My Lords, I declare my interest as a patron of the Royal Life Saving Society, which I thank for being so supportive, along with Swim England and other organisations. I also thank those Peers who are speaking and those who have contacted me to say how much they support this Bill, and a number of MPs who have, sadly, had a tragic drowning in their constituencies.
Every year, the Royal Life Saving Society has its honours presentation event, an occasion for it to thank its thousands of volunteers and present awards to individual members for their service to the society. It is a truly life-affirming occasion at which you see the selfless dedication of young and older volunteers from all over the UK. Just before the Covid pandemic, the honours presentation was held at Worcester Cathedral. It was packed full of volunteers, and there was a real sense of occasion and excitement. I saw a young woman come down the side-aisle looking lost and forlorn. She went into one of the side-chapels, 10 minutes before the presentations were due to start. I thought she might be lost, so I went to speak to her. She was praying in the chapel. As I started to move away, she rose to her feet and I said, “Are you here for the event?” She then told me about how her son, a very competent swimmer, had drowned.
Between 2017 and 2021, there were 1,272 drownings in the UK. On average, that is more than 250 drownings every year. In 2021, there were 277 drownings, of which approximately 40 were under the age of 19, and over 80% were male. Drowning remains one of the largest subgroups of trauma-related fatalities among children.
Behind every statistic, of course, a life has been lost, but the statistics can perhaps guide us to the actions that need to be taken. The statistics also revealed in a detailed analysis of 240 accidental fatalities that 49% of those who lost their lives were classified as swimmers, demonstrating that being able to swim is in itself not a guarantee of being able to stay safe in all types of water. Naturally, it should be celebrated that in England swimming has been a statutory requirement of the PE national curriculum since 1994, but since that time we have seen a huge reduction in swimming facilities available to schools, and of course Covid has had an alarming impact on the number of children and young people being able to learn how to swim. Pre-Covid, one in four children was not hitting the statutory “can self-rescue” standard. The most recent data shared with the 2022 Active Lives survey showed that only about 34% of children from low-income families could swim 25 metres unaided. Access for children from low-income families and ethnically diverse communities is not equitable. Children need enhanced education beyond the current curriculum for school swimming and water safety to build their resilience and reduce the risk of drowning. Swimming is incredibly good for your physical and mental health and well-being, and it is an activity you can do at any age, from any background and with any ability. Most children learn to swim outside school but, for some, primary school will be the only opportunity they have to learn these vital life-saving skills.
Swimming is not just about being able to have fun in the water with family and friends, it is about knowing what to do if someone gets into trouble in the water—if a strong current takes your friend away from the edge of the water, or if they fall in when running by a river or canal. Let me give the House a recent example of somebody who is a very competent swimmer. I am talking about my wife, a former PE teacher. This time last week she went to the David Lloyd leisure centre—other gyms are available—and was swimming down the lane. In the slow lane, there were two swimmers practising swimming. They had their paddles on and they had the equipment at either end. As Carole swam down, one man created a wave and she at that moment had opened her mouth to breathe. The water went into her mouth, and she could not breathe. She tried desperately. She could not breathe through her nose, and she did not know what to do, but she had remembered the advice was always to keep calm, and she kept calm. She slowly, heaving for breath, keeping calm, got out the water. The lifeguard came along and put her in the recovery position. He actually said, “Miss, your lips are going blue”. Having remained calm, she got up and walked away. When she came home, she said she had something to tell me and I of course was quite shocked. That shows that water accidents can happen at any time in any situation, and it is so important that people know exactly what to do.
This simple little Bill is so important to the lives of people as it will help ensure equal access to water safety education for all children. The aims of the Bill must be secured as a complement to, rather than a replacement for, in-water school swimming lessons, which are essential to support children to learn the physical swimming and water safety skills which are so vital should they find themselves in trouble in the water. We have an opportunity to ensure that every generation, whichever type of school they attend and whatever background they come from, is guaranteed to be taught basic water safety skills and the potential dangers to be aware of and to look for. We have to work together to make this happen. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for bringing forward this important issue for consideration, and for doing so in such a sensitive manner. While swimming is important as a form of exercise, unlike other forms of PE it is literally life-saving. Perhaps I am not the only noble Lord who remembers carrying around a soggy pair of pyjamas for the rest of the school day; they were used to ensure that you could tread water in your clothes for long enough for the fire brigade to come and rescue you. In the 1980s, swimming lessons were about population maintenance rather than technique.
