§ Miss Kate Hoey (Vauxhall)
I welcome the opportunity for a slightly longer debate than I had perhaps expected. Wednesday mornings are useful in that they provide time for the House to consider issues which do not necessarily hit the headlines but which are important to millions of people.
The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice), is probably wondering what he is doing here. I could not see swimming mentioned anywhere in his job specification. That suggests that there is a problem with responsibility for the matter. I would have liked to debate swimming generally, but there was a problem with finding the appropriate Minister. I decided that I wanted to deal mainly with swimming in schools and the attitude of local authorities to the subject, and the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment has been chosen to reply.
I would have liked the Minister with responsibility for sport to be here, but he might not have been able to answer the debate because the Department for Education and Employment is responsible. The situation is unclear, and the departmental cross-responsibility shows the need for co-ordination and strategy. Nevertheless, I welcome the presence of the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment. In all my dealings with him, he has been generous with his time and prepared to listen to arguments.
I wish to start by dwelling on the importance of swimming. The ability to swim combines a worthwhile and pleasurable activity with a skill that could one day save a life. Not for nothing is swimming sometimes referred to as a life skill. It is also medically advantageous to general physical and mental health and it has special benefits for people with disabilities. It is a very fine way to establish mobility and a feeling of balance and control.
The difference between swimming and other sports is that, as well as being a superb recreational activity, the ability to swim is a critical factor in reducing the risk of accidental death by drowning. Research among all age groups has shown that the risk of drowning is more significant for non-swimmers and in the 10 to 24-year-old age group non-swimmers were three and a half times more at risk than swimmers. That may seem a somewhat obvious point, but it is worth making.
The debate is timely, as it follows the successful Olympic swimming trials at the Ponds Forge international pool in Sheffield last weekend. I congratulate the Amateur Swimming Association and its chief executive David Sparks on the organisation of the event. The trials involved choosing not only the teams for the summer games in Atlanta but the those for the Paralympics that will follow. This was a first in British sport in that both able-bodied and disabled athletes were selected at the same event.
Most of the 28 members of the British team for the summer Olympics are young—the youngest, a 16-year-old, is still at school. Our team is in the top 16 in the world, and I am sure that we all wish them every success.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)
My question may be slightly apart from the main thrust of the debate, but does 966 the hon. Lady agree that we should send a message to the Amateur Swimming Association and to those who help fund the British Olympic team that getting the coaches of some of our major swimmers to join the coaching team would be of great advantage? It seems odd that coaches who help swimmers to get chosen for the team and to have a chance of winning a medal are denied the opportunity to accompany those swimmers.
§ Miss Hoey
The hon. Member raises an important point. Anyone involved in competitive sport realises the importance of a coach to an individual athlete. The relationship of an athlete or swimmer in the team representing their country with their coach is crucial, and I will pass on the hon. Gentleman's comment to the ASA.
The members of the Olympic team are the stars of today, but my research suggests that there is widespread concern about what is happening in schools and about how schools are teaching and providing opportunities to swim. In the 1980s, despite the undoubted link between swimming ability and safety, many schools and education authorities had no requirement at all for schools to provide swimming lessons. Although many authorities did bear the costs of pool hire, transport and the provision of instructors, and although many schools raised enormous amounts of funding for themselves, until recently there was no legal compulsion for swimming teaching to he provided by schools.
The three national governing bodies for swimming—the Royal Life Saving Society, the Amateur Swimming Association and the English Schools Swimming Association—became so alarmed at the trend that they formed the Swim for Life campaign, with the aim of securing the teaching of swimming by all schools. In 1988 the campaign surveyed local authorities and schools and found that more than half had no clear policy on the teaching of swimming and that more than 80 per cent. of local authorities could not meet the three basic standards for the provision of swimming lessons: the meeting of charges for the children, the setting of a minimum swimming standard and the specification of the minimum number of lessons to be provided.
A more recent survey by the Secondary Heads Association in the late 1980s confirmed that trend and showed that there had been a further reduction in the provision of swimming lessons. The survey showed that fewer than half the 11 to 15-year-olds had any curricular swimming whatsoever. The Swim for Life campaign lobbied for a swimming requirement to be included in the physical education section of the national curriculum and in 1991 it was successful. Here I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton), who promoted a private Member's Bill—of which I was a sponsor—to raise the awareness of the need for children to learn swimming at school.
In response to a report by the national curriculum physical education working party, the then Secretary of State for Education—now Chancellor of the Exchequer—said:I note the group's firm recommendation on swimming. This … would have serious practical implications for many schools. I shall need to consider them in the light of what you and those commenting on your report have to say about their feasibility.He added:it is not part of the group's remit to make recommendations on the resources to be provided for PE. I would expect your recommendations to be realistically related to the general level of school funding which can reasonably be expected to be available.967 At a conference organised by the Swim for Life campaign to discuss the resource implications of the working group recommendations, the then Sports Minister—the right hon. Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins)—said:Our concern has to be with resources, and whether all maintained primary schools would be able to deliver swimming lessons for all pupils.The right hon. Gentleman at least recognised the importance of swimming, but he was unwilling to give a firmer lead on behalf of the Government. I wonder whether the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment who is to reply to today's debate is demonstrating his ambition to succeed his hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Sproat) and become the latest in a long line of Conservative Sports Ministers.
All schools have been provided with a programme of study for swimming that should be taught during key stage 2—for pupils aged seven to 11. If a school chooses to do so, the programme can be taught during key stage 1—for pupils aged five to seven. The programme holds that children should be taught to develop confidence in the water; to rest in water, float and adopt support positions; to develop a variety of means of propulsion using either arms or legs, or both; to develop effective and efficient swimming strokes on front and back; to swim competently, unaided, at least 25 metres; and to practise and understand the skills of water safety and survival. Those proposals came into effect on 1 August 1994.
A tremendous amount of good work is going on in the teaching of swimming in the United Kingdom and we must recognise that fact. A great number of teachers and various organisations are working on improving and disseminating best practice. The Physical Education Association of Great Britain and Northern Ireland produced an in-service manual for teaching physical education, including swimming, at key stages 1 and 2 and is soon to launch a national postgraduate training programme for primary teachers who want to become curriculum specialists, in association with a network of university training providers throughout the United Kingdom. I congratulate Peter Harrison and his colleagues at the PEA on the work that they do.
