At the pool this morning I overheard a teacher giving his students a pep talk. It went something like this:
“When you’re older, you’re going to earn millions. I know that because you’re here, working hard, early in the morning while everyone else is still sleeping. I know that because you’re swimming and keeping fit and healthy. When you grow up, you’re going to be the people in charge and making all the money while everyone else is going to be working for you and earning peanuts. Now get in and swim fast.”
We’ve commented recently on the failure of many schools to reach the national curriculum standard of every child being able to swim 25m by the time they leave primary school. Those kids at the pool today are among the lucky ones who easily meet that target and, by the looks of it, far exceed it. I assume they were from a private school based on the fact that it was 7:15 in the morning, they all had matching swimming costumes and the car park was full of four-wheel drive vehicles. I may be wrong of course and be jumping to conclusions based on preconceptions but I also find it hard to believe that a state school primary teacher would tell his pupils they’re all going to be millionaires when they grow up and everyone else is going to be working for them – although maybe they should.
Leaving aside the questionable motivational talk for a moment, I can’t help but wonder if this school has come up with a great model for getting kids swimming. Firstly, at that time of morning it doesn’t take any time out of the school day. Secondly, it’s a regular, year-round commitment to get the kids swimming. Thirdly, the teachers do a good job of managing a single swimming lane with 20 to 25 kids in it, keeping them all moving (one of the complaints my kids had about school swimming lessons was they always got cold from waiting around too much).
Could this be replicated at any school? Why not? Clearly it helps if you have motivated and committed parents who also have the flexibility to bring their children to the pool early in the morning, hang around and then take them to school afterwards (or pay someone else to do that for them). But it’s not an insurmountable barrier for schools where the parents are less able to operate on-demand taxi services for their offspring.
You also need teachers who are willing to start early. I know how hard state school teachers already work and appreciate the huge pressures they are under, so I’m reluctant to suggest they should do any more (I’ve got friends and relatives who might kill me if I did) but could school leadership teams build a little more flexibility into the timetables of a small number of staff to make this possible without increasing the overall workload burden?
Then there’s a cost implication. I don’t know how much councils charge schools to reserve lanes in pools but I assume schools have to at least cover the costs of swimming teachers, and budgets are already squeezed. Is there a case to be made for dedicated funding from government for school swimming? Really it’s an investment. Swimming is a sport you can do all your life so getting children in the water now will pay back in 50 years when their still-active lifestyles will help reduce chronic diseases. In addition, teaching children to swim, while not guaranteeing their safety in open water, is at least a step in the right direction.
What is clear is that there are workable models for teaching kids in schools to swim. Current methods (with some remarkable exceptions) are failing and need to be improved. We know some leisure operators and schools have come up with other innovative models that also work (e.g. three-week crash courses with daily swimming). We’d love to see these ideas collated and shared, so if you know of any please send us some details.
As to whether early morning swimming can make you rich or not, I don’t know. It just makes me tired. But if it motivates kids to swim and stay active, I don’t suppose there is too much harm in thinking it.