After almost 18 months of pool closures and disruptions to lessons, it is thought hundreds of thousands of children will be left unable to swim the minimum standards required by the time they finish Year 6.
And with beach trips, coastal outings and staycations on the rise across the country as we head into summer, parents and schools are being encouraged to prioritise making up the lost time.
Jane Nickerson, chief executive of governing body Swim England, said swimming was an invaluable life skill and work was needed to ensure an entire generation could keep themselves safe.
She explained: “Swimming is a fantastic way for children and young people to be active and reap both physical and mental health benefits. However, being able to swim and stay safe in the water is also an invaluable life skill. With access to facilities limited due to the pandemic, we expect that there will be some regression amongst children’s swimming ability.
“With summer upon us, I fear for children’s safety in the water and would strongly recommend parents and guardians to be proactive in making up for the lost time.”
Even before the coronavirus pandemic around one in four children could not swim the statutory 25 metres when they left primary school, but it is feared this will soon rise to at least three in five children after as estimated two million youngsters missed out on swimming during lockdown.
The startling figures have been published by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Swimming and Swim England.
The Impact of Coronavirus on School Swimming and Water Safety report reveals that 1,186,555 pupils are expected to leave their primary school between 2021-22 and 2025-26 without being able to swim 25 metres unaided – the length of a standard swimming pool.
Primary schools must provide swimming and water safety lessons in either Key Stage 1 or 2 and every pupil is required to perform safe self-rescue, swim competently over at least 25 metres and use a range of strokes effectively.
While acknowledging the pressures schools and teachers have faced since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Swim England is also urging headteachers to prioritise getting pupils into the water where they can.
Jane Nickerson added: “These are particularly worrying predictions. These children are in urgent need of swimming lessons and general swimming participation or else we will see a huge knock-on effect to their ability that would continue into adulthood.
“It’s vital that pupils who have missed out on school swimming and water safety lessons because of the pandemic have the opportunity to catch up.”
Baby and child swim school Puddle Ducks runs lessons across England, Wales and Scotland, teaching children from birth up to 10 years old.
Victoria Rowley, from Puddle Ducks, said there is no doubt a year out of the water has had an effect on children’s abilities but it was noticing a rise in inquiries for classes.
She said: “A year of disrupted lessons has definitely had an impact.
“We teach personal survival skills from a very young age, helping our swimmers to stay safe in the water. These skills are so important, especially as we return to holidays with pools or even outdoors in the UK as we head into the summer months; we can help parents feel at ease knowing their children know how to stay safe in the water.”