The Amateur Swimming Association rightly regards education as a vital part of the job of the national governing body for swimming and invests heavily to ensure that there is an education programme for pupils, teachers and coaches. It will be doing a lot more. It has already provided some training for 17,500 swimming teachers and coaches in 1993–94, it issues 1.5 million incentive awards per year and it became the first national governing body to introduce national vocational qualifications into teaching and coaching. Good work is going on, but without a central commitment from the Government, it will not stretch to every school in the land.
The regional sports councils for greater London and the south-east region have adopted swimming as what they call a focus sport and will be devoting officers and resources to developing the sport in the next three years. The London regional sports council points out, however, that provision for children with disabilities is patchy and in many cases tuition is not being delivered by appropriately qualified teachers. Where children with disabilities are integrated into mainstream education, problems are often exacerbated by the fact that teachers are unaware of and unqualified to deal with the needs of 968 such children. I shall be interested to hear the Minister's comments on the situation in relation to young children with disabilities and how he feels that that aspect of swimming is working throughout the country.
The National Union of Teachers and other teachers' unions have taken a great interest in swimming. Doug McAvoy, the general secretary of the NUT, commented:There is a much heavier burden of responsibility on teachers who undertake to teach swimming or act as a lifeguard".Obviously, the responsibilities placed on teachers when young children take part in any activity involving risk are greater. Unfortunately, we have seen the demise of county and local authority advisers; swimming and physical education advisers of that sort no longer exist. Greater responsibility has therefore been placed on professional associations such as the PEA to provide the training.
There seems to be a tremendous variation between how much different local education authorities and schools spend on swimming. For the year 1992–93, approximately half the LEAs in England and Wales delegated swimming budgets to schools. According to the NUT, of those LEAs which retained swimming budgets centrally, to ensure that provision was made for school swimming, the amount varied between 26p and £17.20 per pupil. That is a very big difference and I should like the Minister to comment on the variation in the cost of swimming in different parts of the country. Does he really feel that 26p is adequate? Perhaps he does. Will he also comment on the huge disparity in provision?
The pattern is for new swimming pools to be designed as leisure pools, which seek to mimic the seaside with wave machines and water slides—fun activities and all very commendable—but according to the Sports Council only 28 pools in London meet the recommended dimensions for a learner pool. In addition, there are apparently 66 indoor pools which are adequate even if they are not quite the right length or width. Although young children enjoy leisure pools, it is difficult to learn to swim in one.
The Institute of Swimming Teachers and Coaches—another commendable organisation—has produced a good and thorough statistical report on swimming provision in schools. I commend it to the Minister and to colleagues—I presume that the Minister will have seen it. The work done by Colin Lee, the consultant, shows that, despite the inclusion of swimming in the national curriculum, less than half the infant, junior, primary, first and middle schools that he surveyed provided swimming weekly throughout the year for any given age range. Only one in 20 of the schools provided weekly swimming for pupils over more than four years at school.
The Amateur Swimming Association tells me that a school swimming pool in Dudley, which was recently refurbished, is not being used as the school has no funds to run the heating system. The ASA says that there are similar problems throughout the country and it is hearing more and more reports of local authorities making substantial cuts—there have been cuts in swimming in Cambridgeshire, restrictions in Derbyshire, constraints in Hertfordshire and two schools in Warrington have abandoned swimming completely. I ask the Minister whether anyone really knows how varied swimming provision is throughout the country. Whose job is it to monitor that?
The survey of 741 schools by the Institute of Swimming Teachers and Coaches showed that in 84 per cent. of cases children had to travel so far to a pool 969 that some form of coach transport was necessary. Public transport was not always possible. The increasing cost of coach travel, set against ever-increasing demands on the delegated school budget under local management of schools, is having an obvious effect. When new regulations on coach travel and seat belts come into effect this year, schools which were able to fill up a coach by transporting three very young children on two full-sized adult seats may find that they need a second coach, doubling the cost and forcing the school to reconsider the position.
While I welcome a campaign for additional safety measures in the transport of young people—there was a particularly horrific accident involving a cadet troop from my constituency several years ago—I regret that the additional costs of the safety measures may ultimately cost lives because fewer children will learn to swim. I do not want to be alarmist, but I mention that fact to see whether the Minister has thought of it and whether there is any suggestion that local authorities and schools may be able to recoup some of the extra costs that they may have to bear to transport children to go swimming because of the safety measures.
The survey also found that in 63 per cent. of cases parents were asked to contribute to the cost of coach hire for swimming lessons. That does not happen in other countries, where it is taken as a right that, if a school provides for children to go swimming, the parents do not have to pay. A further 59 per cent. of parents covered by the survey were asked to pay in part for the swimming instruction. That is all very well in some areas of the country and, indeed, in some schools—many parents will do their utmost to ensure that their child has the opportunity to participate in many non-curricular activities—but it is wrong if parents are being asked to contribute to paying for something that is part of the national curriculum and is meant to be happening in schools, particularly primary schools.
It is worth briefly comparing our commitment with the action of other countries. In France, a comprehensive swimming instruction programme has been matched with a drive ever since the 1960s to build hundreds of extra 25 m pools and provide excellent teacher's guides. In Germany, every school leaver will have received three years of swimming teaching at no cost to the family. In Holland, I understand that swimming lessons are offered across the board in school time for children aged seven and over with nationally-applied qualifications for swimming teachers and a standard test of swimming ability for children. In London, there are 47,000 people per swimming pool against 18,000 in Berlin and 15,000 in Paris.
The survey's most disappointing result was that only one in five teachers or parents teaching swimming in schools had swimming teaching qualifications. How can that be allowed? How can we claim to take the teaching of swimming in schools seriously if the Government have no central plan to tackle the swimming teacher shortage? It is not enough to have people, however enthusiastic, teaching swimming classes, even if they are lifeguard trained, if they do not now know how to teach swimming and promote stroke stamina.
970 When I trained as a physical education teacher, physical education was an arduous three-year course and swimming was a very important part of it. I know how much stamina and strength are needed to qualify as a swimming teacher. The matter has not been treated seriously enough by local authority education departments or by some schools.
Another side effect of the resource implications of Government restrictions has been that some local authorities have been forced to put their leisure centres out to contract. That is not necessarily always a bad thing, but as the balance sheet mentality takes over, more leisure centres feel the pressure to charge more to schools for lessons and to consider different sorts of clientele who can pay more for the use of the facilities. That is affecting schools and the school use of swimming pools.
In my constituency, Steve White, a very good head of physical education at Charles Edward Brooke school, has been telling me how difficult it is to hire swimming pools even if schools have the money. There is far less opportunity to hire time in a swimming pool when it is free of other users. Children are taken to swimming pools that the public are using. That can make the proper teaching of swimming difficult.