It is welcome that, by
When Sport England collected data from schools in England for its Active Lives study, which the noble Lord mentioned, it showed that only 76% of year 7 children can swim 25 metres unaided. While the importance of the freedom of academies and free schools has long been debated, it has never been absolute. The handling of public money has always been monitored and, arguably, academies have more accounting requirements than maintained schools. But in terms of curriculum, the academies have never had freedom on how to teach a child to read, for instance. The phonics screening test has meant that academy primary schools have used that method. On that note, it is good news that children in England are now the best at reading in the western world, having risen from eighth to fourth place in the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study.
I will return to matters in hand. Academies have other duties, such as safeguarding, so I really do not think that making swimming compulsory at both primary and secondary levels, as the Bill proposes, is an unreasonable restriction on their freedoms. But perhaps the most important reason why it needs to be made compulsory, to which the noble Lord alluded, is the racial disparities as to whether people in England can swim. In October 2020, Danielle Obe, the then interim chief executive of the Black Swimming Association, said:
“The launch of the Black Swimming Association was seen as a beacon of hope to drive more inclusion, participation, diversity and safety for BAME communities in aquatics, set against the startling statistics that 95 per cent of black adults and 80 per cent of black children in England do not swim”.
Two years later, in October 2022, Swim England conducted a survey with 4,500 completed questionnaires, using online and face-to-face means to collect data. While 14% of adults in white communities cannot swim 25 metres unaided, that rises to 49% of ethnically diverse communities. Also, according to the Royal Life Saving Society, nearly 34% of Asian children cannot self-rescue.
There are many reasons for this disparity. If parents cannot swim, they are less likely to teach their children to do so. Then there is the cost of swimming, which can give the perception that it is a middle-class pursuit, as well as the time that it takes to get to the swimming baths; if you are working a number of part-time jobs, it is just impossible. Then there is the lack of culturally appropriate swimwear. New fashion designers are stepping into this gap and designing swim caps suitable for chemically relaxed hair, braids and natural black hair. It is wonderful that a swim cap has finally been approved for use in highest level of competitions for natural black hair, and inspirational that Alice Dearing became the first black female swimmer to be selected to represent Great Britain, at the Tokyo Olympics. His Majesty’s Government have lauded their collection of this kind of data on racial disparity—but surely the figures I have cited mean that action is needed. The Bill would be one small way to rectify this injustice.
My Lords, I am very pleased to support the Bill from the noble Lord, Lord Storey. I congratulate him not only on bringing the Bill forward but on his long history of work in this field. This comes as yet another attempt to improve our performance in this area, and it is very welcome.
I also agree with everything the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, said; I will emphasise some of the points she raised. This is one of the issues that, strangely, we all agree on; I suspect that no one will say that children do not need to swim or to know about water safety. We all want to do better, and we all know that we are not doing as well as we can. Those of us in the Chamber today very often find ourselves in other education debates where there is a difference of opinion on pedagogy, philosophy or perception, but that does not exist here; we are all on the same side. Given that, you would think that we would solve the problem collectively. It is one of those strange cases where, although we are all on the same side, and Governments of all persuasions, I think, have tried to do things, there is still a problem.
I pay tribute to what the Government have done, having looked at the action they have taken in recent years. They have made a good attempt to solve the problem, but it is no good rehearsing that if, as the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, said, the figures show that one in four children cannot swim when they leave key stage 1 in primary school—and that figure is worse for children from some ethnic groups. When looked at the data, I could not see the figures on gender as well as ethnicity, but I suspect that, within some ethnic groups, the gender difference is even greater.
It is also one of those things that, I suspect, we are not better at than when I was a child—I have no evidence for that but the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, referred to it. I too remember the pyjamas and trying to inflate them to save your life in difficult circumstances. My memory—this is instinctive—is that, when I was a child at a council estate primary school, we went to the swimming baths. We went once a week—it took half a day—and most of us could swim. We did not go for one term only but went throughout our time at primary school. It is hard to understand why we have not made progress in this area, when we have progress in every other educational area, and even though we all agree on it. It is a mystery. I hope that the Minister will be able to make some comments, not so much on what we have done—that is great—but on the reality that we have not done enough. It is a matter of life and death.
