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water safety

Water safety course 'should be compulsory in primary schools'

Irish Water Safety has emphasised the need for some water safety education to be made compulsory in schools – and a pool isn’t needed.

WATER SAFETY SHOULD become a feature on every primary school’s curriculum, a water safety group has suggested.

The charity Irish Water Safety created a water safety programme at the behest of the Department of Education, but says that there is a need for the programme to be compulsory.

“Right now half a million primary school children have started their summer holidays but many lack an awareness of how to stay safe when playing near or on the water,” pointed out Roger Sweeney of Irish Water Safety (IWS).

Tragic deaths

Sweeney said the tragic deaths of a number of young people in the past week “bring up the importance of what IWS is doing”.

The fact children’s water safety is not mandatory means that there’s less of an awareness of the advice and guidance that IWS issue.

Sweeney said the programme “gives children the skills, the attitudes and behaviours to stay safe”. “We are only scratching the surface in terms of targeting primary schools at the moment,” he pointed out.

He said the programme instills a sense of responsibility for children’s own actions.

“What we need is a cultural shift to safety consciousness around water,” he said.

We have seen it around road safety – now what we really need is a focus on the education and promotion of IWS safety programmes that have been created by hundreds of volunteers since 1945.


IWS met the Department of Health a number of years ago, telling it that “we had a serious problem with the number of children drowning”. The Department asked it to create a programme, which it did, and it was introduced onto the primary syllabus as part of the physical education strand.

However, just 200 schools of around 4000 primary schools adopted the voluntary programme last year and 40,000 certificates were issued to a potential 500,000 pupils.

“We want schools to have an interest in water safety,” said Sweeney.

Because it’s not compulsory we rely on school teachers to have an interest in teaching children to stay safe in and around water. It’s really important that parents come September check if their school plans on running the programme.

Free certificates are given out as part of the programme to the participants.  It is part of a long-term approach to educate children in water safety and prevent tragic preventable drowning incidents occurring.

The IWS has also set up, which has games, exercises and tips on how to stay safe in the water.


Asked if he believes the water safety programmme should be made compulsory, Sweeney said:

Certainly from an absolute safety perspective, yes, it would be wonderful to see it compulsory.

He acknowledged that there are certain factors that limit schools’ accessibility to swimming pools.

However, not all of the course relies on access to a pool, with the first three certificates within the primary school being classroom based.

“Teachers and schools could certainly be encouraged to run the classroom-based syllabus,” suggested Sweeney. “That in itself would do a lot to encourage children to be safe around water.”

This part of the course includes a focus on water safety at outdoor aquatic environments, and teaches children, for example, to think SAFE – ‘stay away from the edge’ when near water. Children also learn about farm safety, for example. “Children wander – children are curious about water. They learn about how to stay safe at home,” added Sweeney.

They also learn about throwing a ring buoy or other buoyant objects to a person in distress, and take part in simulated exercises on land such as rope rescues.

Sweeney said that reaching people at the prevention stage “leads to fewer rescues; that leads to fewer casualties needing treatment”.

“The range of aquatic environments exposes children and adults to such a wide range of risks that it really needs a sea change in terms of addressing the prevention initiative that IWS is ideally placed to effect,” said Sweeney.

We are as concerned with drownings inland as we are at sea; as much about river drownings as pool drownings; as much about farm drownings as inland waterways and so on. There is a huge wide range of reasons people drown.

Read: Teenager dies in fourth drowning this week>

Read: Huge increase in jetskiers “tormenting” beachgoers – Coastguard>

Read: What happens to your body when you drink alcohol and swim>

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