TWO thirds of children in Redbridge leave primary school without being able to swim a length in a swimming pool, it has been revealed.
The figure is the fourth lowest of 35 local authorities who responded to a freedom of Information request from the Amateur Swimming Association (ASA).
It also means the majority of children in the borough are failing to meet targets set out by the Department of Education which says they should be able to swim 25 metres by the time they leave primary school.
John Sharrock, chairman of swimming organisation Redbridge Swimmers, says the figure should be a cause for concern.
He said: “It is extremely sad that so few of our children start secondary school unable to swim.
“But we have just one public pool left in the borough (at Fullwell Cross), so this is not surprising.”
At a meeting last night, the council’s cabinet agreed to push ahead with plans to turn a derelict swimming pool in Ilford High Road into a new primary school.
The land is subject to a series of covenants which stipulate that it should be used for swimming, but the council says it will resort to legal means to build the school if necessary.
Mr Sharrock urged councillors to find another site to build on.
He said: “I don’t want to get into an education v swimming argument, because I believe swimming is an important part of education.
“But if we can’t afford to re-open this pool now, it should be safeguarded for future renovation.”
Oakdale Junior School in South Woodford is one of just two primary schools in the borough with its own pool.
Head teacher Linda Snow said her pupils had reaped the benefits of regular lessons.
She added: “The majority of our children leave being able to swim the 25 metres required as part of key stage two.
“But many children in the borough don’t get those regular lessons and a lot of schools can only offer lessons to one age group – often year five.”
At last night’s meeting Council Leader Keith Prince said he was still committed to building a second pool in the borough, but added that new schools were a priority.
But Deputy Leader Ian Bond said: “The truth is this council cannot afford a swimming pool and we won’t be able to afford one for the foreseeable future.”
Councillor Thomas Chan, cabinet member for property and regeneration, agreed that the need for a new school on the Ilford site is more urgent than a pool.
He said: “I took my children swimming in Loughton when they were young, and there is also a very good pool in Waltham Forest.
“Parents need to take more responsibility to find pools outside the borough if they want to help their children learn to swim.”