Although we have the national curriculum and the PE and sport premium, what is true and evidenced is that some schools are not following the national curriculum but there are no consequences. Some schools are not publishing the statistics on whether they are supporting swimming through the PE and sport premium fund, but there are no consequences. I always like to look at the subjects or aspects of our work that we prioritise and then shift the argument. If that were true of teaching children to learn to read and write—or of their development in not being able to walk, talk or socialise—we would do something about it. People across the board, over 20 years, have thought they have done enough but the statistics show that that is not the case. Why is what we have done not good enough, and what else can be done?
Although I am not putting this forward as a serious suggestion, it is worth thinking about whether this is a child safety issue rather than a curriculum issue. If we think of it in that light, as a safeguarding issue—because it saves lives—and if we compare what we do with schools on safeguarding issues with what we are doing with swimming, we will see that there is a huge disparity. As the Minister will know, if a school does not have its paperwork in order on safeguarding or does not have a safeguarding register of sixth-form students off site at lunchtime, it would fail its Ofsted inspection. However, we do not even know whether a school teaches the part of the national curriculum on swimming, or whether any of its PE and sport premium finance is going towards swimming. If we started looking at it as a child safeguarding issue because it saves lives, I wonder whether we might find some different answers and make progress.
I am grateful to Swim England for its briefing, which I found very helpful. What it really impressed upon me, which I had not given much thought to, is that this is about both swimming ability and water safety knowledge. The noble Lord, Lord Storey, spoke about people who can swim and still drown. So, understanding the tides and knowing what to do in different situations in water is very important.
When I look at the national curriculum and the three things that children have to be able to do, I am not sure that they cover water safety knowledge. Two definitely do not, and the only one that could possibly cover it is:
“Perform safe self-rescue in different water-based situations”.
But that is more about swimming than not going into the water because you understand about tides. Does the Minister accept that this is about both swimming ability and water safety knowledge? Could she give us her view as to whether she considers water safety knowledge to be included in the national curriculum?
I have a few more points that I would be grateful for answers to. It does not make sense not to collect the data. It is no good knowing that one in four children leaves primary school not being able to swim if we do not know who they are and which schools they attend. That is what we do in other areas; we know which schools are underperforming in reading and numeracy. If I was to ask the Department for Education whether it could tell me, of the schools in Birmingham—where I did some education work—which ones are not performing well at swimming, and what the backgrounds of the children who cannot swim are, I am not convinced that it could offer an answer. Collecting that data would mean that the interventions we then make can actually be targeted.
As a necessary first step, that just makes sense. If a child cannot read and write by the end of key stage 2, we would not say, “That’s fine; you don’t have to do any learning about it in key stages 3 and 4”. We would say, “You’re going to have to continue with this, because it’s a very important skill that you’ve not yet mastered”. In that way, the Bill is very necessary and can provide a structure for the next stage of the work.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for allowing me to speak in the gap today. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Storey, for bringing the Bill to the House. I will speak very briefly, and I refer to my relevant interests in the register.
We have heard, very powerfully, that learning to swim is an essential life skill and saves lives. We know that PE is a statutory requirement in primary schools, and within that there is a component on swimming and water safety. We have heard quite a lot about that today, so I will not go into any more detail. I support fellow noble Lords in requesting more information from my noble friend the Minister on data and recording.
I want to bring up one important issue. I stress the increased risks and concerns surrounding the economic challenges facing pool facilities, which are leading to the closure of pools and leisure centres. We must acknowledge and welcome the recent funding that the Government have given to support swimming pools with their increased energy costs. However, there are still the ongoing pressures of the costs of transporting children to and from swimming pools, their lessons and hiring the pools, which have all substantially increased since the cost of living crisis. I would be most grateful to hear my noble friend’s thoughts about how we keep and maintain the facilities and keep the costs down for the many schools that are struggling.
We must make sure not only that these swimming lessons and the life skills that we have all talked about are prioritised within every primary school’s PE and sport premium funding but that the increased help and guidance to access appropriate funds are given where needed. School pool facilities must be made available, however difficult this is, to all primary schools so that these essential swimming lessons are delivered.
