Fresh into a new school year, pupils from St Gregory's in Queanbeyan were under close supervision at their swimming carnival at Queanbeyan Aquatic Centre. Photo: Graham Tidy
Pool operators say the ACT's controversial swimming carnival policy is still scaring away schools after a year in operation, with some reporting a 50 per cent drop in business.
But the ACT government and the Royal Life Saving Society have lauded the policy as a success on its first anniversary, saying it supports safety and school participation.
The new policy was introduced after a Forrest Primary School student nearly drowned at a swimming carnival in March 2012.
Late that year the new School Swimming Carnivals Procedures and Checklist caused at least 10 schools to cancel carnivals due to its strict nature, triggering a rethink last February.
Now the ACT government believes it has got the mix right.
The director of learning and teaching at the Education Directorate, Leanne Wright, said the policy had been a success and was well balanced, with quality and safety in mind. She said out of the 76 public schools in the ACT, 71 were planning a swimming carnival this year.
''We believe that we've got a policy that … supports strong levels of participation by schools and students and provides that really important exposure to swimming and water activity,'' she said.
The policy requires a strict ratio of supervisors to children during swimming events and for all pools to be five-star certified. It also requires swimming proficiency testing for students joining in unstructured swimming events, so their level of ability could be checked by teachers.
One year on, pool owners and managers in the ACT have given the reforms mixed reviews. Some said there had been little effect; for others, the reforms hurt business.
Phillip Swimming Centre general manager John Raut said the number of school bookings at his pool had dropped by more than 50 per cent.
He said the reforms had put a lot of pressure on facilities and facility managers and ''scared schools away''.
''When I first came here in 1980, we had schools here every hour on the hour,'' he said.
''Now we are fortunate to have a few private schools around that will come in and use the facility.
''Apart from that, it could be 30 degrees and we'll have a pool that's absolutely vacant.''
He said he didn't think the system was broken before and the reforms had taken a lot of revenue away from the pools.
The owner of Big Splash in Macquarie, Ron Watkins, said he had seen a 30 per cent decrease in aquatic activity, mainly from primary schools.
He said the legislation was too confusing and time-consuming and deterred schools from taking part in aquatic activity. ''All the schools I speak to are just disgusted by it,'' he said.
However, the managers of Dickson Aquatic Centre and the Canberra International Sports & Aquatic Centre said their bookings were normal this year.
Dickson Aquatic Centre director Chris Graham said although there had been a decrease last year, as well as a 50 per cent drop in end-of-year swimming days, the number of school carnivals had returned to normal.
''It's about getting kids back to the pool and they are great events for schools,'' he said.
''I'm hoping now that there's a lot better understanding of the policy and how to work with it, we should see that bounce back.''
NSW introduced similar strict swimming carnival laws following the death of a student at a school swim day in 2006.
St Gregory's Primary School in Queanbeyan, which had its swimming carnival on Friday, has had to restrict the amount of unstructured pool activities at its school since the new NSW policy was enacted.
The school's principal, Claire Frazer, said that despite the lack of post-carnival free swimming time, it was a great way to kick off the primary school year.
''It's a fun community activity to begin the year, with lots of parental support and participation,'' she said.