Child drowning prompts call for compulsory swimming lessons in Australian schools

A young boy’s drowning at a Victorian beach has once again ignited the campaign to give Australian primary school children access to compulsory swimming lessons.

The push for all Australian primary school students to be taught to swim is gaining momentum. The tragic drowning of a nine-year-old boy in Victoria has prompted a coroner to call for swimming lessons to become part of the school curriculum.

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Bailey Patman had been splashing in the shallows with his friends at Seaford Beach in Victoria but was found face down in the water, according to the coroner’s finding, released today.

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His family claim he would still be alive if he’d been a stronger swimmer, and Bailey’s sister Melanie Allan says she wants to stop any other child suffering the same fate. Her brother died in 2012.

“I think that if swimming lessons were compulsory other families could avoid the tragedy of losing a child to drowning,” Ms Allan says in the Herald Sun.

Coroner Caitlin English has now recommended that swimming lessons become part of the primary school curriculum, saying that “swimming and water safety education should be a compulsory skill taught within the primary school curriculum to all Victorian children.”

Instructor with children on swimming class

The Royal Life Saving Society’s Amy Peden tells Babyology that that the Australian Water Safety Council has been campaigning for a national benchmark for years.

“However Royal Life Saving research has shown that kids aren’t achieving the benchmark due to a lack of access and sufficient provision,” she says.

Ms Peden says Royal Life Saving supports the push for compulsory swimming lessons for primary students, as for many children it may be their only opportunity to learn to swim.

“This age group are more capable and have the readiness to acquire aquatic skills that will be retained given sufficient lessons and opportunities to practice. As such as important life skill, a skill that could literally save their life or someone else’s, its important that swimming and water safety skills are prioritised.”

According to Royal Life Saving, no Australian states or territories currently have compulsory swimming lessons as part of the curriculum.

“Whilst learning to swim is not a compulsory outcome of the National Curriculum, there are a few government department funded programs. The provision varies across the country to some lessons for a particular year to no provision at all.”

Swim Australia says babies as young as four months old can benefit from swimming lessons.

“The recommendation of the Australian Swimming Coaches and Teachers Association is that infants can start a formal program of swim lessons at four months of age. Some of the reasons for waiting until four months are to allow a medical history to develop, allow the infant’s immune system to strengthen and allow bonding to occur with the primary caretaker. After four months, infant swimming lessons in a gentle and developmentally appropriate program can, and should, be started right away.”

The 2014 National Drowning Report found that 266 people drowned in Australia between 1 July, 2013 and 30 June 2014 – 20 of those were children up to the age of four.

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