I said I would be very brief, so I finish by agreeing with everyone here today that no child or adult should ever come to harm from not being able to swim. I hope that the Government continue to find effective and workable solutions to ensure that every child leaving primary school can swim and self-rescue.
My Lords, this is one of those debates in which you agree with everybody who has spoken. Usually, there are patches and caveats, but I do not think there are any today. The fact is that safety around water is essential. The first building block is probably learning to swim, and you must have somewhere you can learn to swim. The reason we do it in swimming pools is that they are warm, safe and monitored. Some people will get into trouble in swimming pools, but it is probably not the most dangerous place. A dangerous place might be the sea or a river you have accidentally entered, where there are tides or, more importantly—I do not think anybody has mentioned it—where it is cold.
Hypothermia connected to water makes everything so much more dangerous. Indeed, when you are walking, there is an old adage “Cold and wet equals dead.” Hypothermia kills; if you go into hypothermia you cannot swim. The Bill gives us a chance to look at the whole thing. If there is a cold, tidal river, or something with steep banks and you are walking along it and fall in fully clothed, particularly in winter clothing, your situation is incredibly dangerous. What does the person in the water know? What do the people outside know? How do they deal with this? How do they enter into it? That is the sort of knowledge that is required.
I too suffered the pyjamas while swimming. It might have given a rough idea, but it was probably not the best procedure. There are so many sports—this touches on the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, about the social divide attached to this—you cannot do if you cannot swim. Canoeing, rowing or any form of yachting—you are not going to do these without some knowledge of swimming or of what to do when things go wrong. Most sports would do some teaching on it, but we need to get that basic knowledge.
There is even something called dry drowning. If you get water in your lungs, it restricts the lungs, and you can have a bad reaction up to 72 hours later. I thank my researcher Ella Gibbs, a qualified lifeguard, for pointing this out to me. If we know about these risks and somebody has a splash in the water and they feel fine, but then they have a bad reaction and we know what is going to happen, we can react properly. That package of knowledge is what we have to take on board. If we do not have that, we are going to miss things and these incidents are going to happen.
You may never stop an idiot teenager dancing around the edge of a river, but at least you can make sure the others will know how to react, where to call for help and how to shout advice. If they know it is simply a case of trying to float, that you will not beat the current so do not try because you will get exhausted and cold, and that type of knowledge is there, then everybody stands a better chance of either getting themselves out or someone getting to them in time.
I hope the Minister will respond positively here to Members. The amount of educational knowledge in the Chamber is quite frightening, but there is the idea that a school can do something in this field. It can also not do something and not be pulled up on it. In this day and age, that is fairly shocking and really should not be happening.
I hope the Minister can give us a positive answer. It is a small step but one that could be added to the education system quite easily. I know everybody says that about 100 different things, but this is one that carries its weight. Can the Minister say how, if we are not going to do these things in the Bill, which would be a good vehicle, we will do it otherwise? How will we stop these gaps in knowledge and reporting? That is essential to this.
I thank my noble friend for bringing this forward, and noble Lords who have given him formidable support here. I am very proud to associate myself with this cause. The Bill might be the easiest way forward on this occasion, and we need to do something.
My Lords, I declare an interest as London’s Deputy Mayor for Fire, as the issue of water safety—and water rescue—is part of the work of all fire and rescue services, including the London Fire Brigade. I commend the noble Lord, Lord Storey, for his efforts and campaigning on water safety and also commend the work of the Royal Life Saving Society.
The noble Lord raises vital points about the potential tragic consequences of children and young people not having the knowledge and skills that will keep them safe in and around water. It is absolutely right that we should ensure that children have the skills and understanding they require to stay safe. He also highlighted in his speech that behind the shocking statistics on death by drowning lie tragic individual stories of loss that could have been avoided. With over 400 people drowning accidently in the UK and Ireland every year, and many more suffering life-changing injuries, there is clearly an argument for looking at what more can be done to promote safety. As my noble friend Lady Morris said, everyone agrees that we need more water safety; we need everyone to keep safe in and around water.
This is a timely debate. As we come towards the summer with the weather—hopefully, at some point—improving, more young people will be tempted to take risks with outdoor swimming. A key risk that people need to be aware of is cold water shock, which can happen when people jump into cold water on hot days, and the danger that it poses. Tragically, it sometimes takes publicity about a death to trigger awareness of these risks in the media. Last summer, we saw some tragic incidents, and many local areas made extensive efforts to raise awareness during the extreme heat incident, including fire and rescue services, councils and voluntary sector organisations working in this area.
