Background Reducing child (0–14 years) drowning is a priority of the Australian Water Safety Strategy. Research suggests at least 40% of children cannot achieve national benchmarks of swimming 50 m freestyle; 25 m survival backstroke and treading/sculling water for two minutes by 12 years. School swimming programs vary across Australia; therefore many parents enrol their children in private lessons from a young age.
Objective To provide a situational analysis of what children are learning in private swimming lessons and examine their achievement of swimming and survival skills.
Methods A cross-sectional study of children aged between 3–15 years attending private swimming lessons in Australia between July-2014 and June-2017. Achievement of key swimming and survival skills were analysed by age and assessed against the national benchmark.
Findings 62 353 children were included, 51% male, 53% aged 5–7 years, and 57% were from high socio-economic areas. Children are predominantly being taught freestyle (87%) and backstroke skills (84%). Children were more likely to learn breaststroke (52%) and butterfly (14%) over survival backstroke (46%) and rescue techniques (9%). Overall, 34% could swim 50 m freestyle, 52% could swim 25 m survival backstroke and 32% could tread/scull water for two minutes. The average age for achieving 50 m freestyle was at 9.2 years.
Discussion Only one third of children are meeting national targets. A stronger emphasis on teaching survival and lifesaving skills would strengthen prevention efforts, preparing young people to make informed decisions when participating in aquatic activities in the future.
Conclusion This research provides valuable insights on children’s swimming and survival skills. Swim schools must place more value on survival skills that can be applied in realistic situations.
Policy implications Findings provide current evidence for advocacy and influencing policy towards compulsory swimming and survival lessons. Findings informed the National Swimming and Water Safety Education Framework review (abstract 1927).
Acknowledgement This research is supported by Royal Life Saving Society – Australia. The drowning prevention research of Royal Life Saving Society – Australia is supported by the Australian Government.