The Scottish National Party has in its infinite wisdom seen fit to stop the “Top Up” swimming programme that supports local authorities in providing school time swimming lessons for Scottish children. Unlike England, swimming isn’t a compulsory part of the Scottish national curriculum. Scottish Swimming states that the “Top Up” scheme has helped 30 000 children improve their swimming skills, yet the body estimates that forty per cent of children leave primary school unable to swim; that is about 15 000 pupils each year.
Jamie Hepburn, sports minister for the SNP says, “The Top Up programme was designed to help develop a model to enable swimming clubs and local authorities to teach children to swim by providing some initial additional investment to assist local provision. The programme received £1.72m over four years. Although the top-up programme has now ended, Scottish Swimming received more than £5m (over four years) in the latest funding round from sportscotland. This is the largest funding settlement of all the Commonwealth Games sports."
However Scottish primary schools and Scottish Swimming are concerned that due to financial pressures, families are growing less likely to take their children swimming during family time. Scottish local authorities do not provide a consistent programme of primary school swimming lessons across the board, with children living in the poorest regions, being more likely to leave primary school unable to swim.
A SPORT ONLY FOR THE WELL-OFF?
So is swimming becoming a life skill / sport only accessible to those who can afford to go private? Unfortunately, I do believe this is the case. Even though I do not live in Scotland, I have experience of talking to people who clearly do not understand the importance of providing swimming as part of the schools’ weekly timetable. The school that my daughter goes to used to be (until July 2014) a middle school with a small swimming pool. With the major educational reforms currently sweeping parts of Suffolk, the middle school closed and reopened as a free school in the following September. This free school is run by a foundation that also runs a private school and the two have extremely close links. When my family and I went to the family welcome event the school held at the start of the academic year, I questioned one of the trustees about the future of the pool. He replied that it wasn’t financially viable and that parents could take their children outside of school time to local facilities. When I started quoting the drowning statics and number of children who leave primary education unable to swim, he couldn’t get away fast enough. My lasting impression was a person who came from a comfortable background who didn’t understand the importance of swimming lessons for all in an educational environment. If cost is truly the issue, why couldn’t the foundation invest money into the pool and make it an indoor one and then hire it out to the local community?
I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the attitude of the SNP and probably of the other political parties too. Politicians seem to be increasingly out of touch with how the British population live their lives. Even if cuts are necessary, how about a programme of awareness of how important swimming is as a life skill? This could include free taster swimming lessons at the local leisure centres and promoting the fact that many swim schools / clubs do offer discounts and incentives for families on lower incomes.
To write to Jamie Hepburn concerning about the cut in funding of swimming lessons in Scottish swimming lessons, email: email@example.com