I would be grateful for a commitment from the Minister that the Government will include promoting national and local awareness of the risks of outdoor swimming and of being in and around water in their planning for safety over the summer. I am sure that she would agree that partnership working through different agencies, such as the drowning prevention strategy led by the Tidal Thames Water Safety Forum, can also play a vital role, not least in prevention of suicide by drowning—I apologise for moving away from the main subject for a moment—which is one of the key causes of death by drowning in adults. What more will the Government do to help facilitate partnership working of this nature to promote water safety knowledge for people of all ages?
This is not to underestimate the role of schools, which the Bill is clearly focused on. As Deputy Mayor for Fire, I had the privilege of meeting a young boy who had used the RNLI advice to “float like a large starfish” and had avoided drowning as a result until he was rescued. He had learned this through his school doing what schools are already required to do. My personal memory of what my school taught me reflects what has been said already by noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, about soggy pyjamas. I was in fact unaware of the current advice, which is perhaps a lesson in needing to make sure that adults as well as children are taught basic information around water safety. Organisations such as Swim England work with the RNLI and other local delivery partners and provide valuable support and resources to schools. It is clear from Swim England’s research that active learning works best. A remarkable 99% of children undertaking lessons through its Swim Safe programme since 2013 retain the message through to the following year.
It is already the case, and it is right, that all schools must provide swimming instruction in either key stage 1 or key stage 2. I cannot see why this swimming instruction would not or should not include wider, accurate information around water safety. The Government have said that they want to improve the number of children leaving primary school having achieved the goals of the current curriculum: to perform safe self-rescue; to swim at least 25 metres; and to be able to do a number of types of strokes. This is also right.
My noble friend Lady Morris was right that successive Governments have attempted to improve outcomes in this area. However, with the number of pools in the UK already falling—as has been noted by previous speakers—and expected to decrease by 40% over the next eight years, does the Minister have confidence that this will be feasible? Are the Government monitoring and addressing the closure of public—or publicly available—swimming pools? What practical measures do they intend to take to prevent further closure of swimming pools and increase access by schools to swimming pools, so that schools do not have to travel too far to provide access to this vital life skill to children?
As a number of speakers today have said, I also highlight that, despite the intention in relation to outcomes that are already in existing legislation, children from less affluent backgrounds are half as likely as their peers to be able to swim 25 metres. This is scandalous and the issue has been highlighted by both Swim England and the Royal Life Saving Society. As has also been noted, this divide exists in relation to ethnicity as well. While 80% of white British children aged seven to eight can swim a 25-metre length, the figure falls to around 50% for black children and to less than 60% for ethnically Asian children. There are similar inequalities for self-rescue. How are the Government addressing the specific barriers that lower-affluence and ethnic minority children face staying safe in water?
Swim England has also highlighted issues with the data available for schools. This has been noted by other noble Lords, including my noble friend Lady Morris and the noble Baroness, Lady Sater. Swim England gives the example that over half of schools in the Black Country do not publish the data required on swimming and water safety performance. Put simply, I cannot see how the Department for Education can adequately monitor or enforce the requirement to publish this information. As it is simply not being adequately monitored or enforced, the department cannot know if schools are meeting their existing requirements on swimming and water safety. Can the Minister commit to doing everything in her and the Government’s power to ensure that this data gap is addressed? Does she accept my noble friend Lady Morris’s point that this should be addressed as a safeguarding issue, with the accompanying pass/fail measure that that would include?
I accept the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Storey, that being able to swim is, by itself, not always sufficient knowledge to ensure water safety. While I am sympathetic to the aims of Private Members’ Bills, Bills intended to add things to the national curriculum always pose a question of what will be taken out to make room for the new subject matter, so I would be interested in the noble Lord’s thoughts on whether the existing legislation and national curriculum requirements would meet his aims if the department enforced them effectively. I would also welcome the clarity requested by my noble friend Lady Morris on whether the Minister thinks that the existing curriculum could or would meet these aims, if it was carried out effectively.
It is clear from this debate and comments that the House is of one view: water safety is an absolute priority. I look forward to the Minister’s response on the questions raised in the debate and I will follow the progress of the Bill, led by the noble Lord, Lord Storey, with interest.
