Program saves children from deep trouble

On a sunny summer’s day at picturesque North Sydney Olympic Pool — with the harbour lapping at the door and the iconic bridge towering overhead — it has to be the best classroom in the world.

But for swimming teachers from the of Manly-Warringah Teachers Association, Pam and John Ward, Olympian Deborah Watson and Suzanne Johns, the vista goes barely noticed — there is the important job of watching and teaching their young students water safety, as part of the School Swimming and Water Safety Program. Children can learn to swim and be safe in an aquatic environment,” John said. “The knowledge gained in the daily safety talks makes them more aware of the need to be careful and avoid dangerous situations like rip currents.”

The Special Swimming Scheme began in 1954 with permanent teachers seconded to teach primary school children to swim during terms 1 and 3 and then teach the normal curriculum in schools during term 2.

“Governments have not properly appreciated the importance of lives being saved due to the operation of this program,” John, who is a Federation Life Member, said. “They seem to be more interested in cutting costs. As a result permanent teachers were replaced by less expensive casuals.

“On two occasions the government tried to replace teachers with recreation officers who were less qualified and on much lower rates of pay. These were successfully resisted with the help of the NSW Teachers Federation.”

In the late 1980s, the Greiner Liberal government made a 25 per cent cut to swimming staffing that has endured to this day. This staffing deficit has had to be made up by requiring classroom teachers to teach a swimming group.

“Many of these visiting teachers do not like this arrangement,” John said. “It would be much better to have four qualified School Swimming and Water Safety Program staff on each team.”

Federation’s Special Interest Group meets regularly and represents issues specific to those working in the program. The SIG has recently discussed issues arising from the changes to the departmental payroll software rollout, which have affected long-term administrative customs and practices.

Few members realise they are qualified and accredited teachers, John was principal at Barrenjoey High School. After serving as an infants teacher and sports mistress at Wattawa Heights Public School and seven years as a teacher at Stewart House, Pam, an Association Life Member, is Teacher– in-Charge of the Northern Beaches Team that delivers the program.

Deborah is a Physical Education teacher at Curl Curl North Public School and was the captain of the Australian water polo team that won gold at the Sydney 2000 Olympics.

Suzanne, a member of Manly Masters Swimming Club and has many medals for backstroke events, taught swimming for the Forbes and Ursula Carlisle organisation and was formerly an itinerant teacher of children with a hearing impediment.

Scott Coomber is a staff writer