Study finds 96 per cent of children can't swim 100m and risk drowning

Nine in ten children can’t swim 100m or tread water for 30 seconds campaigners warn after summer of drowning tragedies in Britain’s waterways

  • More than 3.4m children in England unable to perform basic swimming moves 
  • 96% of those aged seven to 11 can’t swim 100m or tread water for 30 seconds
  • Shocking new research from Swim England reveals millions of children who take to the water are at risk of drowning because they are not taught novice skills 
  • Missed lessons in pandemic exacerbated issue, as private lesson prices soared 

Millions of children are unable to swim 100metres or tread water as shocking new research reveals the increased risk of drowning many youngsters taking to the water face. 

An overwhelming 96 per cent of those aged seven to 11 in England – more than 3.4 million – are failing to meet new swimming competency standards. 

These include swimming 100m without stopping, treading water for 30 seconds, swimming in clothing and ‘float to live’ – which is being able to perform a star float on their back for at least 30 seconds.

The research, released by governing body Swim England, found the average child stops having swimming lessons at seven and a half years old – a figure which has risen during the pandemic as schoolchildren battled with missed in-person contact time in classes.

Campaigners now warn the overwhelming majority of children at serious risk of drowning because they are not being taught the most basic of swimming skills. 

The study comes following a worrying spate of accidental deaths in the water this summer with 17 deaths during a single week in July, according to the Royal Life Saving Society.

Among those who died were several children, including a girl and a boy aged 13 and a nine-year-old boy.

Shock new research shows an overwhelming 96 per cent of those aged seven to 11 in England – more than 3.4 million – are failing to meet basic swimming competency standards

Reflecting on the importance of children learning to swim, Duncan Goodhew, president of Swimathon and Olympic swimming gold medallist said: ‘Learning about when it is safe to swim and how to look after yourself is vital for children across the country to enjoy a lifetime of water fun and adventures.

‘Many families will have stayed in the UK this year and we’ve heard many stories of children getting into trouble which is a particularly frightening experience for parents.

‘These new standards are great for making it clearer for parents and guardians to make informed decisions.

‘I urge parents to prioritise keeping your child in swimming lessons until your child is water competent.’

The research also showed that whilst 81 per cent of parents want their children to learn to swim so they can look after themselves if they get into trouble, the majority are taking their kids out of lessons before they are able to do so.

The research, released by governing body Swim England, found the average child stops having swimming lessons at seven and a half years old – a figure which has risen during the pandemic

Swim England is recommending that parents only consider stopping lessons for their children when they are able to perform four new standard competency moves, rather than just displaying confidence in the water.

Jane Nickerson MBE, Swim England chief executive, said she is worried by the high number of youngsters who had not reached the minimum standards as swimming is a vital life skill.

She said: ‘Most parents mistakenly think their child is competent in the water if they are able to put their head under water or they enjoy jumping into a swimming pool. That’s not the case.

‘There is a fine line between being confident and knowing what to do if they find themselves in a difficult situation.

‘By introducing the new swimming competency standards, we hope more parents will be able to make an informed decision about when to stop their child’s swimming lessons.’

Campaigners now warn the overwhelming majority of children at serious risk of drowning because they are not being taught the most basic of swimming skills. [File image]

The research also found 72 per cent of parents said they had not been swimming with their child in the last month or longer.

Parents said the main reason for not taking their kids to swimming lessons outside of school were being too busy because of other extra-curricular activities, not seeing the need because of lessons in school and their children already being able to swim.

Double Olympic champion James Guy said: ‘Learning how to stay safe in the water is a vital life skill.

‘It’s really important kids become competent swimmers so they can enjoy the water safely on a family holiday, or to ensure they would know what to do if they were to get into trouble.

‘It’s an adventure which could lead to you becoming Olympic champion or just enjoying the huge physical and mental health benefits that exercising in the water can bring.

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