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Council / Swimming lessons curtailed following vote

Councillors were told, however, that a new targeted approach could result in more children being able to swim

SWIMMING lessons in Shetland’s schools will be stopped in the future for children in secondary one and two following a decision in the council chamber this morning (Monday).

Universal lessons will continue for primary one to four, and for P5-P7 they will be targeted to those who need them most.

It comes after a review was carried out into swimming lesson provision to see if savings could be made. The changes voted through will ultimately result in the council saving more than £50,000 a year.

Councillors also voted to embed sea and open water training in the curriculum.

The changes will be phased in over the next couple of years.

Parents and teaching staff were consulted on their views on the way forward, with more than 800 people responding.

The decision was made at a meeting of the SIC’s education and families committee on Monday.

Councillors were told that the new proposals could potentially result in more people being able to swim when they leave school due to targeted lessons for the upper primary children.

Shetland North councillor Tom Morton fought for the status quo to remain – universal swimming classes from primary one to secondary two – but he was outvoted seven by four.

He said it was “shaming for Shetland” for the council to be considering cuts to swimming lesson provision.

But committee chair Davie Sandison, who successfully proposed a motion to go with officers’ recommendations, said he felt the “hybrid” proposal was supportable.

At the moment children from primary one to secondary two currently receive six weeks of swimming lessons in a school year.

The review looked at all options – including removing swimming lessons for all in school, which would save £150,000 a year – but the final recommendation was a mix of two options.

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Shetland Recreational Trust (SRT) also offers ‘Learn to Swim’ classes outside of school, and these come with a cost, although people on benefits can receive cheaper sessions.

There is no statutory requirement for the council to provide these lessons within the PE curriculum.

In many cases this comes with a need to provide transport to swimming pools.

The flexible targeted approach for primary five to seven could be undertaken either for small groups or delivered on a one-to-one basis, and it could take place during the school day or outwith.

The programme would be focused on children who could not swim by the end of P4.

The proposal is to phase in these recommendations, with all primary pupils keeping their lessons in 2023/24 but secondary one and two ceasing.

This would create savings of around £23,330 for the year.

In the school year 2024/25 the new model would be fully implemented, saving around £53,500.

The report to councillors said children’s services will need to find additional savings to make up the difference between the approved option and the £150,000 budgeted in the swimming lesson review.

In a review paper prepared by the children’s services department, it was highlighted that although primary children particularly enjoy swimming lessons, not all pupils are a fan.

“There are a significant number who for a variety of reasons including a lack of body confidence and fear of being made fool of, dislike swimming and highlight it as a real source of stress and anxiety at school,” it said.

“In some cases this leads to absences from school or the regular production of notes to be excused from swimming classes.”

In discussion at Monday’s meeting sport and leisure services manager Neil Watt said the SRT stands to lose around £45,000 in income from the changes, but he suggested it was only a very small part of the organisation’s budget.

Shetland North councillor Tom Morton.

Speaking on water safety grounds, Morton highlighted how Shetland is a maritime community which is “absolutely dependent on the sea”.

He recalled his own experience of being involved in a situation with being trapped under an overturned boat at the age of 11 – and said if he was not confident in the water there might have been a different ending.

Morton also remarked how Iceland have compulsory swimming lessons for six to 16 year olds.

He said it was a “duty” for Shetland to maintain water safety.

“We’re talking about potentially a life and death survival of maybe just one person, who happens to have had their face under the water and learned to be confident,” Morton said.

“If one person survives then £76,000 is a very small price to pay.”

Morton was backed by Lerwick South member Neil Pearson, who said it was an issue which had drew significant correspondence from constituents.

Fellow Lerwick councillor Stephen Leask also showed support for the motion, as did the North Isles’ Ryan Thomson.

Shetland South member Bryan Peterson, however, said he was confident in the new targeted approach for P5-P7 may be an improvement.

He proposed going with the recommendations but adding in a line to embed sea and open water safety into the curriculum. Sandison, however, said he was happy to include that into his own motion.

Council leader Emma Macdonald, however, questioned if swimming lessons actually result in better water safety as an adult – using herself as an example.

She also stressed that the council needs to make difficult decisions when it comes to its budget, with the SIC in line to draw nearly £5 million unsustainably from its reserves in 2023/24.

Davie Sandson. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

Macdonald said she was not sure if the council had made it clear enough to the community about the financial pressures on the local authority.

“The reality is we cannot afford to provide all the services across all out directorates that we have in the past,” she said.

Reviews are being carried out in every department of the council to look into possible savings.

Lerwick South member John Fraser also encouraged Morton to remove his amendment after he received his assurance that under the new proposals more children may leave school having learned to swim.

He also said he had received plenty of correspondence from constituents on the topic – but after telling them about the proposals many ended up changing their mind.

Morton, however, said he felt it was important for secondary school children – not just those in primary – to have lessons. He also questioned if the term ‘leaving school’ in this context just meant leaving primary school.

Sandison said the issue was about the best use of resources to teach people how to swim.

He spoke up for the idea of introducing the targeted approach for upper primary pupils.

Sandison said that despite the recommendations would not achieve the savings target, the hybrid approach would cut costs but also targets those in need.

The said it was the responsibility for the council to provide the basic lessons.

“It’s then the responsibility of society, parents and the wider community to provide the additional survival adequacy that we need,” Sandison added.

A report to councillors said the preferred options from the consultation were for primary one to seven only, and also a targeted approach – resulting in council officers proposing a mix of the two.

But Morton noted that overall more than 50 per cent of respondents said ‘yes’ to the status quo remaining.

Watt explained that respondents were asked to rank the options in their preference.

The majority of the parents and carers category, which had the highest number of respondents, said they wanted to see lessons remain for primary children only.

Class and PE teachers wanted to see the status quo. Overall in the consultation the top ranked option was primary-only lessons.

Under the proposals the delivery of school swimming lessons for pupils with an ASN would continue to be delivered flexibly to meet their needs.

Supporting Sandison’s motion, Shetland Central Moraig Lyall also called for monitoring of the uptake of the new targeted approach.

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