If the Minister is serious about ensuring that proper attention is paid to swimming in schools, we need more information. Perhaps he will agree to commission the Institute of Swimming Teachers and Coaches to carry out a nationwide study to give us the national picture.
I am a long-time supporter of the national lottery, which has had some positive effects. To date, it has offered funding to 43 swimming applications, almost exclusively for new pool developments, out of a total of 1,027 grants across all sports. Swimming has received £42 million, which is 23 per cent. of the £179 million paid in lottery awards by the Sports Council. The average award is £970,000 per pool because of the high capital cost.
Of the 43 successful swimming applications, only five involve school pools. That is a problem because the more schools that have their own pools, even if they are small, the more travelling costs are cut and the easier it is for schools to have swimming as a genuine part of their curriculums. I know that the Secretary of State for National Heritage is considering the problem that applications for lottery funding must have a certain amount of other money. The small number of school-related grants is partly because there have not been many applications from schools because of the various difficulties and restrictions on application. I hope that the Minister will consider that and have a word with the Secretary of State.
I have a good new idea that would change the face of swimming in London. Hon. Members may have seen in the Evening Standard a couple of weeks ago the announcement of plans to build a lido swimming pool floating on the Thames near the House of Commons on the opposite side of the river. It would be beside Gabriel's wharf in the Waterloo area. It would be called the Thames Lido and is being promoted by the excellent Coin Street Community Builders in my constituency and has been designed by Lifschutz Davidson. It proposes not only to tackle the lack of swimming provision in the north of my constituency and the London borough of Southwark but to consider ways of making swimming imaginative and 971 interesting. It may have a roof that could move back and forth so that people can swim throughout the winter. People would have the feeling that they were swimming in the river as they would be in the river, but not in river water—not many people would want to swim in the Thames.
I hope that the proposal will succeed. National lottery funding will be crucial, but we are clear that if it is to happen there will have to be an arrangement whereby local schools and communities will have the opportunity to use the pool to learn to swim and to have their classes. There is a dearth of swimming pools in the borough of Lambeth and across the northern part of south London.
I have mentioned the English Schools Swimming Association, but there is another good organisation that works in London—the London Schools Swimming Association. Brenda Sullivan is its long-time secretary and it recently held an anniversary celebration that the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) and I attended. I give his apologies as he is serving on the Noise Bill Committee this morning. I am supposed to be in that Committee, too, but he has stayed there as he is promoting the Bill. I know of his interest in swimming.
The London Schools Swimming Association does an enormous amount to maintain swimming galas and competitions, despite all the difficulties. It, too, has called attention to the shortage of pools, the insufficient training of teachers and volunteers and the growing costs of transport. On the restriction to key stage 2 of a definite requirement for swimming in the national curriculum, Brenda Sullivan comments:It appears that many secondary school children do not have swimming lessons unless they have a school pool.We know how few schools in the maintained sector have swimming pools. It is interesting that few of the fee-paying schools for which parents pay a lot of money do not offer swimming pools—usually indoors, which is even better. The independent sector, where people are prepared to pay lots of money, regards swimming as important. It is the Government's responsibility to ensure that as many schools as possible have ready access to swimming pools.
Brenda Sullivan stresses that more has to be done to encourage school competitions, which used to be more regular. When schools compete together in a friendly way, they learn the benefits of competition. They learn how to lose and win properly. I am afraid that such competitions no longer happen in the way that they used to. There may be many reasons for that, but crucially, schools do not have the opportunity, within the tight restrictions of curriculum and costs, to stage activities that are not clearly related to the curriculum but that give the benefits of swimming to children in a fun way.
The London Schools Swimming Association is concerned that children are simply struggling through their 25 metres. If children cannot swim with confidence and with stamina, the lessons must continue. Does the Minister realise that in many cases, once children can swim 25 metres with difficulty, that is their last opportunity to take swimming lessons? Primary schools are relieved to have fulfilled that part of the national curriculum and, because of other restrictions, they stop providing swimming lessons. Therefore, many children do not have the opportunity to swim throughout their primary schooling.
972 There is more involved than simply the ability to swim—although that is important. Stamina and confidence while in the water are not achieved by attending the two or three lessons that will get children through their 25 metres. Roger Millward of the Swimming Teachers Association tells methe general feedback from our members is that due to strict budgets swimming is severely curtailed and either not enough time has been allocated to this sport within the academic year which makes it difficult to provide a continuous, progressive teaching system, or alternatively the absolute minimum is achieved and then the lessons stop.Primary schools in my constituency take varying approaches to swimming. Sometimes it is only the children in their final year who receive swimming lessons and sometimes it is the top two classes. Some schools are committed to teaching swimming, despite all the difficulties, and all the children in those schools swim every week.
Walnut Tree Walk primary school in my area is absolutely convinced of the importance of swimming—not just for safety reasons, but in view of the health aspects and the comradeship associated with a worthwhile activity that everyone enjoys—and it ensures that every child at the school takes swimming lessons every week. That imposes a massive burden on the school in terms of transport costs and time. All the children are transported by coach to the pool in Clapham, they spend only a short time in the pool and then have to travel back to the school. The activity also takes a number of teachers away from the school.
I believe that swimming is a valuable activity and that all schools should receive assistance to allow every child—like those at Walnut Tree Walk—to take swimming lessons. At present, it is pot luck whether primary schools in my constituency and across the country are able to provide such opportunities.
A number of problems need urgent attention. Does the Minister accept that, in view of the obviously sketchy provision of swimming teaching across the country, someone should take a definite lead? I am not quite sure which Government Department will take the lead, as the activity crosses the boundaries of responsibility for schools, local authorities and sport generally. How can schools do their job and take their responsibilities seriously if the national curriculum, and the Government's checking and monitoring of it, fail to ensure that teachers are adequately prepared? That is crucial to organising the proper teaching of swimming in our schools.
The Physical Education Association, which seeks to maintain standards in physical education teaching, has said that a postgraduate student undertaking the general postgraduate certificate course can spend as little as 12 hours per year on the whole subject of physical education, of which swimming is just a part. The PEA recommends that all generalist primary teachers should devote a minimum of 60 hours initial teacher training to physical education. In my view that is not enough, but I am perhaps slightly biased in that regard. We must also provide career-long training for teachers by significantly increasing the funding for in-service teacher training. It is no wonder that there are reports of teachers who cannot swim conducting swimming lessons.
