Primary School Children who are Able to Swim

1. Questions to the First Minister – in the Senedd at on 14 May 2024.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Jenny Rathbone Jenny Rathbone Labour


2. What steps is the Welsh Government taking to increase the number of primary school children who are able to swim? OQ61121

Photo of Vaughan Gething Vaughan Gething Labour 1:40, 14 May 2024

Thank you for the question. Across the Welsh Government, officials are working closely with both Swim Wales and Water Safety Wales to raise the profile of swimming within the Curriculum for Wales and to support primary school learners with swimming skills and water safety education.

Photo of Jenny Rathbone Jenny Rathbone Labour

First Minister, you may have seen the data from Swim Wales, which shows that only one in six or 16 per cent of children can swim. This is a really serious issue for my constituents, particularly up in Pentwyn, where we have a handy lake that children can drown in, but no swimming pool has been available to them since COVID. We still haven't seen the local authority commissioning the refurbishment of the pool, and the earliest it's going to reopen might be the summer of 2025. In the meantime, schools are having to shell out very large sums of money—up to £4,000—to ensure that children get their curriculum entitlement to learn how to swim. So, I wondered what you think the Government can do to accelerate the need to ensure that every child can swim, particularly in the most disadvantaged areas, where people are not being taken on holiday, because families, simply, don't have the money to go on holiday, and, in the summer, they are hugely at risk of water being available to drown in.

Photo of Vaughan Gething Vaughan Gething Labour 1:42, 14 May 2024

There's a serious point the Member raises. For many people, swimming is a leisure activity or is an activity for exercise. It's also a skill for life. So, I'm delighted that my own son has taken up the lessons that have been provided through his school. It's a real positive to see that skill for life that children learn early. And I particularly think about my own example. I learnt to swim as an adult. I was in my 30s when I learnt to swim, and I was concerned about the fact that, if I was in water that I could not stand up in, I could not move two or three metres to get myself to safety. So, I learnt to swim in the old Splott pool in Cardiff, which has now been refurbished. There's a new pool with a library and a hub of additional advice services around it. And my understanding is that's what Cardiff Council are looking to do with Pentwyn pool, where they're engaging with the public now on the design for not just a new pool, but the services to go around it. That's part of the answer, together with the work we are doing with schools across the country, including in Cardiff, to make sure that the statutory guidance for the new curriculum about making sure that children can be safe around water is taken up, together with the funding we do provide to local authorities to make sure that free swimming lessons are available. I think about six in 10 Cardiff primary schools do provide free swimming lessons, and I'd be interested in a conversation with the local authority about where those schools are and how that is rolled out to provide those opportunities progressively to a wider group of primary school-aged children. This a key lesson for life, and I would like to see other children take up that opportunity and not have to learn as an adult, as I did.

Photo of James Evans James Evans Conservative 1:43, 14 May 2024

First Minister, as Jenny Rathbone highlighted, the low proficiency amongst children swimming in Wales is, I think, dangerously low. And we do see and hear on the media of young people who lose their lives unnecessarily because they can't swim, or they don't know any safety techniques when they do fall into water and then they get into trouble, and unfortunately they drown. So, First Minister, what plans does the Welsh Government have to make swimming mandatory within the curriculum to make sure that our young people are educated about how to swim, and to make sure that no young person dies unnecessarily in water because they have not got any techniques to make them able to save their own life?

Photo of Vaughan Gething Vaughan Gething Labour 1:44, 14 May 2024

I think there are two slightly different things here. The first is, as I said in response to the Member for Cardiff Central, that, actually, we do have clear guidance in the national curriculum about making this available. The challenge is making sure that's taken up progressively—so, we do provide money to support that—and then having the facility that's available to nearby communities, because, practically, if you need to travel a significant amount of time—. I think time more than distance is the issue, because you can move a short distance as the crow flies in our cities but it can actually take a long time to travel. So, the redevelopment of Pentwyn is really important for that section of Jenny Rathbone's constituency. It's one of the least advantaged communities in the capital city. So, the practical access is part of that.

I think the second point is a point that the Member raises quite correctly, and that's not just about access to swimming lessons; it's about water safety and, in particular, understanding when water isn't safe to enter, even if you are a competent swimmer—that's both what's underneath the water as well as the fact that going into cold water can be dangerous for people of all ages. So, that's the point about not just working with Swim Wales, but also Water Safety Wales, to try to educate our children and young people to understand what being safe around water really does mean, as well as the joy of learning the life skill of being able to swim.

Photo of Sioned Williams Sioned Williams Plaid Cymru 1:45, 14 May 2024

Prif Weinidog, you've recognised this afternoon the importance of swimming and swimming lessons for all ages, but you will be aware that a number of pools in communities across Wales have closed, either due to revenue costs or because of their physical condition. This really is a question of access, I think. Pontardawe swimming pool in Neath Port Talbot is due to close in August because its life has expired after 50 years and its condition has deteriorated to the extent where it would be dangerous to continue operating. I'm glad that Neath Port Talbot council will be commissioning a feasibility study into building a replacement pool—refurbishment isn't an option. Will the First Minister state what existing funding support is available for the provision of swimming pools by local authorities and leisure trusts in Wales? What new capital funding can be made available to support the building of new and environmentally sustainable pools, which are essential for the health and well-being and safety, as you pointed out, of communities like those of Pontardawe and the Swansea and Aman valleys?

Photo of Vaughan Gething Vaughan Gething Labour 1:46, 14 May 2024

We do provide capital support through Sport Wales to help with some of this. Our challenge, though, is the scale of the capital we have available to us and the scale of the challenge we face. Because the Member is right: a number of the assets that communities have been used to using are coming to the end of their lives, and there is therefore a need to think about the capital investment that's required and the point the Member makes around the sustainability of those buildings. The buildings we'd build today would be quite different to the buildings of 50 years ago and how they're made generally sustainable. There is, of course, lots of innovation taking place around local authorities—Rhondda Cynon Taf, for example, is having open-water pools available. It's not something that I'd choose to do, but there are others who want to do it. It's about the access to the opportunity. Our work with local authorities would have to be bound by the realities of their budgets. Every Member in this room knows that we don't have the resource in terms of revenue or capital that we'd like to have, so this will require sustained investment over a longer period of time, it will require a different settlement on what we're able to generate in capital terms to support local government and communities with the aspirations that I know that they do have.