My Lords, I am not sure whether it is a declaration of interest, but I am an open-water swimmer who swims every morning in the Serpentine, so I am familiar with many of these concepts, including swimming in very cold water. The noble Baronesses opposite look doubtful, but I recommend it to the House.
I offer my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Storey, on securing a Second Reading for the Bill and for the very sensitive way in which he introduced it. I agree with the noble Baroness opposite that this is a very important issue. My right honourable friend the Minister for School Standards will be meeting the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Water Safety to discuss this further.
While I must express reservations about the contents of the Bill, the Government support the teaching of both swimming and water safety to all children during their time at school, as the noble Lord, Lord Storey, rightly highlighted.
The recent terrible deaths of young children who drowned emphasise the importance of teaching children about water safety from a young age. The national curriculum for physical education states that, by the time they leave primary school, children should be able to perform safe self-rescue in a variety of water-based environments, swim a minimum of 25 metres unaided and perform a range of strokes.
A key theme of many of your Lordships’ speeches was the need to address gaps in delivery and in the data to give us all confidence that our schools are delivering on the national curriculum in this area. A 2022 departmental survey reported that 80% of primary schools surveyed were providing pupils with swimming and/or water safety lessons, with no variation seen among different types of primary schools.
My noble friend Lady Berridge and the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, both questioned whether academies might be delivering at a different level from local authority-maintained schools, but there is no evidence to support that suggestion. The most common reason given by primary schools not currently delivering swimming or water safety lessons was that they were scheduled for later in the academic year; so, while I absolutely acknowledge and welcome the probing from your Lordships, we do not see this as a serious issue.
The noble Lord, Lord Addington, and other noble Lords asked for more clarity on how we would improve the quality of data in this area. I am always sympathetic to the aim of improving our data. We are introducing a new digital tool, to which my noble friend Lady Berridge referred, to support schools with their reporting requirement. We will publish further information on that tool when refreshed guidance on the PE and sport premium is published this summer.
In relation to the suggestion from the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, about whether this should be regarded as a safeguarding issue—with her permission, I think we need to go away and reflect on that; it could have big implications for other things with safeguarding aspects that are not conventionally seen as safeguarding issues.
The noble Lord, Lord Storey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, asked what resources were being made available in relation to water safety. With support from the department, the National Water Safety Forum has launched new water safety resources for pupils in key stages 1 to 3, which teach children how to be safe in and around water, including frozen water. These were launched in June 2022 during National Drowning Prevention Week. The noble Baroness, Lady Twycross, asked whether the Government would support continued work in this area. I assure her that we are in discussion with the National Water Safety Forum as part of its Respect the Water campaign, and we will be working with the forum in drowning prevention week again this year.
The noble Lord, Lord Storey, and other noble Lords highlighted the fact that pupils from lower socioeconomic groups are less likely to be able to swim. The Government share the noble Lord’s concern about this. That is why we are working with Swim England and the Royal Life Saving Society UK to support more children to learn how to swim and how to be safe in and around water; this will also happen through the DfE-funded holiday activities and food programme this summer.
In relation to children from black and minority-ethnic groups, Inspire 2022, which is one of the legacy projects from the Commonwealth Games in the West Midlands, is seeking to increase participation in black and minority-ethnic communities. That is funded through Sport England and brings together Swim England, the Association for PE, a number of local partnerships and the Black Swimming Association.
The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, mentioned the differential in gender as to which children were able to swim or not. She might have meant it also in relation to the intersection of ethnicity and gender. I do not have the data on that with me; if it is available, I will happily write to her. The data overall does not show a great difference between boys and girls. Boys are slightly more likely to be able to swim between the ages of one and 11, but there is no material difference.
Secondary schools are free to organise and deliver a diverse and challenging PE curriculum to suit the needs of their pupils. As the House has acknowledged, there is no statutory requirement on secondary schools to provide swimming lessons, but the secondary PE curriculum sets out that pupils should build on and embed the physical development and skills that they learned in key stages 1 and 2 and become more competent and expert in their technique. Obviously, swimming and water safety lessons are one way of doing that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Twycross, asked particularly about swimming lessons outside school and the role of leisure centres and community pools. Of course, they provide really important opportunities for children to learn to swim. Some 20.7% of all children participated in swimming activities outside of school once a week or more in 2021-22—that is about 1.5 million children. Obviously, the Covid pandemic had a huge impact on community leisure centres, including public swimming pools, and that is why in the Spring Budget we announced more than £60 billion to safeguard public swimming pools in England as a first step to future-proof the sector, which I think was something that my noble friend Lady Sater also asked about.