Swimming is one of the main recreational activities in the United Kingdom. It is ranked second in the top 10 sports for men and women, according to the 1990 general 973 household survey. The increase in adult swimming has shifted the balance in pool use. Whereas children once outnumbered adults at swimming pools by three to one, the figure has now reached parity as more adults and fewer children swim. The sex ratio has also changed: indeed, it has been reversed: there are now three women swimming for every two men.
Throughout the country, there is a piecemeal and arbitrary approach to swimming training. There is no national strategy. No Government Department is taking responsibility or showing leadership. The practices of local authorities and schools differ widely, and it is important to know exactly what is going on. I do not think that we have that knowledge at present. Apart from the surveys which have been crucial in raising certain issues, much of the evidence is anecdotal. Does the Minister agree that there should be an annual statement to Parliament about the status of swimming in our schools? Swimming is part of the national curriculum, but it requires different resources which are not provided in the classroom. Will the Minister comment on that?
I urge the Government to do more to encourage all schools to provide swimming lessons. They should not try to get away with doing as little as possible, but should ensure that swimming is an important part of the teaching curriculum. It is a life-saving activity which brings enjoyment and is good for the country generally. If the Minister cannot comment on particular points that I have raised this morning, I ask him to refer them to whoever has the relevant responsibility within his Department.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)
The House is indebted to the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Miss Hoey) for introducing the debate and for paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton), who has also been involved in Swim for Life. The hon. Member for Vauxhall referred to the benefits of research and the importance of enthusiasm. She made the sensible suggestion that we should debate the matter again in a year to see whether the situation had improved.
There are one or two ways to monitor progress. First, we should examine the number of applications for new swimming pools, not just from the independent sector—where, as the hon. Lady said, swimming is considered to be important—but from private leisure companies, which make their facilities available to schools, and for lottery funding. It is clear that one of the tasks of the millennium fund should be to ensure that, within three or four years, all children can expect to have access to a swimming pool that is located a convenient distance from their school. That will not necessarily apply to the children on Rathlin island, but at least their families will introduce them to swimming. In every conurbation—whether it is a large village, small town, London borough or municipal district—people should say, "We deserve to have, and we shall work to make, a swimming pool available to us—preferably within walking distance."
In addition to the points raised by the hon. Lady. there is the question of providing worthwhile activities for young people. More adults are swimming today because they learned to swim while they were young. Imagine what it must be like for 10-year-olds or 12-year-olds who 974 live in an inner-city or suburban area. What are their worthwhile activities after school, at weekends or during the holidays?
I know that hon. Members too often fall into reminiscences, but swimming was almost the only thing that I was any good at when I was that age. I used to walk around the corner to the swimming pool in Chelsea Manor street. When our children were young, they were fortunate to attend a primary school whose headmaster, Mr. Mudge, was very keen on swimming and where every child learned to swim as a matter of course.
The hon. Member for Vauxhall paid tribute to the London Schools Swimming Association. Inter-school swimming galas, which involved primary schools in the local area, meant that there was an expectation that people would not just learn to swim but would participate in competitions and lose—as in politics—and their parents would be involved with after-school swimming in addition to, rather than in substitution for, what happened during the school day. The primary school had a small and overcrowded playground, and swimming was the one way the children could participate in an activity, have fun and do well.
When I lived in the hon. Lady's constituency, I used the swimming pools at Stockwell Manor and at Clapham Manor on the weekends, but they were not sufficient, and Elephant and Castle was quite a journey—it was necessary to go by bus or by' train. Young people deserve to have a way of letting off steam, at a cost they can afford and within a distance that it is safe for them to travel. They are the challenges. In a year's time, I would like the Minister who responds then to say how it will move forward.
In my view, it is not only the responsibility of central Government to make it all happen; parents and teachers associations, and residents and tenants groups should put it on their agendas as well. People should be saying with pride, in public, what they have managed to achieve or what they take for granted for themselves. There is an old Malaysian poem—which I can now only remember in English—which goes like this:The turtle lays a thousand eggsand no one is the wiser;The hen lays a single onebut is a worldwide advertiser.If people can he as proud of their development of swimming as they are of their local theatre or their local sports stadium, swimming will get the prominence that it deserves, which will lead to progress. Obviously, the pinnacle of swimming is the Olympic games. I was glad to hear the hon. Lady refer to the selection for the Paralympics as well as for the able-bodied Olympics.
Swimming is an activity where, in effect, people become equal—the water has the same effect on bodies whether they are fully able or disabled, whether they are elderly, young or somewhere in between. Swimming is not like a game of squash—if one is slightly better than someone else, one does not have a game and one does not have much fun. Everyone can share in swimming and it is not always competitive or for toning up one's body; it provides a whole range of activities, from the incidental to the purposeful.
The hon. Lady will agree that swimming is the key to other sports. For example, people cannot go canoeing, rowing or sailing without being able to swim. Swimming 975 is the key in the growth of water-based sports. One need only go to the Westminster boating base at Plimlico, opposite Dolphin square, to see how young people in an inner-city area get the benefit of the leadership of Robin Turner and his team and get involved in activities that develop confidence and competence and are likely to be the key to other worthwhile activities.
Our problem in this country is not about the people who fail in any way—they may get into trouble once or twice with the law or they may fail an examination; those things are fairly normal. Our problem is about people who never experience success—they do not start to accumulate the badges saying that they have gone from the bronze, to the silver, to the gold, from this standard to the next standard in life saving or in swimming. People who are involved in the organised chaos of youth activities—such as the woodcraft folk, the scouts, the brownies, the boys' brigade, et cetera—take it for granted that they will start to accumulate recognition for short-term achievements that become cumulative.
Virtually all hon. Members participated in worthwhile activities when they were young and they thought it was normal to do things, whether they were paid for it or not, that lead to association with others and to the feeling that they could contribute more.
I join the hon. Lady in paying tribute to all the teachers who take the swimming instructors' qualifications. She is right in saying that the swimming instructors organisation should have some public funding and should conduct a survey to find out what is being achieved, what proportion of schools have the required number of teachers with the qualifications and what could be done—not just in teacher training courses but in various ways—to encourage people to develop themselves and achieve the extra qualifications. Perhaps teachers should receive extra financial recognition if they go beyond the normal school day in providing leadership and training to young people.
A number of hon. Members wish to contribute to the debate—I am glad to see that there is able representation on both Front Benches. There is much to be said about other pastimes and other sports, but swimming provides an easy opportunity for people to do something—whether organised, with friends or alone—that is healthy, gregarious and stops them from becoming couch potatoes. There is a lot to be said about video games and skills with interactive media, but it ought to be combined with swimming—which many hon. Members have taken up, whether it be at 4 Millbank or elsewhere.
