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2.1 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Jacqui Smith): I am pleased to welcome the debate instigated by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Valerie Davey). As she said, she has raised this issue before. She is a well-informed, doughty campaigner for swimming in our schools. I wish only that she could initiate such debates earlier in the day, as this debate is even later than the one she managed to initiate with my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office.

I reiterate the importance of swimming. It is not only important educationally; it promotes healthy life styles and exercise that, as my hon. Friend says, can be continued as an adult. As she strongly emphasised, it is crucial for personal safety. I hope that there can be no question about the Government's commitment to promoting swimming in the primary school curriculum. It has always been a compulsory element of the PE national curriculum. As she reminded us, it remained so even when programmes of study for the non-core subjects were

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temporarily suspended to allow the national literacy and numeracy strategies to be established between September 1998 and July 2000.

Swimming and water safety are an important and compulsory part of the revised national curriculum for physical education introduced in our schools in September 2000. My hon. Friend detailed what children should have covered by the age of 11. It was important that the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and my Department took note of the concerns of the subject communities about swimming during the review of the national curriculum. As a result the programme for swimming was renamed "swimming activities and water safety" to emphasise its vital contribution to safety and a non-statutory programme was included in key stage 1, in addition to the revised statutory programme in key stage 2. It is also important that good practice in delivering swimming is shared and that teachers are supported. Detailed schemes of work for teachers, including swimming, have been produced to ensure consistency of teaching and to support the new national curriculum.

My hon. Friend mentioned the £750 million announced by the Prime Minister to support sport in schools. That, of course, follows the important planning work that has been done by my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport and me in the Department for Education and Employment to produce the Government's sports strategy and the implementation work now progressing with the assistance of many partners, including representatives from the ASA, and being put into operation under the auspices of the School Sports Alliance.

Mr. Bob Russell (Colchester): The Minister has given a very encouraging report, but when will all children receive the minimum two hours' a week physical education, not just swimming, which is part of the Government's aims and objectives? She will agree that 25 per cent. currently do it, but 75 per cent. do not.

Jacqui Smith: I hope that the hon. Gentleman realises that I shall come to that point in a minute.

I will refer to aspects of the subject that particularly relate to school swimming later, but my hon. Friend raised the issue of the need for suitable facilities. Following the publication of the strategy, we are commissioning consultants to provide a full audit of local education authority sports facilities, including swimming facilities. Sport England and the Local Government Association have been asked to carry out a nationwide audit of sports facilities in England.

The Government are committed to raising standards in all areas of the physical education curriculum. As an extremely important component of the national curriculum, improvements in swimming facilities will be considered where shortfalls in provision are identified nationally or by local education authorities. I want to take this opportunity to commend the examples that my hon. Friend outlined of the imaginative use and development by local authorities of their swimming facilities.

We are seeking constantly to improve and build up the evidence base about what is effective in schools and about areas that require closer attention. To that end, and in an attempt to understand the issues affecting the teaching and

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learning of swimming, we commissioned Ofsted to produce a report on swimming at key stage 2. It was published in November.

Ofsted's remit, in addition to its normal inspection requirements, was to evaluate and report on the standards of swimming achieved by pupils by the end of key stage 2; the quality and effectiveness of the teaching or instruction through the observation of swimming lessons, and any related activity, such as classroom-based work; the steps taken by schools to give particular support to non-swimmers or poor swimmers; and the curriculum and assessment arrangements made in respect of swimming, in particular, within the PE curriculum and, in general, as part of the whole school curriculum, making reference to the quality of planning, time allocation and organisational requirements.

My hon. Friend compared the Ofsted report unfavourably with the survey carried out by the Central Council of Physical Recreation and The Times Educational Supplement. It is, in our view, effective to use a section 10 inspection to focus in more detail on a specific aspect, as happened in that case. The inspections were comprehensive, involving observation and evaluation. That, of course, takes longer to conduct and evaluate than a survey such as that carried out by The Times Educational Supplement and the CCPR.

Although all information is helpful, the Ofsted report gives us some important qualitative information. My Department has welcomed the generally positive report, which showed that, in the schools inspected, four out of five children were able to swim 25 m at the end of key stage 2. It also showed that pupil attainment was satisfactory or better in most lessons; that progress was satisfactory or better in the majority of lessons; and that pupils made good progress in three quarters of lessons.

