08:00AM, Saturday 24 July 2021
The Local Government Association (LGA) has said water safety must start in the classroom – in the wake of hundreds of deaths this past year.
Sunday marked the first World Drowning Prevention Day to highlight the impact of drowning on families and communities and offer life-saving solutions to prevent it.
Recently, teenager Jordan Veira died in the River Thames between Cookham and Bourne End in the latest in a number of tragic incidents to occur in rivers in East Berkshire and South Bucks in recent years.
Across the country, the number of water-related fatalities increased last year despite the pandemic, with a total of 631 losing their lives in UK waters.
The number of accidental drowning deaths reached 254, an increase of 34 on the previous year. Fifty-eight per cent of accidental drowning deaths happened in inland water, with almost half of all people falling in by mistake.
The LGA said young people need to better understand the dangers of cold water shock and ‘tombstoning’ – jumping or diving from height into water – as well as the risks posed by tides, currents and unstable ground near water.
Jordan's school, Furze Platt Senior School, is among those taking action to raise awareness, and recently hosted a talk from Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service about the dangers of open water.
LGA research also found that almost a quarter of children cannot swim the statutory 25 metres by the time they leave primary school.
The LGA says that all primary school-leavers should be able to meet the curriculum target of being able to swim this distance and perform safe self-rescue in different water-based situations.
Availability of swimming pools can be a stumbling block for schools, with 72 per cent of primary schools nationwide relying on publicly-owned swimming facilities, which brings an additional cost of transport.
Cllr Nesil Caliskan, chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: “Every child should have access to this information and to a swimming pool where they can learn to swim, which can be a fun way to exercise, but also to keep themselves safe in water.
“It is absolutely crucial that people learn to respect water at a young age and know how to react if they find themselves in a difficult situation.”
Councillor David Cannon, cabinet member for public protection, said: “Anyone can get into trouble in the water as there can be hidden dangers, and children are unfortunately among the most vulnerable.
“Children getting that early opportunity to learn to swim will help to reduce the risk, and both schools and parents play an important role.”
He added that both Braywick and Windsor leisure centres provide a term-time swimming programme to enable school children to learn how to swim.
They also run numerous sessions offering lessons to various age groups.
“Regardless of age or ability, we encourage everyone to heed the crucial water safety advice from the Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service and the Royal Lifesaving Society,” said Cllr Cannon.
The council is supporting World Drowning Prevention Day with further reminders this week about these important water safety messages.