I conclude by making a positive suggestion to people around the country: they should invite their Member of Parliament and their councillors to come to their primary school and spend half a day going out with a swimming class or hearing why swimming is not possible in that school. Once Members of Parliament are exposed to that—perhaps once a year—the level of support in the House will drive forward and others will be able to share in what many of us have enjoyed, which is what the Government and the sports authorities want to achieve.
I fear that we will not have a parliamentary swimming championship this year—I do not think I have won it for the last 10 years, but I have been in training. If hon. Members want to find a way to put it on, I challenge any Member of this House or the House of Lords and I shall see whether I can get back to the pinnacle of success that I experienced when I was young.
§ Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South)
My contribution to the debate will have to be brief as I am serving on a Committee upstairs—I ran down to the Chamber when I saw the debate on the monitor. This is an important subject. I declare an interest—following on from the interesting contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley)—in that I am one of those people who started off with the bronze swimming award when I was about nine, and I then got the silver and the gold; I became an instructor for the Amateur Swimming Association; and I became an instructor and then an examiner for the Royal Life Saving Society.
Swimming is an important part of my life now and it always has been. At one time, I swam at county level—sadly, not for Yorkshire where I now live, but for what was part of the Greater London council. The boys with whom I swam throughout my childhood enjoyed the activity. I then went on to work for the Thames rescue service in the school holidays. I have also worked as a lifeguard in the borough of Stockton-on-Tees at Thornaby swimming pool, which is in my constituency, and at Stockton swimming pool, which is just outside my constituency boundary. They are both good facilities for swimming—and they have recently been refurbished.
Many hon. Members campaigned for swimming to be part of the national curriculum. We recognise just how important it is that every child learns to swim, not just from the point of view of personal safety—although that is critical—but from the point of view of giving young people the ability to express themselves in another way, to develop their bodies and their physiques, and to enjoy themselves. I have always found swimming to be a tremendously enjoyable experience. I still enjoy swimming and I very much enjoy taking my young nephews and nieces swimming and teaching them to do it properly, which their parents have not done—I hope that they do not read Hansard.
It is important that children learn to swim properly. The school competitions, which were mentioned earlier, are important in developing swimming as a sport. Like everyone else in the country, I enjoy it when our athletes come back from the Olympic games with a handful of gold, silver and bronze medals—and I hope that in due course they come back from the Olympic games with some swimming medals.
Given that swimming is in the national curriculum, it is critical that we ensure—and we have a national strategy to ensure—that it is properly taught in schools and that every child has access to a proper swimming pool.
The hon. Member for Vauxhall (Miss Hoey) made a forceful and persuasive speech, much of which I agreed with whole-heartedly. The Government should introduce a proper strategy for the provision of swimming pools across the country so that they are within easy reach of all our schools. The Government should use more of the national lottery funds which have become available for that project. At the moment, we divide national lottery money into chunks for national heritage, the millennium, and so on, and then offer it around to various organisations. Unfortunately, because the amount raised from the national lottery has grossly exceeded our expectations, there is a significant problem throughout the country of matching funding.
977 In my constituency, we are requesting a national lottery grant to build a swimming pool at Yarm and we are having the devil's own job to assemble the money from other sources to meet the matching funding requirement. That is not just a problem for swimming pools and sports facilities; it is a problem everywhere. Another isolated example—as some London Members of Parliament are aware—is that of Sadler's Wells. The large redevelopment of the Sadler's Wells theatre in Islington will not happen unless it is able to raise some £19 million privately. The Royal Opera house has the same problem, as do all the other arts and sports facilities. They are now beating a path to the doors of the major corporate donors—the large oil companies, insurance companies, chemical companies and the banks. The same people are always being asked to hand out money on a private basis to swimming pools, theatres, playhouses, activity and outdoor centres and the whole run of worthwhile facilities that could be funded by the national lottery except that we insist that 50 per cent. of the funds have to come from the local community.
In the northern region, we have had applications for millennium funds for all sorts of daft schemes. Last week, I was sent something called "Bridging the Millennium". Some genius had come up with the idea of building a footbridge over every river in the northern region and calling it a millennium bridge, to soak up some millennium money. That would be paid for by 50 per cent. from the lottery and 50 per cent. from local authorities, which already have great problems with their spending requirements. The suggestion is ludicrous. If we have the sort of money that means that people have to think up daft schemes to soak it up, perhaps we should return to the originating legislation and reconsider.
Perhaps we should have a strategy for the whole country to have a swimming pool within a certain distance of so many people in the local population. That project could be funded by, say, 75 or 80 per cent. from national lottery funds. We could also consider endowing those facilities for the long term. It is no good giving a large dollop of capital to a local authority to build a swimming pool and then not giving it the money to run the facility. In Stockton-on-Tees now, we have a newly refurbished swimming pool at Thornaby in my constituency and we have recently switched over to the unitary authority of Stockton borough council, which is trying to find ways to reduce expenditure. It has turned immediately to leisure facilities as something that it is not statutorily forced to deliver; therefore, it has discussed the possibility of closing our newly refurbished swimming pool. That is absolutely crazy.
If we are serious about delivering swimming to every part of the population, especially our young people—I hope that we are serious—we will have to rethink. I have to tell my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment that the system is not working well at the moment.
I fully endorse what the hon. Member for Vauxhall said about the need for school pools. School pools can often be advantageously shared with the local community. Just outside my constituency, a school in Stokesley has a large pool which is shared with the local community as a community centre for leisure and recreation. It is available out of school hours to the local population and is 978 extremely popular. I do not see why such a facility cannot he put in place in more communities in the north of England and in the country generally.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
If I had known of my hon. Friend's qualifications, I would have delayed my speech because he has more expertise than I have on this subject. He has referred to Yarm and Stokesley. What are their populations? I suspect that many of us who represent inner-city areas would dream of having two or three swimming pools in our constituencies, let alone in good-sized towns. Does my hon. Friend also accept that it might make sense for lottery funding to be available for a pool partly funded by a commercial partnership if a good proportion of the pool's availability were dedicated to schools and other community groups?
§ Mr. Devlin
The population of the borough of Stockton is about 175,000. It has three swimming pools—at Billingham, Stockton and Thornaby. The population of Yarm is about 12,000 and it is a large and affluent community. It also has a large rural hinterland which it serves as a market town. It used to be the northernmost market town of north Yorkshire. In a survey that we conducted recently in my constituency, one message came back loud and clear about leisure facilities—if we were to build anything for the population, they wanted more swimming pools.
