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The Australian Swimming and Water Safety Agenda

Throughout 2017 to 2019, Royal Life Saving convened a series of symposia and working groups, dedicated to resolving the issue of children missing out on swimming and water safety education.

The National Swimming and Water Safety Education Symposia produced a six-point plan to ensure that no child misses out on a swimming and water safety education.

The plan aimed to:

  • Strengthen school and vacation swimming and water safety programs in the community
  • Revise the National Swimming and Water Safety Framework
  • Set and report progress against a national benchmark
  • Devise strategies to increase access and participation for those ‘at risk’
  • Improve the availability and access to aquatic facilities
  • Increase the swimming and lifesaving skills of secondary school students

Australian Water Safety Strategy

The Australian Water Safety Strategy 2030 identifies swimming and water safety skills as a key priority area. Swimming and water safety skills are widely recognised as a major key to preventing drowning, with a lack of swimming skills and water safety knowledge considered to be a major risk factor for drowning. The significant rates of drowning in open water environments reinforce the importance of learning a full range of swimming, water safety and survival skills, and a knowledge of hazards and risks in different locations and situations.

National Swimming and Water Safety Framework

The National Swimming and Water Safety Framework was launched in August 2020.

The Framework aims to inform government, the education sector, aquatic industry, swim schools, swimming and water safety teachers, parents and individuals of the essential skills, knowledge, understanding, attitudes and behaviours for quality water safety education and to guide the development, provision and selection of holistic and balanced swimming and water safety programs.

The Framework sets out three national benchmarks or targets for children at the ages of 6, 12 and 17 years.

Kids That Miss Out on a Swimming and Water Safety Education

Royal Life Saving research shows that around 40% of children leave primary school without being able to swim 50 metres freestyle/backstroke, 25 metres of survival stroke and treading water for 2 minutes.

Further research found that 25% of children enrolled in lessons were aged between 2 and 4 years old, indicating that parents are investing in swimming lessons from a young age.

This research found that children are dropping out of lessons at around 8 years old, before they are achieving the benchmark skills.

We also know that children from lower socio-economic areas, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, and multicultural backgrounds, and children with inactive parents are less likely to participate in swimming.

Sport 2030 National Sport Plan

Released in 2018, the Sport 2030 National Sport Plan pursues the principle of ‘sport and physical activity for all, for life’. It promotes the notion that every Australian, at all stages of their life, can undertake the exercise they need and want in a safe, fun, and inclusive way, whether it is through sport or other types of activity.

Importantly, the Sport 2030 National Sport Plan frames swimming as a skill for life, essential to all Australians due to our love of the water and our  environment. The plan states that every Australian child must have access to basic swimming and water safety skill education and knowledge of how to be safe when they are in, on, or around water. It cites the Royal Life Saving Society Australia’s benchmark that a child should be able to be buoyant in the water for at least 50 metres to save themselves. The plan expresses concerns about falls in mandatory learn to swim program in schools, and cost of living pressures meaning families are not prioritising learning to swim. This results in many children leaving primary school without the swimming and water safety skills and knowledge they will need to be safe around water for the rest of their lives.

Aquatic Recreation and Swim School Industry

Aquatic facilities and swim schools are important cultural institutions that provide many social, economic and health benefits to Australians of all ages.

Royal Life Saving estimates that there are:

  • More than 1,306 aquatic facilities, and 807 swim schools, most small- and medium-sized
  • More than 1.5 million children aged 0-14 years participating in lessons and squads
  • More than 333 million pool visits annually, with each visit creating health benefits worth $26.3

The Royal Life Saving National Aquatic Industry Workforce Profile 2019 found that:

  • The workforce is predominantly female; 60% of pool lifeguards and 85% of swimming and water safety teachers
  • The aquatic industry provides a great career start for young people; 40% of pool lifeguards and 23% swimming and water safety teachers are aged 18 to 24 years

The report “The Social, Health and Economic Value of the Australian National Aquatic Industry” prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers Australia (PwC) and commissioned by Royal Life Saving found that the aquatic industry benefits the Australian community and:

  • Contributes $9.1 billion annually in combined economic, health and social benefits.
  • Drives economic activity throughout Australia, employing the equivalent of 33,600 full-time employees and adding $2.8 billion to gross domestic product (GDP).
  • Generates $2.5 billion in health, ranging across a reduction in the burden of disease.
  • Provides $3.8 billion’s worth of social benefits such as: enhancing an individual’s leisure time or creating increased life satisfaction; by bringing people together; supporting more vulnerable groups; and supporting early learning.