rivers, lakes or reservoirs because they have seen other people do it and assume it's safe.
The only safe place for children to swim is at a supervised pool or beach."
The STA materials include pool posters and stickers featuring "STAnley" the seal, who stresses the safety code based on the four-point RoSPA message: be aware of water dangers; take safety advice from teachers and pool-side notices; always swim with a friend or relative; and learn how to help others safely.
The STA is also developing a series of storyboards, based on a group of characters similar to Leo Baxendale's Bash Street Kids. "The idea is to put across a positive message," says Garry Seghers of the STA. "We don't just want to say 'don't do this, don't do that', but to show how you can help people in difficulty without endangering yourself." One storyboard shows a boy running along the pool-side after slapping his friend's bottom with his swimming goggles. He pushes a girl into the pool and then slips over and is knocked out. His friends guide the girl to safety and help the lifeguard put the boy into the recovery position. Another storyboard shows how two children react when a toddler falls into a river while chasing a ball. They tell him to grab the ball and kick with his feet until he gets to the bank.
But a not-so-sensible boy leaps in and gets his foot caught under a submerged branch, and has to be rescued by a girl who pulls him out with a long stick, leaving his shoe behind.
The storyboards are for use as classroom posters and as teaching materials in their own right. The STA is consulting teachers about the final design, ready to launch before the summer.
The Government's Swimming Advisory Group has recommended a number of measures, including a teaching toolkit and a website
(www.nc.uk.netsafeswimming). A charter for swimming, due this year, will include advice on how much time to allocate to swimming lessons and how to deliver safety training. It also aims to encourage reluctant swimmers, including girls and children from ethnic minorities. A fifth of primary school children - a third in inner-city areas - don't meet the national curriculum target of swimming 25 metres by the end of key stage 2. The Government is committed to spending pound;459m over the next three years on sporting opportunities for five to 16-year-olds; organisations such as the STA hope swimming will get enough of this money to improve standards of water safety.
The STA's safety posters cost from pound;7 to pound;16. Sheets of 15 assorted stickers are pound;1. Award materials and details of courses are available from the association's online catalogue. Tel: 01922 645097; Fax: 01922 720628Email: firstname.lastname@example.org