Why we shouldn’t teach swimming in our schools.

Bill Shorten is this week seeking to promote a voter friendly image when it comes to schools by announcing that under their governance $46million will be spent over four years to ensure that every Australian kid gets swimming lessons while at school.

We can expect the Morrison government to announce a similar policy announcement in the coming days just to ensure that Labor don’t skip too big of a march on them.  

Sounds like a good idea, right?  I mean, we don’t want kids drowning if it can be helped.  Right?

Unfortunately, this is poor policy and a perfect example of what happens when useful sound bites begin to dictate policy design.  And even more unfortunately, there’s no sector where populism trumps substance like it does in our education sector.

For three major reasons, Australians should be wary of politicians looking to shoehorn swimming – and other such peripheral issues – into an academic program already bursting at the seams.

Firstly, it’s just not a teacher’s job to teach swimming.  Schools are there for two reasons and two reasons only.  They exist for education, which itself comprises two key imperatives.  One is to have your kids learn as much relevant stuff `and skills as possible such that their chances of success and fulfillment in their post schools lives are enhanced.

The other learning imperative is that kids must absolutely love learning.  The truth is that the world is changing at a rate of knots such that we really don’t have any idea what the 6-year-olds of today will need to be successful in 15 years time.  We do know they’ll need to learn on the job – and so their attitude to learning is critical.  They need to see themselves as lifelong learners and be enthused about any opportunity that looks like a chance to learn.

The secondary component that schools should take responsibility for is what I’ve come to call “citizen building”.  In essence, most parents still send their kids to a school that they hope will partner with them to turn their kid into a decent adult, a worthy citizen and a solid community member.

That’s what teachers should be focusing on.

Which leads me to the second reason that we shouldn’t teach swimming in schools.  Time.  Ask any teacher what’s required to get their students through a one-hour swimming lesson.  You need to write the permission forms, send them home, get them returned, book the transport, chase the parents who didn’t return the forms, arrange alternatives for the kids who don’t return forms, complete risk assessments, negotiate fees, deal with the complaints from parents about cost, get the kids changed, arrange additional adult supervision, supervise the lessons, ensure first aid qualified staff are present, replace them at school, get the kids changed again, call parents for the kid who stubbed his toe and for the one who tried to sneak into the opposite sex’s change rooms.

It’s a true logistical nightmare!

Any business worth its salt would look at the ROI on the one-hour swimming lesson provided against the time actually required to facilitate that hour and chuck the whole idea in the bin.  It just isn’t worth sacrificing all that valuable learning time for an hour splashing around in tepid pool of chorine so strong that days of whinging about red eyes are almost inevitable.

The third reason that we shouldn’t teach swimming in schools is that it’s the wrong place anyway.  According to research completed by Royal Life Saving, we run at around 1.8% of drownings being of children aged 5-9 years, 2.1% being 10-14 years and 1% being 15-17 years.  School aged kids are statistically already our very best swimmers.

If we really wanted to reduce drownings rather than win votes, we’d zero in on parents of children 0-4 years (7.5% of drownings), 25-34 year olds (18.6% of drownings), the elderly (20.7% of those who drown are over 65).  Perhaps we could explore why males (83% of drownings) clearly have some major issues assessing risk near water.

When all is said and done, the teaching of swimming is a parent and carer responsibility.  Making it the responsibility of the school is both lazy and ineffective.

The more we outsource basic parental tasks like swimming, manners, sex ed, financial management and other such life skills to schools, the more we dilute what they damn well should be responsible for.

Let’s keep this in mind the next time we’re tempted to trot out glib political slogans that sound good but don’t achieve much.

One that you should keep an eye out for is “Education is the answer”.  It isn’t always true.

Restorative Classrooms, Strong Classroom – BRISBANE, QLD

Register immediately for “Restorative Classrooms, Strong Classrooms” in Brisbane by CLICKING HERE immediately. 


Countless schools are currently contemplating Restorative Practices as a way forward for school culture, behaviour improvement, community connection and relational focus.  But they know too that, like blue cheese, it can be an acquired taste.  

Before your school steps deeply into the truly transformational potentials of working restoratively, would you just like a taste?  Well, that’s what this day is all about.  

Send a School Leader so that you can make a truly informed strategic decision.

Send a couple of Teachers so they can report back on both the philosophy and the practical nitty-gritty of what it means to work restoratively.

Send yourself … just because you deserve an opportunity to be genuinely more effective and less stressed in your work.

Just get somebody from your school to Brisbane on January 25th.

I’ll bring the cheese.

Only a handful of tickets remain.  We’d love to have delegates from your school in attendance.