The need for primary schools and primary teachers to focus on pupils' academic attainment has resulted in swimming lessons being neglected, a new report has warned.
Drowning is one of the most common causes of accidental death among children, according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, with 47 of the 407 Britons who died in this way during 2011 being aged under 19.
Yet despite this, a new survey of 3,501 primary schools by swimming governing body the ASA has revealed pupils only receive eight hours and 15 minutes of swimming lessons each year on average, against the national curriculum's recommendation of 22 hours per annum.
The poll also found 51 per cent of pupils aged between seven and 11 could not swim 25 metres unaided, which is the level they are expected to attain by the end of key stage two.
Schools tended to have higher levels of attainment when they provided better pupil-to-teacher ratios, longer lesson times and higher numbers of swimming lessons.
Yet when asked what the greatest barrier to their offering this was, 45 per cent of schools cited budget constraints, with ASA concerned that pressure to focus on exam results is resulting in expenditure on swimming lessons being neglected.
It has therefore urged primary schools to utilise the government's £150 million injection into PE and school sport this September - which will see them each receive at least £9,000 of ring-fenced funding - to improve their swimming provision.
ASA chief executive David Sparkes commented: "I believe that schools have a rare opportunity to seize the moment in September 2013 and take action by investing in an activity that has a lifelong legacy and the ability to keep future generations safe."
The swimming body also had advice for the Department for Education, urging it to ask schools watchdog Ofsted to extend its inspections of primary schools in order to take whether they offer swimming lessons into account, as well as to also monitor these lessons.
Furthermore, it called on the department to offer primary school teachers more training in this area of education.
Posted by Tim Colman