JavaScript disabled. Please enable JavaScript to use My News, My Clippings, My Comments and user settings.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

Tough new rules force schools to cancel swim days

Date

Emma Macdonald

Shay Kennedy from the Dickson Pool has seen a loss of bookings from school group since the government's new swimming carnival policy has been announced.

Shay Kennedy from the Dickson Pool has seen a loss of bookings from school group since the government's new swimming carnival policy has been announced. Photo: Colleen Petch

ACT students will not be allowed to take part in school swimming activities until they pass an individual swimming competency test.

But the tough new safety provisions have forced around ten schools to cancel end-of-year pool fun days, and the Royal Life Saving Society will be calling on the ACT government to reconsider the policy because the swim test is too tough and could actually create a disincentive for students to take part in any swimming activities at school.

The School Swimming Carnivals Procedures and Checklist safety policy – issued this week – was a response to an incident in March when a Year 6 Forrest Primary student nearly drowned at the swimming carnival.

Tough new rules are making schools rethink swim days.

Tough new rules are making schools rethink swim days. Photo: Graham Tidy

In July, an external investigation into the incident recommended the introduction of more precise measures to identify each student's swimming proficiency and called on schools to improve their communication with parents about carnival plans.

The ACT government's new policy now requires teachers to assess all students before they take part in any school swimming activity.

The test includes checking each student can enter the pool and walk for five metres, swim for 25 metres, float or tread water for one minute and call for help in that time, exit the pool unassisted and perform a voice rescue of another buddy, encouraging them to a point of safety.

Students who could complete these steps would be given a blue tag while those who couldn't would wear yellow tags.

Blue-tagged children required teacher supervision on a 20:1 ration while yellow-tagged children required 10:1 supervision.

But the ACT executive officer of the Royal Life Saving Society Sean Hodges said the swim test was taken from a 2008 society recommendation about improving safety for students during unstructured free swimming activities and was too onerous to enforce on swimming carnivals – which were overwhelmingly safe experiences.

A NSW student drowned at a school swimming carnival in 2008, but it was during free time in the pool. Similarly, the incident at Forrest Primary's carnival was during free time.

"I haven't been able to find on the record a drowning or near drowning as a result of a swimming carnival – apart from medically-related issues," Mr Hodges said.

"We think there is the basis for a good swimming safety policy in the ACT but this definitely needs work," he said.

Several Canberra schools had to take students in small groups to get their testing done ahead of carnivals and fun days.

"Our concern is the current policy is a little bit over the top and in its current form it puts the emphasis on teachers. The last thing we want is for schools to be cancelling their fun days because they are nervous," Mr Hodges said.

The Australian Education Union said it was always "mindful of increasing teacher workloads and increasing community expectations as to what teachers should do."

But union ACT branch secretary Glenn Fowler said the union also acknowledged "that child safety is a primary function of teaching and we want to contribute to safe learning environments, wherever they may be."

Teachers had already been conducting informal assessments of student swimming ability for some time, and were extremely vigilant during swimming events, Mr Fowler noted.

Mr Hodges said the society also had concerns about the test itself, which required students to tread water for a minute.

He said in many cases that was a more difficult task for new swimmers to master than swimming for 50 metres.

At least one parent reported his daughter did not want to attend her school fun day because she was anxious about the swimming test.

"We don't want to discourage kids from getting in the pool, in fact we want to encourage them to get involved in swimming," Mr Hodges said.

Dickson Pool Manager Shay Kennedy said he had lost three end-of-year swimming fun day bookings over the last three weeks because schools were concerned about complying with heightened regulation and responsibilities for student safety.

Mr Kennedy said that in 17 years of managing the pool there had been no serious safety issues during school visits and teachers "already do a fantastic job of ensuring safety in and around the pool".

Mr Kennedy said that while no swimming carnivals had been cancelled it was disappointing schools were cancelling their fun days – in which students developed swimming skills and enjoyed the pool experience.

Education Minister Joy Burch said she would be speaking with stakeholders in the coming weeks about how to bed the policy in.