I am aware of the problems of swimming in urban areas such as Eltham and Vauxhall. I went to prep school in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham and we swam at the Ladywell baths in Lewisham. I do not know if that facility still exists, but we certainly enjoyed it at the time.
We must have a strategy. As the hon. Member for Vauxhall said, we should have a formula so that everyone has a swimming pool somewhere in the vicinity. People should not have to travel large distances just to go swimming. There are private examples of just how popular an initiative that would be. I do not know if it is the same in London, but in the north of England many new leisure clubs—privately funded and developed—have sprung up. They include swimming pools, saunas, gymnasiums and jacuzzis, and people pay a subscription to use the facilities. Those clubs are usually quite expensive, but they are heavily patronised and many have waiting lists. If that is what people will use when they can afford it, we can be absolutely sure that they would use it if they could not afford it.
We should be providing such facilities on a publicly funded basis. That would be something useful we could do with lottery money instead of looking around for schemes that people do not want. There is no demand in Teesside for either of the millennium bids that have been put forward by the borough council and the Teesside development corporation. We must identify what people want and try to provide that, rather than think up some whizzo scheme and tell people that that is what they want.
In Teesside, we have recently developed an excellent new canoeing course in the centre of Stockton and Middlesbrough. It is the biggest white-water canoeing course in the country and is rapidly becoming the national centre for canoeing and white-water rafting. It is an entirely artificial construction and it is a wonderful facility, but it is amazing that many of the people who 979 could use it, including teenagers, are not equipped with the swimming skills that would enable them to rescue themselves from a difficult situation. We must try to put the horse in front of the cart, and not the other way around, when we consider this subject.
§ Mr. Tom Pendry (Stalybridge and Hyde)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Miss Hoey) on winning the ballot and raising this important subject—a topic in which she and many other hon. Members take a great interest. Those who have spoken since she made her speech will agree that she talked a great deal of common sense and asked the Minister some informed questions. I hope that he will respond to them and to the points made in the excellent speeches by the hon. Members for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) and for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin)—particularly the latter's point about matching lottery funding. I hope that the Minister will be sympathetic. [Interruption.] We fully understand why the hon. Member for Stockton, South must now return to his duties upstairs; I just wanted to let him know that his speech was appreciated.
It will not require much effort to convince hon. Members who are present of the value to health of swimming. In my book it is of greater importance to physical development than almost any other sport. It exercises the whole body and is virtually free of the risks of injury. The hon. Member for Eltham eloquently stressed that point.
One of our greatest international swimmers, Sharron Davies, drew attention to the importance of swimming when she said:Swimming is one of the best sports for promoting all-round fitness, suppleness and endurance. So if you are going to start with developing some sports then maybe swimming is one that you should always put in the forefront.Those were wise words. It is only a pity that the Government have not been as keen in this respect as Sharron Davies or the hon. Member for Eltham.
Many hon. Members will remember only too well the last time this issue was seriously addressed in this place. That was in 1991, when the House was considering the position of swimming in the national curriculum. For hon. Members who were not here at the time, I shall briefly outline the events that led to its statutory inclusion in the curriculum for children up to the age of 11. At the beginning of 1991 the interim report of the national curriculum working group on physical education recommended that all 11-year-olds should be able to swim 25 m and have a sound knowledge of basic water safety skills. The report concluded:Swimming was too important to leave to chance and should be an entitlement for all young people under the national curriculum.The group reached this decision after some startling research by the Swim for Life campaign. It showed that, in the preceding three years, 200 children under the age of 15 had drowned; 80 per cent. of them could not swim. At the time, it was estimated that, with proper targeting of existing facilities and resources, it would cost the Government a paltry £5 million to teach all 10-year-olds to swim. Surely that was a small price to pay when counted against hundreds of schoolchildren's lives.
The Government, however, were not convinced. So there began a long campaign by hon. Members of all parties—this is truly an all-party issue, as the debate has 980 shown—and a number of us tabled questions and motions. We introduced ten-minute Bills; we took delegations to see Ministers. Finally, the Government agreed to our minimum demands, but they also stipulated that there was no point in placing a requirement on schools which they could not meet because of financial shortcomings.
The Government appeared to accept the need for more funding when the then sports Minister, the right hon. Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins), said:We simply cannot impose a duty on schools which they are unable to deliver.Unfortunately, this is another promise on which the Government have reneged. We are left with the classic Catch-22 paradox: schools are required by law to teach swimming to a certain standard but are prevented from doing so by a lack of central funding.
The most comprehensive research carried out since then is damning in its criticism of the state of swimming in schools. In 1994, the Institute of Swimming Teachers and Coaches published a survey of swimming in 741 primary schools. The survey found that the average time primary school children spent in the water was less than 27 minutes a week. In addition, the report found that, in almost 40 per cent. of schools, parents paid all the costs of swimming—pool hire, entrance fees, instructors' fees and so on—and that only 20 per cent. of instructors possessed a recognised swimming teaching qualification. That is a scandalous state of affairs.
The report reached four conclusions. First, thetime allocation is gradually being reduced".Secondly,current funding levels are inadequate".Thirdly,a serious lack of suitably qualified personnel are involved in the teaching of swimming".Finally,there is significant over-reliance on parental financing of existing provision".This is a damning indictment of the Government's record on swimming in schools. Learning to swim is, in effect, being privatised. Whereas once this necessary and social activity was provided free in schools by local education authorities, parents now increasingly pay for their children's swimming education out of school hours.
I obtained my one mile certificate at school at the age of 12 or so as part of my general physical education. It is a great shame that, because of the Government's cuts, youngsters nowadays have less opportunity to complete such achievements at school.
The Government say that they are concerned about the state of sport in schools, but where are the references to the vital role of swimming in the school curriculum in their policy statement "Raising the Game"? I could find no mention of it even though I have scoured the document many times. Labour would like more support given to swimming for children of all ages. At the moment, the statutory requirement is only to teach 11-year-olds to swim 25 m. After that, swimming becomes an optional extra. Increasingly, however, schools are treating this as a maximum requirement, so once youngsters have met the target they are under pressure to give up swimming and to concentrate on other, less costly, activities.
