Royal Life Saving Releases Research into Industry Swimming and Water Safety Programs



New research from Royal Life Saving has found that the current generation of children are starting swimming lessons at a younger age than in previous decades. The research also shows that children may be stopping lessons before achieving essential swimming, lifesaving and water safety benchmarks.

The study, Benchmarking Australian children’s swimming and water safety skills: swim school data, analysed children from a sample of private swim schools in four States. Overall, 4 year old children made up the highest age group of children attending private swimming lessons, with 65% being 7 years and younger. Of primary school aged children in private lessons, 53% are aged between 5 and 7 years. Analysis shows that at this age, many of the children in programs are not yet able to swim 10m of freestyle or backstroke.

Royal Life Saving Society – Australia CEO, Justin Scarr says “This is a massive transformation in how our children learn swimming, water safety and lifesaving. Children are now starting swimming lessons younger when compared to the age when people learnt throughout the 80s and 90s”.

Data shows that 75% of children exit swimming lessons by the age of 8 years; this is often prior to them achieving more comprehensive swimming and water safety benchmarks as outlined by The National Swimming and Water Safety Framework.

The study found that on average children are aged between 9 and 10 years old by the time they could achieve the National Benchmark minimum skills of 50m freestyle, 25m survival backstroke, and treading water for 2 minutes.

“Younger is not always better, and our concern is many children exit swimming lessons at an age where they are less likely to learn the lifesaving skills that will help to protect them as they enter adulthood and are exposed to more hazardous water environments” Mr Scarr said.

Findings reinforced a widely held industry view that teaching competitive swimming strokes of freestyle and backstroke were essential, and that water safety skills such as treading water and rescue techniques were much less common.

“It can be hard for parents to maintain their child’s enthusiasm for lessons after age 6 or 7 with weekend sport, parties and the need for afterschool care competing with swimming lessons. However, this data reinforces the importance of ensuring that 10-11 year olds have access to lessons in order to build lifesaving and survival skills.” Mr Scarr said.

Royal Life Saving advises parents to have the skills of their 10-14 year old children re-assessed, to consider re-enrolling in lessons over the winter and to investigate the use of sporting vouchers for those lessons.

Royal Life Saving is working with State and Territory Governments and the swimming and water safety sector to address these issues and will host its second National Swimming and Water Safety Education Symposium in May.

Royal Life Saving’s latest research analyses the swimming and water safety skills of a sample children attending private swimming lessons in four States. This report focuses on primary school aged children (5 -12 years) and is the first of three research reports examining the skills of 63,200 Australian children aged 0 – 15 years attending private swimming lessons.

Findings reveal that 53% of primary school children attending private lessons are aged between 5 – 7 years old. This suggests that children may be ceasing swimming lessons around Year 2 and may not be developing the adequate range of swimming and water safety skills.

Royal Life Saving CEO, Justin Scarr says “It is concerning that children are exiting lessons at a young age, possibly before developing vital swimming and water safety skills. We urge families to consider re-enrolling their children for top-up lessons to ensure that they gain the necessary skills to keep themselves safe in and around the water.”

This study confirmed previous research that children are not achieving the minimum skills of the National Benchmark as outlined in The National Swimming and Water Safety Framework. Data shows that 40% of the 12 year olds in programs could not achieve key skills including 50m freestyle, 25m survival backstroke, tread or scull water for 2 minutes.

The research highlighted a greater focus on competitive swimming strokes and less on water safety skills like survival swimming strokes, treading water for long periods and basic rescue skills. “Swim schools which combine both the technical side of swimming efficiency, with lifesaving skills like survival swimming, floating and use of lifejackets play an essential role in building a water safe community” Justin Scarr says.

“Sadly, children who can’t swim become adults who miss out on enjoying our wonderful waterways and are at higher risk of drowning. It’s important that parents, local councils, schools, swim schools, and water safety organisations play their part to ensure all Australian children have vital swimming and water safety skills” said Justin Scarr, CEO Royal Life Saving.

A range of spokespeople are available to speak to this release including Justin Scarr, CEO and Stacey Pidgeon, Senior Research and Policy Officer (author of the report) from Royal Life Saving Society - Australia. Media enquiries to Media Key on 03 9769 6488

Key research insights into primary school children attending private swimming lessons:

  • 53% are aged between 5 – 7 years

  • Children are unlikely to be staying in swimming lessons long enough to develop vital swimming and water safety skills

  • Swim schools are predominately teaching freestyle and backstroke, with a lesser focus on water safety skills such as survival strokes, treading water and rescue techniques

Tips for parents

  • ‘Don’t skip water safety week’ – learning survival strokes and rescue techniques are just as important as being able to swim laps

  • Sports voucher programs are available in many states, consider using the voucher for swimming and water safety lessons, the only skill that will save your life

Research Reports