The report also showed that the teaching of swimming was found to be good or better in four out of five lessons. I agree with my hon. Friend that teaching is crucial to developing good swimming education. Nearly half the swimming lessons were taught by swimming instructors, the large majority of whom are experienced and hold nationally recognised qualifications, such as the ASA lifeguard qualification. A similar proportion of lessons were taught by teachers from the school, usually a member of staff with a qualification in the performance or teaching of swimming such as an ASA teacher's certificate. A small number of lessons were taught by adults other than teachers who have a personal interest in swimming and usually hold a water safety qualification.

It is vital that we improve the support and quality of teaching in swimming and in PE in general. Teachers in primary schools are not usually PE specialists. We recognise the need for support there, and that is why the school sports co-ordinators programme, which will have 6,000 primary schools involved in three years' time, will provide an important opportunity for training and sharing the resources of secondary schools, including sports colleges.

We recognise that PE is a very demanding, multi-disciplinary subject. We are working with the Teacher Training Agency and subject associations to develop support materials and summer schools to help with that. The way in which teachers are training is

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changing rapidly, and it is important that PE and swimming keep up with innovations. We are committed to ensuring that that happens.

My hon. Friend highlighted the important issue of time. The Ofsted report judged that 85.5 per cent. of schools had satisfactory or better time allocation for swimming. We know that schools have concentrated hard on introducing the literacy and numeracy strategies, and we make no apologies for emphasising those crucial skills. I do not believe that there is a conflict in aiming for high standards of reading, writing and maths and for good swimming and PE provision. However, we have asked the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority to provide good practice to schools about how to achieve the Secretary of State's aspiration that children should have access to two hours a week of physical activity inside and outside the curriculum.

Although most swimming takes place in year 5, an increasing number of schools are introducing swimming in years 3 and 4. Schools that target the younger pupils enable those pupils who cannot swim 25 m at the end of year 4 to continue to go swimming when they are in year 5 and year 6 until they achieve that standard. That is an example of good practice that, along with the opportunities offered by the non-statutory framework at key stage 1, points to the importance of starting early, not least because support can then be targeted at those who have not achieved the required standards.

The report found that 60 per cent. of schools funded swimming from their own budget; some schools were funded directly by the local education authority, and some LEAs targeted funding through "learn to swim" grants. LEAs tended to devolve the budget for swimming, and schools used that to buy back transport facilities to take children to swimming pools. I share my hon. Friend's concern that we ensure that good practice in funding for swimming is disseminated widely among schools and LEAs.

The report shows that there is some very good teaching in swimming lessons, that the overwhelming majority of pupils look forward to their lessons and that almost all pupils were enthusiastic and well motivated. However, my hon. Friend is right to highlight concerns that must be addressed.

Some aspects of the report concerned us. A large majority of schools made adequate curricular provision for swimming, but a small minority did not cover the full programme of study, in particular the area of water safety. Half the schools in the report did not make special provision for pupils who do not develop a sufficient competence in swimming and are unlikely to swim by key stage 2. My hon. Friend rightly highlighted the significant variation depending on schools' location and free school meals banding. That must be a cause of concern.

Other concerns raised by the report are that half of schools have no specific policy or provision for pupils who are non-swimmers or reluctant swimmers, and more than half of schools have reduced the time allocated to swimming.

I hope that schools will take note of the findings of the Ofsted report and will include within their development plans action to address the concerns raised. There are some very positive findings in the report, but we have to address the small number of very serious concerns. We will meet Ofsted to analyse the findings in more detail.

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My hon. Friend is right to say that we need to be clear about the messages in the report. It is not clear, for example, how many of those pupils who do not meet the target of 25 m are non-swimmers, and we plan a meeting for early in the new year to consider that detail.

We are also establishing a small action group, which may comprise representatives from Ofsted, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the QCA and swimming associations. It will be charged with urgently producing a list of immediate and robust actions to address concerns.

The group will review the findings of the Ofsted report on swimming and any other recent research, and identify the key issues that need to be addressed to improve the provision of swimming in the curriculum. The group will

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also make immediate recommendations to improve the standards and quality of swimming and especially to ensure that pupils reach the 25 m target by the end of key stage 2. I shall meet the Amateur Swimming Association in January, and I hope to meet other relevant organisations to discuss an action plan to provide more opportunities for swimming.

In conclusion, I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important issue. I hope that she is convinced that the Government believe in the importance of swimming and that we shall act to ensure that all children have that entitlement.

Question put and agreed to.

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