981 I recognise that there is now an opportunity to use lottery funds to build and improve swimming facilities. Like the hon. Member for Stockton, South, however, I am concerned that there is no strategic national planning of such facilities. I also echo the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall in this regard. This lack has meant that certain parts of the country are well catered for, while others have no pool for miles on end.
I would also urge the Minister to adopt a more flexible approach to lottery funding. The requirement is that a pool must be used for 40 hours a week by the local community outside school hours. I have often advocated the dual use of school facilities for the wider community, but 40 hours is a tough target to meet. Again, I urge the Minister to be more flexible.
It will come as no surprise to hon. Members to learn that entrances to local authority pools have declined a great deal in recent years. Between 1993 and 1994 they fell by 4 per cent., the equivalent of 7 million visits. I am particularly worried that the ratio of junior to adult attendances has decreased markedly. A few years ago, it stood at about 2.5:1; now it is down to 1:1. I hope that the Minister will pay heed to what my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall said about that.
The contrast with Europe could not be greater. It attaches greater priority to swimming than we do. In France, there has been an ambitious programme to build hundreds of pools. The French currently have 8,400 pools compared with our 1,200. German children leave school after receiving at least three years' swimming tuition, directly funded by the Government. Holland has a nationally applied qualification for swimming teachers and a standard test to enable teachers to assess the ability of their school children.
The programmes run in each of these more enlightened countries are clearly paying dividends in terms of better standards, because they have adopted an integrated approach to swimming provision and national strategies of the sort for which we are calling.
I join my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall and others in congratulating those who did well at Sheffield last week. I also pay tribute to the Amateur Swimming Association for all its work. It is true that there were some good performances at the Olympic trials. What came through most clearly was how far we are falling behind the rest of the world. Take James Hickman, for example. He shattered the British record for 200 m butterfly by more than 1.5 seconds, but that still leaves him ranked about sixth in the world, trailing well behind his other international competitors. In the women's section, increasingly we have to rely on more experienced swimmers to provide the backbone of our possible Olympic team. Just three of the team are under 20. If we are to nurture potential talent, we must invest in better facilities in which our young stars can train.
If the Government were to invest more in swimming in schools, that would pay dividends both now and in the future. Not only would it contribute to saving children's lives—surely that is worth while in itself—but it would improve the health and fitness of a whole generation of our young people. Who knows, it might also go some way towards creating the future Olympic champions that we all desire.
982 I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall for securing us this opportunity to discuss this important issue. I am sure that the Minister will respond positively.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. James Paice)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Miss Hoey) on securing a one-and-a-half-hour debate on what I hope we all agree is an important subject, particularly in sport.
The hon. Lady referred to my presence on the Front Bench and said that it was difficult to know to which Department she should address the debate. She is right, of course, that, overall, sport is a matter for the Department of National Heritage, but as the debate is about swimming in the national curriculum, responsibility fell to my Department. There was another issue, which she rightly identified from studying my responsibilities, in that responsibility for the national curriculum falls to my noble Friend Lord Henley, who, of course, cannot reply to the debate. Hence my presence, but I shall endeavour to respond to the points that she made. I am grateful to her for her kind words, and I take them in the generous spirit of good will in which they were meant.
The Government attach great importance to the role of sports of all kinds in schools and, indeed, in society in general. That is why—the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) referred to this—only last summer my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister launched the sports policy statement, "Raising the Game". In his personal foreword to the statement, he made clear his firm view that one of his personal ambitions isto put sport back at the heart of weekly life in every school.Indeed, he expressed his determination to see our great traditional sports, of which swimming is one, put firmly centre stage. I agree that physical education and sport rightly belong centre stage; but the sports policy statement goes wider than that and emphasises the importance of maximising sporting opportunity for young people in and outside formal education and the development of pathways into structured sporting activity.
All hon. Members who have spoken—from both sides of the House—referred to swimming as a crucial sport, not just within schools but outside. I think that it was the hon. Lady who referred to the amount of time devoted to swimming; the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde certainly referred to it. When my right hon. Friend launched the policy document, he stated—as one would expect, I entirely support this—that he hoped that schools would decide to devote at least two hours a week to PE and sport. One can argue that that may not be sufficient, but it is one of the issues to which schools will have to respond in addressing the needs of the national curriculum.
As a number of hon. Members have said, many exciting initiatives are under way, and my colleagues in the Department of National Heritage are acting on many of the proposals in the statement. A number of hon. Members, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin), referred to the lottery. As the House will be aware, I cannot speak from the Dispatch Box on issues relating to the national lottery, but I can assure the House that I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage to the points made by hon. Members on both sides of the House about the national lottery, the issue of matching funding, and other points.
983 I shall take with me the point about combined education and public usage. I do not have the answer to give the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde directly, but the principle of making maximum use of any facility must be right. It is ludicrous that schools' sports facilities have been restricted to just a few hours use a week and not opened up to the wider community. That is changing dramatically, partly, I believe, as a result of delegating local financial management to schools.
Physical education is crucial to the health and well-being of every child and, of course, adult. That is why the Government took the decision to make PE part of the national curriculum, which comprises 10 subjects that are necessary to provide children with a broad balance. The importance that the Government attach to PE is demonstrated by the fact that it is one of only six subjects that must be taught throughout a child's school career.
As hon. Members have stated—there is no point my repeating it in detail—swimming is included in the physical education section of the national curriculum. The hon. Lady read out what is required by the age of 11—I shall not repeat the details—but then concentrated on 25 m and suggested that, as soon as children could thrash their way through 25 m of water, the matter was all done and dusted.
I must make the point that 25 m is a minimum requirement and that schools can take their pupils further. More important, I must draw the hon. Lady's attention to all the other points that are specified in the national curriculum, which she read out but then seemed to ignore. I suggest that simply being able to thrash one's way through 25 m—I am sure that we all did that at some stage in our school lives—does not mean that one has fulfilled the other criteria of the national curriculum. Developing effective and efficient swimming strokes on the front and the back is clearly different from swimming 25 m.
§ Miss Hoey
I appreciate the Minister's point. I emphasised 25 m because the reality is that schools consider that to be the point that allows them to get away from their responsibility, not because they want to but because of the pressure of other subjects. They feel that they have done their bit once the child can swim 25 m.
§ Mr. Paice
I understand what the hon. Lady says. I hope that my comments in a few moments will be a response to her.
In secondary schools, swimming is an optional activity in the physical education section of the national curriculum, but the revised physical education order, which came into effect in August last year, includes discrete programmes of study for swimming for pupils who choose to follow them in their secondary years. The new options provide pupils with opportunities to develop their swimming skills and to learn the principles and skills of rescue and resuscitation in water-based activities. That is a significant advance in the opportunities for swimming available to pupils. In swimming, as with all aspects of physical education, the relevant safety features are important.
