Olympic swimmers including Adam Peaty, Ellie Simmonds and Michael Gunning are launching a new pop-up pool programme at UK schools aimed at boosting low swimming attainment rates.
Fully functioning temporary pools will be placed at schools in areas where a large proportion of children are unable to swim, starting in the Black Country in the West Midlands, one of the worst affected areas in the country, where swimming ability has dropped sharply since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The scheme, launched on Wednesday by Speedo Swim United, comes as statistics from Sport England show nearly one in three children in the UK leave primary school unable to swim, with numbers higher in more deprived areas.
Without intervention, the figure could rise to 60% of children leaving school unable to swim in 2025, after coronavirus lockdowns hindered swimming lessons, the data suggests.
Ian Carey, CEO of Active Black Country, which is helping to deliver the programme, said he hoped the pop-up pools would provide children “with the skillsets they need to develop a positive, lifelong affinity with the water. Inspiring a love and an ability to swim at an early age is critical in tackling the low levels of swimming attainment in our region.”
Qualified lifeguards and swimming teachers will initially work with pupils at eight schools with the aim of teaching them to self-rescue in water and swim at least 25 metres by the end of the four-month period.
In the Black Country, an area including Dudley, Sandwell and Walsall, an average of six in 10 pupils in previous years were able to swim 25 metres, dropping to fewer than five in 10 in 2022 after reduced swimming access during the lockdown periods.
Rising energy costs are also predicted to exacerbate the problem, with more than 100 UK pools predicted to close or reduce their service by summer 2023.
England has lost almost 400 swimming pools since 2010, with council areas with the highest levels of health-related deprivation losing the most.
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The Swim England research also showed stark inequalities in access to swimming, with figures showing 95% of black adults and 80% of black children in England do not swim, along with 93% of Asian adults and 78% of Asian children.
Speedo Swim United said the programme would also work with local communities to address barriers to swimming locally, and ensure families could continue swimming beyond the project.
The Black Country is home to Sandwell Aquatics Centre, the only new venue built specifically for the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham last year, which is set to reopen as a community swimming pool in August.