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Council subsidises lifesaving lessons for non-swimming children

08 January 2024

More than 400 Cambridgeshire children unable to swim have received subsidised swimming lessons over the last two years.

Cambridgeshire County Council’s ‘Every Child a Swimmer’ project has been able to provide these subsidised lessons thanks to funding from Public Health.

In the UK, swimming is a mandatory part of physical education and lessons are a statutory entitlement for all children. Despite this, across England last summer around 76,000 children finished primary school without experiencing a single swimming lesson.

Currently, approximately 26% of children starting secondary school in England cannot swim. This rises to 49% of black children, 56% of Asian children and 73% of children from less financially secure backgrounds.

For many children, school swimming lessons are their only opportunity to learn how to swim and be safe in and around water. If a child leaves primary school unable to read or write at an appropriate level, then interventions are put in place. However, if they cannot swim this information is often not passed on. It’s likely that children who don’t learn to swim during primary school, will never learn this lifesaving skill.

In 2022, Ian Roberts, Cambridgeshire County Council’s Specialist Physical Education Adviser, secured funding from Public Health Cambridgeshire to set up Cambridgeshire’s own swimming skills intervention programme.

In their first full school year of operation, ‘Every Child a Swimmer’ subsidised swimming lessons for nearly 400 Year 7 children, who had been identified as non-swimmers by their secondary schools.

In the current school year, the scheme has already paid for 86 families to access fully subsidised swimming lessons. The County Council will continue to support ‘Every Child a Swimmer’ into 2024.

Councillor Bryony Goodliffe, chair of the County Council’s Children and Young People’s committee said: “The ability to swim and stay safe around water can sometimes be the difference between life and death. Access to potentially lifesaving swimming lessons should not be limited to only those families in Cambridgeshire who can afford them.”

“As a joint administration we are committed to making Cambridgeshire a fairer and more caring place to live, so I have been delighted to hear about the ongoing success of ‘Every Child a Swimmer’. This project is combatting one of the less well known but extremely serious inequalities in our county.”

Comments from a family who participated in the scheme:

"Recurrent grommets and operations on my son's ears caused ear infections. As a family we didn't swim due to the recurrent complications my son had. Fast forward to y7 and he has now benefitted from the intensive swimming lessons offered by Cambridgeshire Council. Being a single mother and in receipt of Universal Credit, I would never have been able to afford the lessons."

"As well as being able to save their life if they get into difficulty in water, [my sons] are now confident and able swimmers, surpassing all of our expectations."

"I can actually swim now whereas before I didn't get any lessons because of my grommets. Now I can go swimming with my friends and no-one will make fun of me."

"I feel more confident in the water and after doing the intensive swim sessions, I can keep myself alive in water and can tread water."

Schools are encouraged to get in touch for further details about accessing this programme. Lessons can be subsidised which are delivered by the school itself. Further information can be found on our website.