Posts tagged ‘swimming’

29 May, 2013

We are all to blame for latest damning child swimming statistics

Latest figures revealing that more than half of primary school children in England cannot swim have astounded me.

Child with waterwingsThese new statistics are highlighted in the report, Learning the Lesson – the future of school swimming, which has been compiled by swimming’s governing body, the Amateur Swimming Association (ASA) and Kellogg’s. The report reveals that more than 1.1million primary schoolchildren in England – 51 per cent of children aged seven to eleven – cannot swim the 25metre length of a typical swimming pool unaided.

I am not the only one shocked, and a chorus of disapproval has emerged from celebrities and sports stars including Olympic swimmers Rebecca Adlington and Andrew Willis, plus former athlete Sally Gunnell.

Even his Royal Highness, The Duke of Cambridge –  the patron of the English Schools Swimming Association – has recorded a short video calling for school swimming to be accessible for all children at all primary schools.

You can watch Prince William’s video here: http://www.swimming.org/asa/news/school-swimming/hrh-the-duke-of-cambridge-records-video-message-outlining-importance-of-tea/17289/

These worrying findings are a reflection on us all. They depict a failure to equip our children with a basic life-skill that could end up meaning the difference between them drowning or swimming to safety.

I refer to “all” of us because learning to swim is a shared responsibility which encompasses not just the government, but schools, parents and the community as a whole.

learn-to-swim

Ensuring that children are taught to swim in schools is one important factor, but there are many others: having swimming pools which communities can access easily with good public transport links; creating a wealth of safe spaces to swim from Blue Flag” beaches to open water sites; parents treating swimming as a priority; and towns and cities having appropriate sized pools. For example, there is currently no 50metre pool in Birmingham – Britain’s second largest city – and it really should have a swimming pool that size.

Other findings emerging from the report included that, on average, each child only received 8 hours 15 minutes of school swimming tuition a year, compared to the 22 hours recommended by the Government.

Nearly 45 per cent of schools stated that the biggest barrier to delivering better quality school swimming was budget constraints.

This September, each primary school will receive a minimum of £9,000 additional ring-fenced funding as part of the Government’s £150 million injection into PE and school sport.

At the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), we are firmly behind the ASA’s call for curriculum swimming and water safety to be a priority for this funding. The reason RoSPA believes learning to swim is so important at school is because having the swimming and water safety skills to save yourself or others doesn’t come instinctively, it has to be taught.

Drowning is one of the leading causes of accidental death for children and young people in the UK and, sadly, we come across many grieving families who believed their children could swim, only to find out their abilities were little more than being able to float and doggy paddle.

having the swimming and water safety skills to save yourself or others doesn’t come instinctively, it has to be taught

David Walker, RoSPA's leisure safety manager.

David Walker, RoSPA’s leisure safety manager.

Latest figures from the National Water Safety Forum (NWSF) show that in 2011, 407 people drowned accidentally across the UK, of which 47 included children and young people up to the age of 19.

Nearly half of the children and young people who died (22) were aged 15 to 19, and drownings in this age group were predominantly in a river or lake, according to the data from the NWSF’s Water Incident Database (WAID).

It is important to remember that most of these drownings are avoidable and making sure children learn to swim in primary school is a critical step towards reducing these numbers.

Increasing the number of children that can swim is going to be a huge challenge, and it is not one that schools can do alone – they need everyone’s help to achieve this.

RoSPA has detailed advice for families on water safety, which is worth every parent, grandparent or carer taking a look at, especially before they go away on holiday.

David Walker, RoSPA’s leisure safety manager.

26 August, 2011

Gone wild swimmin’

One of the many pleasures of moving to Cumbria last year was the opportunity to go completely wild a bit more often. I’ve been enjoying weekends and holidays up there for more than thirty years, so I’d already sussed out some great swimming spots (which will remain top secret!).

There’s nothing better after a day on the fells than to rejuvenate tired limbs in cold water, and with a sailing boat and a canoe in the inventory, to complement shanks’s pony and the (t)rusty bike, it’s easy to get into some remote spots where others might fear to tread water.

Our CEO takes a dip

With RoSPA having taken more than a bit of flak from open water swimmers in the past, it is now time to disclose that the CEO and quite a few others of us RoSPA folk often go wet and wild. To be even more honest, I have swum in some uncommon places, including all of the Great Lakes (some kind of bet), Lake Issyk-Kul in Kyrgyzstan (seriously, painfully cold) and the Ganges at Varanasi (spiritually uplifting but bacterially soupy). Also, if you take to cold water with all the happy, panting enthusiasm of a Newfoundland dog, you might as well swim there too, and I have.

Of course at RoSPA, we know only too well that people should never swim where it is prohibited (e.g. some parks, rivers, reservoirs and gravel pits), should never be impaired by alcohol and should not swim directly after a meal.  There are plenty of websites devoted to the joys of wild swimming, containing advice, information and recommending places to get wet.

And despite the image of bohemian freedom conjured up by wild swimming, there are quite a few pointers that I have learnt along the way, to suit my own appetite for “wild”. In Cumbria, my greatest fear is being swept away, so in a river if the current looks too fast, it is too fast and I look for somewhere more benign.

I also do a quick recce around the spot in case anything looks dangerous or has changed since the last visit – a boulder likely to tumble, a fallen tree or a jumble of rocks to get your foot trapped in – all need to be scoped out.

