Page last updated at 00:39 GMT, Monday, 1 February 2010

Up to two year wait for children's swimming lessons

By Steven McKenzie
Highlands and Islands reporter, BBC Scotland news website

Boy jumping into a pool
Scottish Swimming is calling for all primary children to be taught to swim

Children are waiting for up to two years for swimming lessons in Scotland.

Lists at Highland Council pools are three months to two years. In Aberdeen, 362 youngsters are waiting for lessons.

Registering online at Inverness Leisure shows a wait of 1,040 days, but bosses said this was a "worst case scenario" and the actual wait was shorter.

Scottish Swimming has called for every child to be taught to swim before they leave primary school and the body said this could help ease waiting lists.

Authorities and pool providers contacted by the BBC Scotland news website handled enrolment to children's classes differently and the age for entry ranged from three to six months.

Waiting lists highlight the popularity of swimming and the importance of learning to swim as a life skill and potential life saver
Kirsten Phillips
Swimming Scotland

Edinburgh Leisure and Culture and Sport Glasgow both said they had no-one waiting for lessons.

The Olympia Leisure Centre - Dundee's main pool - holds an open day where pupils are enrolled on a first-come-first-served basis.

The next intake will be at the end of March.

Lochee, another key venue in Dundee, has a waiting list which is restricted to 50 names and is regularly full.

Perth and Kinross Leisure (PKL) said it operated waiting lists, but did not specify how long they were.

PKL said: "The demand for these lessons is high in a number of venues and in order to supply this demand we operate waiting lists.

"However, every effort is made to ensure that parents are notified when spaces become available."

Of children waiting for lessons in Aberdeen - most (99) have their names down for Tadpole classes, which are for three to 15 months
Two public pools in Edinburgh are closed for refurbishment. Glenogle Swim Centre will reopen in the summer and the Royal Commonwealth Pool is closed for a major overhaul until 2011
Culture and Sport Glasgow manages 12 swimming pools. The main ones are Scotstoun and Tollcross
In the Highlands, Wick Amateur Swimming Club has been awarded £750 of Lottery funding. The club has had problems retaining female members once they turn 13-14-years-old

In Aberdeen, 981 youngsters have signed up for the latest block of lessons. Currently 362 have their names down to learn to swim.

James Martin, general manager at Inverness Leisure, said the company knew its waiting lists were long but it would not compromise on the time allocated to coaching children to shorten them.

He said the company had always been honest about the wait, which could be up to two years but was generally less.

Highland Council is among local authorities which take part in Swimming Scotland's learn to swim programme, offering free lessons to P5-P7.

Children's classes are offered free through the High Life card subscription scheme, which sees adults paying a monthly fee to use sports centres and swimming pools.

Mr Martin said this was a factor driving demand for lessons.

He said: "Whilst we would obviously like our waiting lists to be shorter than they are currently sitting, we feel at Inverness Leisure we are offering our customers an extremely high standard of teaching from very qualified and professional swimming instructors and wouldn't want to compromise on this simply in order to bring the waiting times down."

More than 2,000 children a week are taught swimming at Inverness Leisure.

Activities development officer Mhairi Burns said the complex was believed to be the only one in Scotland offering registration and tracking of waiting lists online.

She said: "This means that a parent can register their child through our website and then follow their progress through the waiting list in order to gauge when their child or children will be given a place on our extremely popular learn to swim scheme.

"We are currently telling our customers that, on placing their child on our waiting list, they will wait approximately 24 months before they get a place."

She said the website was giving customers an "absolute worst case scenario", but that they were in discussions with the web designers to ensure they way information is presented was not misleading.

Life skill

The Scottish Amateur Swimming Association - known as Scottish Swimming - has called for all young children to be entitled to free swimming lessons as they have been in England and Wales since the 1990s.

Spokeswoman Kirsten Phillips said swimming was a life skill and the organisation would wish to see all youngsters able to swim by the time they left primary school.

She said this could also help ease waiting lists.

Scottish Swimming and national agency Sportscotland have also drawn up a strategy giving advice to local authorities and pool providers on how they can be more flexible in the running of sites.

Ms Phillips said: "We won't dictate to authorities and pool providers, but if they are considering reviewing anything we would like to offer our support and any advice."

She added: "In terms of participation, swimming is still up there in the top three. There is demand from early morning swimmers, lane swimmers, clubs and things like aqua aerobics.

"Waiting lists highlight the popularity of swimming and the importance of learning to swim as a life skill and potential life saver."

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