Water Safety Education

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Tuesday 7th May 2024

(2 months, 1 week ago)

Westminster Hall
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Damian Hinds Portrait The Minister for Schools (Damian Hinds)
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It is a great pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Stringer. I congratulate the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (John Cryer) on securing this important debate. I commend him and the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) for their contributions and for their wider work in the all-party parliamentary group. I also welcome, as ever, the contribution from our mutual friend, the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon).

All children should know how to swim and keep themselves safe in and around water. Schools can play a really important role in ensuring that they are taught vital skills and knowledge, such as the water safety code. Some 91% of primary schools surveyed in 2023 reported that they were providing swimming and/or water safety lessons to their pupils, but we recognise that there is more to do to increase from the current level the number of children who are able to swim.

Data from the last academic year, as has been mentioned, show that 70.5% of year 7 children—the first year of secondary school—reported that they can swim 25 metres unaided. The national curriculum for physical education states that by the time they leave primary school, children should be able to

“perform safe self-rescue in different water-based situations”.

That is in addition to swimming a minimum of 25 metres unaided and performing a range of strokes.

Water safety guidance for schools published by Swim England recommends that primary age pupils should be taught about the water safety code, beach flags and cold water shock. It also recommends pupils be taught about survival skills, such as floatation, treading water, energy conservation and how to signal for help.

Secondary schools are free to organise and deliver a diverse and challenging PE curriculum that suits the needs of all their pupils. While there is no statutory requirement on secondary schools to provide swimming and water safety lessons, the secondary PE curriculum provides clear guidance. It sets out that:

“Pupils should build on and embed the physical development and skills learned in key stages 1 and 2, become more competent, confident and expert in their techniques”.

Swimming and water safety lessons are one way of doing that, and resources are available for all key stages. Swim England recommends that children in key stages 3 and 4—secondary school—have the opportunity to extend their knowledge, including through the practical experience of different outdoor water environments, and annual campaign events such as World Drowning Prevention Day can be useful ways to refresh and build pupils’ knowledge across their time at school.

In July 2023, we published an update to the school sport and activity action plan. The plan encourages schools to teach pupils practical swimming and water safety techniques in a pool and to complement that with classroom lessons. In this area, as in others, schools welcome case studies from other schools and guidance on how to bring to life and embed swimming and water safety in their overall offer. In March, we published non-statutory guidance to support schools to enhance their PE provision and improve access to sport and physical activity. The guidance highlights the wide range of support available from Swim England, including, as has been mentioned, the free school swimming and water safety charter, which provides teachers with pupil awards, lesson plans, videos and water safety presentations. Swim England reports that more than 1,700 schools and lesson providers have registered with the charter.

We recognise the importance of getting water safety education right at an early age, so primary schools can use their PE and sport premium funding for teacher training and top-up swimming and water safety lessons. Those are additional lessons for pupils who may not have met the national curriculum expectations after their core PE lessons. As part of the PE and sport premium conditions of grant, schools must publish the percentage of year 6 pupils who meet the national curriculum expectations. The Department announced last year that we will be introducing a new digital PE and sport premium reporting tool, as the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green just mentioned. It will capture detail on how schools have used their funding. The form will also require schools to input their swimming and water safety attainment data. We are piloting the digital tool this summer, when schools will have the option of completing it prior to it becoming mandatory for schools to complete in academic year 2024-25.

Swimming and being near water can bring benefits for all children, which is why we are supporting pupils with special educational needs and disabilities to learn to swim and learn about water safety. The inclusion 2024 programme works with a network of lead inclusion schools across England, and has developed new resources that are available to all schools on the Swim England website’s inclusion hub. They include an awards programme, audit tools to facilitate discussions with pool operators, and advice on how to deliver inclusive swimming festivals.

Identifying risk and managing personal safety are central to personal, social, health and economic—PSHE—education, and schools can use PSHE to equip pupils with the knowledge necessary to make safe and informed decisions, which are a vital part of water safety. The PSHE Association is one of many providers to have developed resources in this area that schools can choose from. We will shortly be consulting on revised relationships, sex and health education statutory guidance, and those who are interested will have an opportunity to contribute their thoughts through that process.

A pool can be a valuable asset for a school and help to ensure access for all pupils regardless of background. The Department’s opening school facilities programme is spending up to £57 million to help schools to open their sport facilities outside the core school day, including on weekends and holidays. As of April 2024, the programme has supported more than 220 schools to open their pools to more users for longer. The programme is targeted towards the least active children and young people.

Catherine West Portrait Catherine West
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I thank the Minister very much for his words so far, but he has not quite addressed the point about inequality and topping up areas that are so far behind, where below 50% of children are able to swim 25 metres unaided.

Damian Hinds Portrait Damian Hinds
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The hon. Lady makes a very important point about equality of access. We are very conscious of that when we talk about safety in particular; this is about not just sporting participation, but children’s safety. It is important that we seek to present that opportunity to everybody. It is our ambition to make swimming up to a certain standard available to everybody in primary school, and that is what we will continue to do.

On a related point, we welcome the efforts to find new ways to overcome barriers to providing high-quality swimming and water safety lessons, particularly for children who may have less access to swimming than others. It is important that pools are safe and appropriate for the activities they provide. The hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead talked about the trend of pop-up pools. My Department would be interested in hearing more about the work of his all-party parliamentary group and their discussions, and indeed those with Swim England, in that regard.

I welcome the opportunity for the Department to work alongside members of the National Water Safety Forum, in particular the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, the Royal Life Saving Society UK and Swim England. The Department contributes to the education sub-group by supporting the forum to understand the needs of teachers and improve the dissemination of resources and messages to schools.

The education sub-group recognises the important role of water safety messaging that is age and stage-appropriate for children. The group has recently published a new framework to provide a set of consistent core messages, which will help practitioners and organisations working at local and national levels that wish to develop, deliver and evaluate water safety resources and campaigns. The water safety code is the headline message of the framework and includes key learning outcomes from early years through to key stage 4.

Raising awareness of water safety and key messages is an important part of people understanding the dangers of water. The Department for Education is pleased to have supported the Royal Life Saving Society UK’s Drowning Prevention Week in recent years. Last year, over half a million children took part in schools. In June, we will support this year’s activity, which will focus on the water safety code.

I know how important swimming and water safety are for all children. Swimming can be one of many activities that foster positive wellbeing and can be a habit children take into adult life. We remain committed to working in partnership with sector organisations to support schools to provide opportunities for all pupils to learn to swim and know how to be safe in and around water.

Question put and agreed to.