Swimming shoes are must-haves (light and easy to pack in a rucksack) to protect the feet and give some kind of grip on slimy rocks, as are trunks (middle-aged man alert!) because the alternative, though DH Lawrence-esque, could easily spook any passing walkers. Mountain Rescue has enough on its plate!

Not everybody was enamoured of the cold...!

Submerged, waterlogged trees are as rigid as iron and very painful if a sharp branch hits a vital part. So I go in slowly and get my breath before swimming and if the water is really cold (I’m a wimpy April-October type), I aim to stay within my depth, swimming parallel to the shore, in case of cramp in those tired, fell-worn limbs.

Most importantly, I have never, ever gone alone, tempting though the solitude is, and whether my wife, one of my sons or a friend is with me, we always have a brief chat about the hazards and what to do in an emergency.

But taking these precautions is only a tiny impediment to the feeling that soon follows once the body settles down and the “hit” of that peaty, cold water washes over the soul, the pleasure heightened by the glorious Lakeland surroundings. It is pure magic, a cleansing, invigorating antidote to all the cares of the world.

When you emerge, reborn and renewed, everything in your life looks that little bit sharper and brighter, there is a tiny, involuntary smile on your lips and, for the rest of the day, you walk, springy with joy, on a soft cushion of fresh mountain air.

Tom Mullarkey, RoSPA’s Chief Executive

 

12 July, 2011

Scramble your way to a coastal adventure

As promised in the last blog on tombstoning, we’d like to introduce coasteering: a popular and developing activity that involves traversing the intertidal zone – or, in everyday language, scrambling around the coastline having fun.

Those taking part in the activity use a combination of scrambling, walking, swimming and jumping to complete the

The idea is NOT to stay dry...

journey – if you set out with the intention of staying dry, you’re not coasteering!

In its early days, coasteering was a niche activity which began in Pembrokeshire, south Wales, where there are miles of wild, rocky coastline to explore. It was run by a small number of well-managed outdoor centres; but since then the activity has spread around the UK. This growth in the sport’s popularity has brought new activity providers onto the scene.

In the summer of 2007, primarily as a result of several incidents and near misses, members of the National Water Safety Forum (NWSF) began to think about the management and development of coasteering – and, in parallel, approaches to managing “tombstoning” incidents.

In response to these incidents, a joint project was launched with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and the Royal Life Saving Society (RLSS). Under the direction of the NWSF beach advisory group, an industry working group was established involving some 120 organisations and individuals providing commercial coasteering services to the public. The project aimed to reduce the number of accidents, and implement an industry standard for organisations offering coasteering activities.

How did we address the issue?

  1. Developing an industry group. Bringing the providers, regulators and rescue organisations together has been the key activity over the last few years.

New and emerging sports often have local pockets of knowledge and excellent practice; sharing this and embedding good practice was the objective, along with helping the industry to formalise the knowledge that was sometimes locked away.

One of the early achievements was the development of a workable definition of coasteering:

Coasteering involves traversing along a stretch of intertidal zone, often as part of an organised group activity. Participants travel across rocks and through water, using a variety of techniques including climbing, swimming and jumping into water. Coasteering guides and participants wear appropriate clothing and equipment while undertaking coasteering activities.

  1. Agreeing industry standards and common practice. This was no mean feat. Many of the providers had to sacrifice some of their hard-earned commercial experience and compromise.

The maxim of “not allowing excellence to be the enemy of good” proved true; many providers had first rate standards and operations, which were beyond the capability of smaller companies. The working group addressed this by developing a “safe as necessary” standard that was achievable by everyone in the industry. The group put together two documents outlining the agreed practice and information.

The guidance has proved to be influential and both documents have been adopted by the outdoor industry regulator, the Adventure Activities Licensing Authority (AALA).

  1. Developing capacity. One of the issues identified early in the project was the number of organisations involved in developing the sport, who were doing a good job in terms of promoting good practice, but had little resource to scale this nationally.

The original industry group has now progressed from being a NWSF working group into the National Coasteering Charter (NCC), which now includes the majority of providers and training bodies. This group will take forward the sharing and embedding of good practice across the sport.

Adventure is beautiful

Did the project deliver everything we wanted?

No. Not all the training providers are currently involved, nor are some of the other wider industry groups. But, and this is an important “but”, the key providers are involved and they have a common vision of improving the safety and quality of the sector.

However, the wider impact of the project shouldn’t be underestimated.

The process itself and the fact that an industry group overcame its difficulties to work together through what were contentious issues and achieve a good number of excellent outcomes have been noted both in the UK and internationally.

The coasteering project was presented at the World Conference on Drowning Prevention in Vietnam (look out for a blog on this event soon!).

So, what next?

The NCC will take over governance of the key documents with RoSPA, the RNLI, the MCA and other members of the NWSF taking more of a watching brief. The NCC, if it grows as promised, looks to be the best forum for managing the issues associated with coasteering and as such it will have a formal reporting route through the NWSF and, we hope, through other groups.

For more information about coasteering:

Coasteering is great fun, and a unique way of experiencing our country’s beautiful coastline. Get out there and have a go!

David Walker, RoSPA’s information manager and NWSF member

This blog was based on an article in RoSPA’s Staying Alive journal. Take a look at RoSPA’s Flickr account for more coasteering photographs (all owned by John Paul Eatock and Keirron Tastagh).

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