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Drowning Prevention Week

Posted on: 24th June 2024

With World Drowning Prevention day soon upon us, we wanted to share this article:

92% agree that swimming is an essential life-saving skill.

New research highlights the importance of children’s swimming lessons as more primary schools reduce mandatory lessons.

  • Britons see swimming as more important to learn than cooking, cleaning, DIY, first aid, and learning to ride a bike.

  • 1 in 5 state that swimming was the most important thing they learnt in school, with just Maths and English ranking higher.

  • 7 in 10 Brits worry for their children’s safety when swimming abroad.

  • Over half of Brits say the cost of lessons is the biggest barrier to swimming participation.

New research from leisure operator Better, reveals that the UK population values swimming more than cooking, cleaning and DIY when it comes to essential life skills. This finding comes on the heels of a Sport England and Active Lives report indicating that over a third of primary school teachers provided fewer than 10 swimming lessons per pupil during the academic year 2022-23. Consequently, the proportion of children able to swim 25m by year 7 in 2022/23 has dropped by 6% compared to 2017/18.

To investigate the state of swimming in the UK, Better surveyed 2,000 respondents to gauge public perceptions and experiences. The research highlights the important role swimming had on Britons’ school experience, as 1 in 5 people found swimming more useful in their adult life than most other subjects like science (17%), computing (15%), and even sex education (8%).

Parents, in particular, recognise the importance of swimming, especially when planning family holidays that involve young children near water. The Royal Life Saving Society (RLSS) reported 35 children died unnecessarily from accidental drowning in 2023, a huge 46% increase over the previous 5 years. Better’s study found that 71% of parents feared their children might drown abroad. The fear of a child getting lost in a foreign was “very concerning” to 36% of parents, yet a higher percentage (42%) were “very concerned” about the risk of drowning.

In everyday life, parents also believe swimming is among the most important life skills, with 56% asserting swimming as the most important, beating cooking, cleaning, DIY, time management, learning to ride a bike, and even first aid. Only budgeting and time management rank higher.

Despite the clear importance of swimming, there are still many barriers to getting children to learn how to swim, including socioeconomic factors. Shockingly, the Sport England Active Lives 2020-2022 survey reported that 62.5% of children from low-income families claimed to be able to self-rescue by year 7, compared to 92.2% of children from high-income families, highlighting a significant disparity. This accessibility issue is further highlighted by Better’s research, showing how the availability of public transport (26%), the cost of pool access (58%) and the time it takes to get to the pool (28%) can all prevent children from being able to learn how to swim.

Better’s survey highlighted the cost of lessons as the biggest barrier to participation in swimming. This is also a result of the significant increase in electricity costs to local pools, causing them to increase costs. In fact, a previous study by Better stated that 1 in 5 Brits were struggling to access their pools due to reduced hours or their pools closing altogether, despite half of Brits stating that swimming improved their mental health.

Andrew Clarke, Better’s Head of Sports and Aquatics, said:

“Teaching children to swim not only equips them with the ability to enjoy and participate in various water activities safely but also significantly reduces the risk of drowning, which is a leading cause of accidental death among young children. By learning to swim, children gain confidence, improve their physical fitness, and develop a respect for water safety that can prevent tragic accidents. Ensuring that all children have access to swimming lessons is an investment in their safety and well-being, empowering them with a vital skill that can save lives.”


Notes to Editors

The Royal Life Saving Society UK is urging everyone to learn the Water Safety Code through its video animation as part of its annual Drowning Prevention Week campaign, taking place from 15-22 June 2024. Targeted at young children and families, the national water safety education campaign aims to ensure as many people as possible are equipped with vital lifesaving knowledge to allow them to enjoy water safely this summer.


Sport England Active Lives Survey 2017-2023

Sport England Active Lives Survey 2020-2022