984 As the House will be aware, schools and local education authorities have a clear duty to ensure that sufficient provision is made to enable the swimming requirements of the national curriculum to be implemented. It is for them to decide on the precise form of that provision, as it is for them to decide on how it is timetabled.
When the requirements were first introduced, as a result of much discussion, Ministers recognised that there might be practical and financial implications. That is why their implementation was deferred by two years until 1 August 1994. That was a breathing space to enable schools and local authorities to make the necessary arrangements to provide swimming tuition. It was particularly relevant to schools in rural areas and, perhaps, in inner-city areas, which may have faced problems.
The Government have already earmarked substantial resources for the implementation of the national curriculum. It is up to schools and local authorities to decide how to deploy their total resources in the light of local priorities and needs. The great majority of primary schools, however—more than 80 per cent.—found it possible to teach swimming before it was made compulsory. Schools should be able to find ways to meet the swimming requirement from their existing budgets. Deferring the requirement should have given them time to make the necessary arrangements.
Teachers are expected to assess their pupils in all aspects of the national curriculum, and that includes swimming. It is for heads to ensure that teachers are properly qualified to teach the subjects they teach. Substantial guest funding is made available for the in-service training of teachers.
The hon. Lady asked who was responsible for monitoring. The Office for Standards in Education reports on the success of schools in meeting their statutory duties as part of the inspection process.
§ Mr. Paice
I would rather not. I shall give way in a moment if I have time, but there are a good many points for me to respond to.
The statutory duties to which I referred include schools' obligation to teach swimming, which is a compulsory part of the primary curriculum. When a school is found to be failing in that statutory duty, its failure will be reported and highlighted as a problem to be addressed in the action plan that it will be required to produce. In extreme cases, failure to provide part of the national curriculum could be symptomatic of a wider failure of management or leadership in the school. That is one of the factors that could contribute to its designation as a failing school. The House will be aware of the powers of the Secretary of State in such cases.
In 1993–94—just before swimming became a compulsory requirement—Ofsted stated in its annual report that, at key stage 2, where swimming was taught, standards of achievement were often high. Pupils were confident in the water, and had acquired technical competence in swimming strokes along with a range of survival skills. In 1994–95—the first year after the introduction of the requirement—Ofsted did not identify swimming as an area of concern within national curriculum physical education, but it will continue to monitor the position, as the hon. Lady rightly requested.
985 The survey by professionals that a number of hon. Members have mentioned predated the national curriculum issue. I can give the hon. Lady the good news that we are ahead of her request: the Government have already embarked on a substantial survey of physical education and sport in schools. A questionnaire sent to a representative selection of 1,500 schools—twice the number questioned in the earlier survey—devotes a whole page to swimming. It asks whether the school provides tuition and where that tuition takes place; it asks about the type and size of the pool, whether it is shared and who else uses it, and whether it is an indoor or outdoor pool; it also asks about access and transport facilities, and about the qualifications of teaching staff. We have had a 70 per cent. Response—a huge response for a survey. The closing date has passed, and we hope to release the results in the near future. The size of the response has delayed our analysis somewhat.
The hon. Lady referred to the withdrawal of local education authority funds for swimming. Since the introduction of local management of schools, some LEAs have withdrawn central funds for swimming, while others have introduced the significant variations in provision that she mentioned. It is a question of priorities. The thrust of Government policy must be to give LEAs and, through them, schools the power and responsibility to make such decisions for themselves. A dichotomy can sometimes be observed. We want schools to make the decisions, but if they or LEAs are not getting it right, the Government should step in. I do not believe that both positions can be maintained.
Whatever happens, there is no reason why swimming should suffer. Local management of schools gives governing bodies greater discretion in the determination of their own targets and priorities, and in the meeting of educational requirements in the way most appropriate to them. LEAs can give extra allocations to schools with swimming pools, or give schools an additional allowance to reflect swimming costs, which might include travel. There is no reason why LMS should damage swimming tuition.
Every hon. Member who has spoken has described the benefits of swimming—not just safety, although that is crucial, but the health benefits and the opportunity that swimming provides to take part in other water sports. I understand that some schools have difficulty gaining access to suitable swimming facilities—both distant rural facilities and those in the inner-city areas to which the hon. Lady and my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) referred. As I have said, we delayed implementation of the original order for two years so that schools could identify suitable facilities and make arrangements to enable them to meet the requirements of the national curriculum.
986 I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham still wants to intervene, but I shall be happy to give way to him now.
§ Mr. Bottomley
My hon. Friend was, in fact, wise to delay my intervention. The survey to which he referred has been widely welcomed. Will he not just announce the results in a written parliamentary answer, but place as much useful information as possible in the Library and publicise it so that people throughout the country can judge themselves against the general pattern and try to raise standards, increase effort and participation and restore the situation for which we all hoped?
§ Mr. Paice
I shall discuss my hon. Friend's request with my colleagues, but I see no reason why we cannot comply with it. Let me add that I agreed with what he said in his speech about the need for communities and organisations to consider together how they can develop swimming facilities and co-ordinate the necessary bids, publicity and fund raising. Swimming is there for everyone; it should not be just for schools and local sports clubs.
§ Mr. Pendry
Will the Minister stress to the Leader of the House that, in view of the House's interest in the subject, it would be a good idea to have a debate on the survey when it is completed?
§ Mr. Paice
I shall draw that suggestion to my right hon. Friend's attention, but the opportunity for a debate similar to this will arise in any event.
Both the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde referred to schools' charging parents for swimming. Schools cannot charge for any activity that is either a part of the national curriculum—as swimming is—or a required part of the syllabus for a prescribed examination such as a GCSE. Schools can, however, ask parents for a voluntary contribution to the cost of swimming lessons, or ask them to undertake general fund raising for the benefit of the school. They must make it clear to parents that the contribution is a response to that request; they cannot require a contribution, nor can they exclude children from aspects of the national curriculum if parents are unwilling or unable to make that contribution.
I have thoroughly enjoyed the debate. As the hon. Lady said, this is not my normal field of activity. I, too, have learnt much from the briefings in the past few days and from listening to her speech and those of other hon. Members. The subject of the debate is important and I hope that I have addressed many of the concerns that have been expressed. I shall certainly take away the request that the results of the survey should be widely publicised. I congratulate the hon. Lady on the way in which she addressed the subject.