20 Jan 2015

Call for government funded school pools

8:10 am on 20 January 2015

There's been a fresh call for the government to fund school pools to ensure children are able to swim.

Children learning how to swim

Photo: 123RF

New Zealand First has warned the government there will be a generation of children without basic swimming skills if it doesn't fund school pools.

Education spokesperson Tracey Martin said the government needed to allocate specific funding to schools to provide water safety and survival lessons, something which was once a curriculum priority.

She said at the very least, schools should be allowed to dip into their five-year budget for property upgrades to maintain their pools.

Ms Martin said more than half of the 48 school pools in the Wellington region alone have closed in the past two decades.

"It's an epidemic at the moment," she said.

Schools have blamed the lack of being able to keep a swimming pool on funding pressure and strict water treatment standards.

New Zealand Principals' Federation president Denise Torrey said the situation wasn't as easy as simply putting pools back in schools.

"Not only do we need heated swimming pools, but our teachers would need training and on-going professional development.

"Just having the swimming pool will not improve the swimming rates in this country," she said.

Christchurch's Paparoa Street School principal Phil Harding said the school once had its own pool, before the stricter regulations.

"Water was to be tested by a qualified person, three times daily and at the weekend, and schools could not afford to do this.

"So millions of dollars of pools had to be scrapped," he said.

Water Safety New Zealand said access to water was paramount for children if they were to leave school with proper water survival skills.

Chief Executive Matt Claridge said the alternative was expensive private swimming lessons or subsidised school programmes.

"About 150,000 children do the Sealord Swim For Life programme each year, but that's not everyone in primary schools and a pool in every school would be a really good thing," he said.

The Principals' Federation said getting new pools in schools would have an obvious long-term effect on annual drowning figures.

Last year, a dozen children under the age of 15 drowned.