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Water safety and swimming skills result in a reduction in young children drowning

Teachers say water skills training at school is vital so all school children can develop an understanding of being safe in, on and around water.

Over half of the comments made by over 1500 teachers and other educationalists in the 2016 Water Safety New Zealand Aquatic Education in Schools survey conducted by NZCER, mentioned the importance of aquatic education in schools. Many referred to safety in the New Zealand environment in which children are often around, including lakes, rivers and beaches, being paramount.

Schools have largely borne the responsibility for teaching children to swim and water safety in general, with the New Zealand curriculum expecting students to have basic aquatic skills by the end of Year 6.

But over a third of all New Zealand students may be missing out on vital water safety education with just over a quarter of the schools surveyed (27 percent) having achieved the acceptable combination of eight or more lessons of at least 30 minutes and a further 40 percent managing just eight or more lessons of between 26 – 30 minutes.

The top five barriers to providing water based aquatic education in schools include a lack of a suitable or operation pool, costs, lack of transport to a suitable pool, aquatic education not being a priority and not enough or appropriately trained staff.

For the majority of New Zealanders, being around water is a part of everyday life. Activities such as swimming, boating and fishing are amongst some of the New Zealand’s most popular recreational activities and water skills are the building blocks for the safe enjoyment of most aquatic pursuits. They are also the essential basis for participation in all aquatic sports. Inadequate water skills training at school can create a real problem for children now and as adults in the future if they aren’t prepared for risky situations in and around water. On average three 5 – 14 year olds die every year from drowning and in 2016, 81 people drowned in New Zealand.

Water Skills For Life - coming to a school or pool near you

Following an extensive review of current aquatic survival skills programme delivery in New Zealand and a close look at international best practice, in 2015, Water Safety New Zealand developed Water Skills for Life, an initiative aimed at teaching 5 – 13 year olds the skills they need to help keep themselves safe in, on and around water. This review found that the acquisition of a combination of water safety and swimming skills resulted in a reduction in young children drowning.

Research confirms that there is a need for a greater emphasis on teaching water safety skills prior to stroke and distance focused swimming skills, and that offering exposure to a range of aquatic environments (such as rivers and cold open water where most New Zealand drownings occur) is a crucial part of learning water safety skills. These water safety skills are being introduced into schools programmes with full adoption across the country by 2018.

Read more about Water Skills For Life.




Water Skills For Life was developed for children in Years 1 - 8 to learn water safety. Based on 27 core skills, it establishes broad fundamental competencies for life-long water safety.

Children are taught Water Skills for Life at school, either by their school teacher in the school pool or community or by a swim teacher at a community pool. Schools can decide how they teach their students Water Skills For Life.


Click here for the directory to contact a Water Skills for Life instructor.
Click here for School Resources and Database User Guide



Kids have fun and learn water safety

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