Save our Schoolkids: Premier dips toe in water

THE State Government has taken the first steps towards ensuring Queensland's kids have the swim skills to keep them safe - but is still falling short of other states and experts say much more needs to be done.

Premier Annastacia Palasczuk yesterday announced an audit of school swimming and measures to help low-income families get their youngsters into swim schools.

But she has so far stopped short of ensuring lessons for every student as demanded by the S.O.S. campaign launched by The Courier-Mail and its sister papers across the state.

Experts, including legend Laurie Lawrence, swimming instructors and the Royal Lifesaving Society Australia say compulsory, certified and benchmarked lessons are essential to ensure children have the level of skill necessary.

Ms Palaszczuk announced a voucher scheme for parents to get their kids into swim schools, and a public information campaign fronted by Olympian Mitch Larkin will be pitched at reminding adults to keep children safe. Education Minister Grace Grace will investigate how to make swimming instruction available to students at the 38 schools that currently offer no classes.

"The welfare and safety of Queensland children at school, home and play is important to all of us," Ms Palaszczuk said in a statement yesterday. "Swimming is a life skill every child should have and every parent and guardian should insist upon."

The national water safety body welcomed the moves as a sensible start for waterproofing our kids, but swim coaches say the measures stop far short of what schoolkids need.

Mr Lawrence said the Government had to get real about offering compulsory and benchmarked swimming and water safety lessons in schools.

He said until Queensland adopted a model like Tasmania, where every primary schoolchild received free school lessons until they could show they could swim 50m and were safe in the water, Sunshine State children would be at risk.

"Kids can't swim 50m and it's a disgrace," Mr Lawrence said.

Leading Queensland coaches say existing school programs are extremely basic, many only offering 30 to 40-minute sessions each week for six to eight weeks - well short of producing a safe swimmer.

Olympic silver medallist, coach and instructor Greg Fasala said he had seen teacher-run sessions where a lone teacher was trying to work with 20 to 25 children.

He said an effective ratio was one instructor to five or six students and this had to be one-on-one if the child was scared and needed extra help.

"The school programs in the main are a starting point,'' he said. "They might total four or five hours of time in the water.''

Mr Fasala works with another top coach, Paul Sansby, at Waterworx Aquatic and Fitness Centre at Springfield. Both have been head coaches at leading schools.

He contacted The Courier-Mail with regard to the S.O.S. campaign and said he and Mr Sansby had been in swimming for a collective 80 years.

They said the key to success for a comprehensive program in schools was more time in the water than currently offered, and consistency.

Mr Fasala said to get a child to a level where they were competent would require a minimum of 16-20 hours of swimming and two half-hour lessons a week would be preferable. Mr Fasala said they were seeing primary-age children who were not competent in the water.

Royal Lifesaving Society Australia national president Justin Scarr welcomed the government moves as a sensible start. He said Queensland boasted more schools with pools than other states, and should exploit that.

In 2016-17, 19 children drowned in Queensland - 14 of them aged under five years. Seven children drowned in swimming pools, five in bath tubs, three in lakes and dams, two in objects containing water and one each at the beach and one in a river or creek, Ms Palaszczuk said.

More than 150 Queensland state schools have pools on site and state schools have access to Learn to Swim grants to enable access to other public and private swim facilities.

The Department of Education said 96 per cent of more than 1000 state schools have reported offering a Learn to Swim program.



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