Social justice and swimming – how we can support more BAME minorities to get in the pool?

Drowning Prevention Week – Social justice and swimming – how we can support more BAME minorities to get in the pool. By Tina Clark.

It is currently drowning prevention week (12-19 June) and I thought I would share with you the wonders of swimming and the crucial importance of water safety. Sadly, the royal lifesaving society (RLSS) statistics demonstrate that 700 people drown in the UK and Ireland every year and many more are suffering from lifelong injuries.

Having the ability to swim, can be one of the great life skills that you can learn as a child. You can learn to enjoy many water sport activities, enjoy holidays by the pool and have fun at the beach. However, some children never get the opportunity learn how to swim or are taught the importance of water safety. According to the RLSS drowning is one of the top five causes of death for people aged 1-14 years. Scientific evidence has reported that 1.2 million people around the world die by drowning every year, 50% of which are children. Despite the numerous swimming lessons and water safety measures in place, a third of children can still drown around or close to home. This can be due to unexpected catastrophes such as flooding.

Since I was a child my parents would always take me to the swimming pool, beaches and water parks. I learnt from a young age about the dangers of swimming and how it was an important life skill. One that would be beneficial throughout life. I learnt that many children and adults do not have the same privilege and some children go through their whole lives not learning to swim.

Since 1994, swimming and water safety has been a statutory element of the national curriculum for physical education in England, and every 11-year-old should leave primary school with the skills, knowledge and competence to keep themselves safe while enjoying swimming. Sadly, statistics show that only half of the pupils achieve this. When pupils attend secondary school most of the pupils will not take part in swimming. Throughout my time in primary school, we only had one term of swimming. Due to my prior experience, I was able to achieve my badges; this was not the case for some pupils who are likely to leave school not being competent in the water. Having a term of swimming is not enough time to teach a child how to swim and several factors can cause primary schools to struggle to deliver swimming and water safety lessons. This includes cost, time out of lessons, lack of confidence, facilities and a lack of understanding for teachers.

Swimming has been recognised as a sociocultural issue, as not everyone can afford to pay for lessons and the opportunity within schools has been limited. I was part of a campaign called ‘Make a Splash’ where we created a portable swimming pool and moved it across the country delivering swimming lessons to schools. This was a government funded programme which was unfortunately cut. This meant that 100,000 students missed out on an opportunity to receive swimming lessons. I believe that as a society we need to support our disadvantaged students and help to bring swimming back into our communicates. Schools who have a pool or local leisure centres should reach out and communicate with one another to support and allow more students the opportunity to learn how to swim.

Swimming is an important life skill and I believe that more can be done to help support our BAME students to become more confident in the water. The fantastic, Alice Dearing is one of Britain’s best open water swimmers and has created a campaign to challenge the stereotype that Black people can’t swim. She set up the charity ‘Black Swimming Association’ to help launch and encourage more black people to take up swimming due to not having experience in swimming and it is a pandemic that has gone unnoticed. According to swim England, 95% of black adults and 80% of black children do not swim in the UK. This alarming statistic demonstrates that there is a higher risk of drowning among ethnic minority communities as they do not go swimming as much as White minorities.


Swimming has been classed as a white populated sport. Children and adults may not take up swimming if they do not see people of their ethnicity competing. Furthermore, if we have less students swimming there will be less BAME swimming teachers. By working together, we can help support our BAME community to get in the pool and help to support those first steps in learning the importance of swimming.

Regardless of age, ethnicity, gender or ability, swimming is an important and essential life skill that everyone should be taught. It is important to start breaking down the barriers to sports being for selective genders or ethnicities. Everyone can learn to swim, and everyone should.

Take aways:

  • Swimming is not just a sport it is a life skill and knowing the key skills and water safety tips could potentially save your life one day.
  • Consider when you are out and about where is your local swimming pool? How much is it? Is it accessible to all communities?
  • How many local schools have swimming pools? have they been closed? why? what can you do to campaign?

For more advice and guidance of swimming and water safety tips, please visit the RLSS website

Written by Tina Clark – BAMEPE Collective Steering Group Member – 17.6.20

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