HL Deb 19 December 2000 vol 620 cc627-9

2.38 p.m.

Lord Harrison asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their response to the Ofsted report Swimming in Key Stage 2.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone)

My Lords, we welcome the generally positive report. It shows that four out of five children can swim 25 metres at the end of Key Stage 2. We need to work with schools to make better opportunities available for even more children so that they acquire this important life skill, and to ensure that the proportion of children who cannot swim when they leave school is reduced from the current 20 per cent. Extra funding is being provided which will lead to improved opportunities for swimming where needed. We will also work with swimming associations to develop an action plan to do more.

Lord Harrison

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Does she agree that, while it is a generally supportive report from Ofsted, nevertheless there are concerns that half the schools reported a cut in swimming tuition over the past three years? Indeed, the cost to schools of providing tuition has risen from £1,000 to £9,000. Can that differential be explained? Finally, does she agree that children in our inner city schools are more affected by the recent cuts than those in rural schools?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, the Government welcome the Ofsted report because it helps us to identify both the strengths and weaknesses in school swimming provision. There are some weaknesses which we want to acknowledge. That is why we shall be discussing the report further with Ofsted and with the Amateur Swimming Association and shall put forward an action plan in the new year.

As regards the differential costs, the vast majority of schools spend between £1,000 and £3,000 on swimming provision but it is unusual for schools to spend as much as £9,000. However, where that is the case the report will help them to investigate ways of reducing those costs.

As regards the difference between the number of children living in rural areas and in inner cities who can swim, the Government will support inner city schools because it is important that children living in cities should learn to swim as well as those in the countryside.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, I have listened to the debate with great attention. However, will the Minister tell me what is the overwhelming importance of swimming in Key Stage 2 to children and education? What is it all about?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, from the point of view of safety, and perhaps even of health, it is important that all young children should learn to swim. For that reason, the Government, Ofsted, the Amateur Swimming Association, most teachers and, I suspect, nearly all parents attach a great deal of importance to it and expect good results in terms of the number of children who can swim 25 metres by the age of 11.

Baroness Sharples

My Lords, does Key Stage 2 mean 75 yards or 25 yards?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, Key Stage 2 refers to a stage in the educational process. It is the second stage in primary schools for 7 to 11 year-olds. It has nothing to do with the distance which children are supposed to swim.