"I know some pool operators have concerns about the policy and we want to talk to them about this...It is understandable that we want to ensure swimming carnivals can be the safest experience that we can offer."

Similarly, Ms Burch was aware of some schools pulling out of fun days and ways to avoid this would be "part of the conversation".

"School fun days at the pool are part of being an Australian," she said.

16 comments

  • Surely not drowning is competency enoug?

    Commenter
    That Guy
    Location
    Canberra
    Date and time
    November 29, 2012, 2:54PM
    • Everything to do with swimming lessons in Australia is disgusting. Firstly they charge so much that parents can't afford to put their kids through out of school programs. Secondly when they do go through the school program because the school decides to change centres each year, you don't know what level they are up to now as each centre has a different name for each level and what is required in each level. No longer do you get your ribbon or patch to say what you have passed like they used to in NSW many years ago. How about the government make it part of their sports lessons and not charge us extra for a life lesson they "will" require. My kids can do without learning softball or cricket, it's swimming they will need in their life.

      Commenter
      Kelly
      Location
      Dunlop
      Date and time
      November 29, 2012, 3:05PM
      • Swimming lessons in Australia seem to be focused on freestyle - and many boring hours are spent perfecting this particular form. Most kids need to learn to swim for fun and to ensure they can swim well enough to stay afloat in an emergency. Neither of these situations require a perfect freestyle. Please can swimming instructors, YMCA etc. understand that lessons with this particular focus means that many kids leave before they are proficient swimmers - due to boredom and financial constraints. Time to provide swimming lessons that address the real needs of young swimmers.

        Commenter
        Jessica
        Date and time
        November 29, 2012, 5:03PM
      • what happened to australia? are parents so lazy they cant teach their own kids how to swim? throw a ball, read or write?
        do parents now outsource their entire childrens lives to "experts"?
        I took my child to the local pool to see the size 16 mums sitting drinking coffee and eating cakes, reading magazines and sending texts occasionly glancing up to give their child a little wave.
        how sad. how very very sad.

        Commenter
        smilingjack
        Date and time
        November 29, 2012, 5:36PM
      • actually AIS swimming lessons are pretty affordable. around $150 a term.

        Commenter
        joe
        Date and time
        November 29, 2012, 6:08PM
      • @smilingjack - Great post

        Getting lazy
        Yes
        Yes
        Yes

        Commenter
        Deutsch
        Location
        Canberra
        Date and time
        November 30, 2012, 12:50PM
    • When I was at school participating in at least one event in the swimming carnival was compulsory - literally a 'sink or swim' attitude!

      Commenter
      beco
      Date and time
      November 29, 2012, 4:42PM
      • ...insurance, thats the bottom line isn't it these days. The ACT Govt's policy is symbiotic of a growing litigious culture that would indemnify themselves in this respect.

        Our nation will continue the downward trend in a sport that was once integral to our cultural DNA along with so many other facets of Australia's sporting and lifestyle identity and health issues i.e. obesity.

        All of us are surely part of the problem and any potential solution.

        Commenter
        Gob
        Location
        rory.slater@gmail.com
        Date and time
        November 29, 2012, 5:34PM
        • Maybe the paper could do a little more fact checking. ALL schools have infact been having to do a swim test before any swimming event for at least 12 months. Maybe parents might actually ensure their kids get lessons if they have to "pass the test"

          Commenter
          Dazz
          Location
          Ngunnawal
          Date and time
          November 29, 2012, 5:57PM
          • Thats right! Im pretty sure schools have been doing this for quite a few years. All throughout my schooling they did these. First lesson of each class is always a swim test. If I was supervising 20-30 kids I would want to know their swimming abilities before throwing them off into the deep end, thats just common sense.

            Commenter
            Chalky
            Location
            Hume
            Date and time
            November 29, 2012, 10:53PM

        More comments

        Comments are now closed

        Related Coverage

        Featured advertisers

        Special offers

        Credit card, savings and loan rates by Mozo