The other aspect on water safety is through the PSHE curriculum. Schools can use their personal, social, health and economics programme to equip pupils with a sound understanding of risk and with the knowledge necessary to make safe and informed choices, which is of course an important part of water safety.
I want also to touch briefly on our partnership work with the sector. As I have already mentioned, we are working in partnership with members of the National Water Safety Forum, in particular the Royal Life Saving Society UK and Swim England. We were very pleased to accept an invitation from the National Water Safety Forum to sit on its education subgroup. That will help the department to improve the dissemination of resources and messages to schools. Together, we are supporting more schools to teach primary and secondary pupils important aspects of water safety such as, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Addington, cold water shock, rip currents and keeping safe near frozen water. We have also supported the National Water Safety Forum to make available new, free water safety resources, which I mentioned earlier, for pupils in key stages 1 to 3.
Just before I close, I hope with permission of the House that I can very briefly acknowledge and thank one of the officials in the Department for Education, Peter Whitelaw. I am not sure if you can be a rock in the Box, but he has been, and is today, a rock to all Ministers in the department; I know that my noble friend Lady Berridge will agree with me. He goes to the Ministry of Justice, and we wish him every success and thank him for his five years of support to Ministers.
In closing, I hope I have set out the three ways His Majesty’s Government are taking action on water safety. The first, of course, relates to the requirements to teach swimming in primary schools. The second is our support for leisure centres and community provision of swimming. The final one is the crucial partnerships that we have, in particular through the National Water Safety Forum. For these reasons, I believe that there is no need to amend the current legislation in regard to the national curriculum providing pupils with additional knowledge regarding water safety and prevention of drowning, but we very much share the House’s sentiment about the importance of this issue .
My Lords, I am grateful for your Lordships’ hugely important contributions. I thank the Minister for her, as usual, very detailed reply. It was very strong on swimming but less strong on water safety itself. She said that schools “can” use PSHE, but it is a “can” and it is not happening. The Bill tries to say that every child, irrespective of the school they go to, should have lessons on water safety.
The noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, rightly pointed to the issues facing black and Asian swimmers—the poor levels of the ability to swim. I remember the pyjamas and paddling in the water, but I also remember the hot mug of Bovril after taking part.
The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, raised two important issues. The first was the low figures on ethnicity. She suspected, as do I, that it will be an even lower number for women; I think she is going to look to see whether that is the case. Secondly, it had never occurred to me that we should bring the issue of safeguarding, which is so important to all of us, to swimming and water safety as well.
May I intrude for 20 seconds to clarify the record? I thank the noble Lord very much and it is good that he is looking at that. I was clumsy in implying that I would want schools to fail their Ofsted inspection if a child could not swim. I would not want anyone to read that and think that that is what I said. I apologise if that was the impression I gave.
I do not think that we thought that even for one moment.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sater, rightly raised the issue of costs, which have soared and made it difficult for schools to find suitable swimming venues.
As usual, my noble friend Lord Addington brought a new dimension. I had not thought about hypothermia, but of course if you teach water safety, hypothermia and cold water shock, which the noble Baroness, Lady Twycross, raised, are hugely important. Again, we should consider local awareness.
One of the things that stands out from the figures is university students, who are away from home and excited, particularly in the summer. The number of young men in particular at university who get into difficulty in water is quite alarming. Sadly, some of them drown. So maybe universities need to give some advice.
The Minister mentioned that the all-party parliamentary group is meeting the Minister next week. That will be an opportunity to understand some of the issues.
I perhaps need to say that the Bill will run out of time; it will not go through the process, sadly. However, to reflect on the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, and my noble friend Lord Addington made, we are all agreed on this, so why can we not just make it happen, for all the reasons we have said? All right, there might be some little differences between us, but this is hugely important. It is not my Bill in that sense; it is our Bill. We should do everything we can to achieve this. I beg to move.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
House adjourned at 2.35 pm.