Should schools or parents teach kids to swim?

Today, many of our littlest students are spending their last day of the year at school. Privately educated kidlets finished up a couple of weeks ago, and older students wrapped up for the year after their exams, but our state primary school students have been toiling away until today.

I suspect the day will be full of Christmas movies, fun activities and treats, as it well should be. The last day of school is a beautiful thing!

But as I sent my preppie off for her final day of her first year of school today, I couldn’t help but reflect on the role of schools versus parents in our ongoing collective effort to raise great humans.


Recently, the Victorian government determined that each child should be able to swim 50m by the time they graduate from primary school.

I know of one private Gold Coast school that requires all of its grade one students to be able to swim 50m freestyle by the end of year swimming carnival. If the kid isn’t up to it, it’s up to the parents to invest in extra swimming lessons to achieve this goal.

But more broadly, we don’t have any guidelines for student swimming competency in Queensland that I’m aware of. In Victoria, the state government decided to take this action after research found a massive 75 per cent of Victorian children leave grade six without the ability to swim a single stroke.

In Queensland, I’m sure this figure is lower as our kids pretty well live at the beach or in the pool for at least three months a year. But still, the message is the same – the kids can’t swim, so the state government is stepping in, by forcing primary schools to ensure that every student can swim 50m by the time they graduate. They’re introducing the Victorian Water Safety Certificate, which tests their ability to swim and their water safety knowledge and rescue skills.

Some parents are livid about this. They believe that teaching a child to swim is a job for mum and dad, not school teachers.

Adam Voigt, and education and school leadership expert, agrees, and says school “is not the place to address what is clearly a shortfall in parental responsibility”.

“Schools have enough to do, so which of reading, writing, counting, science, bullying, coding and social skills should miss out, when we decide to prioritise large chunks of time to swimming?” he says.

“Swimming lessons are not the responsibility of schools. The outsourcing of parental responsibility is a slippery slope.”

I also agree. In a perfect world, parents should teach their kids to swim.

But this is not a perfect world, and while some of us have the time and the means to pay for swimming lessons that can cost upwards of $18 a lesson, others can’t.

It’s not fair to lump an extra responsibility on teachers… but it’s also not fair for little Jimmy and Jessica to find themselves unable to swim at 10 years of age, due to circumstances outside their control – i.e. their parents.

What do you think? Should Queensland follow suit with mandatory swimming competency goals for school kids? Or are our schools doing enough, and it’s up to the parents to lift their game?