There are fears that numbers of Scottish children who cannot swim by secondary school will grow after the government cancelled a £1.7 million scheme.
The “top-up” programme saw thousands of primary school children across Scotland benefit from additional teaching.
But now the squeeze on public finances has meant that the four-year scheme has been discontinued.
It comes at a time when about 40 per cent of children across the country – 15,000 each year – go to secondary as non-swimmers. Swimming is not a compulsory part of the curriculum in Scotland, unlike in England.
The move came under fire yesterday from swimming coach Eddie Riach. “It’s a great shame that schools are not taking that commitment on,” he said.
The new move emerged during national drowning prevention week and Mr Riach described it as an “absolute tragedy” when any youngster was lost to drowning.
And he added: “It’s a huge opportunity for fun and fitness for the rest of their lives.”
Mr Riach helps adult learners as part a programme run by Scottish Swimming.
But he added: “They do have a much harder challenge learning to swim than if they got it when they were children.”
Sports minister Jamie Hepburn said: “The top-up programme was designed to help develop a model to enable swimming clubs and local authorities teach children to swim by providing some initial additional investment to assist local provision. The programme received £1.72 million over four years.
“Although the top-up programme has now ended, Scottish Swimming received more than £5m (over four years) in the latest funding round from Sportscotland.
“This is the largest funding settlement of all the Commonwealth Games sports.”
Shelagh Dow, the headteacher at Granton primary in Edinburgh, said the cost involved stopped many families from going swimming. She said the loss of the programme would affect them. “That is going to make a huge difference for them,” Ms Dow said.
“Swimming is ultimately a life skill and because a lot of them don’t manage to pick up the swimming with the funded lessons that they have in primary 4, they really need that top-up. Quite often financial constraints stop them going swimming at other times.”
The top up swimming programme supported local authorities to deliver swimming lessons for pupils.
The main benefit was that instead of a ratio of about one instructor for 25 pupils, the youngsters got far closer instruction from their instructors.
Pirniehall primary school in Edinburgh achieved a success rate of 72 per cent at Triple S, (Scotland Safe Swimmer) as a result of the programme. This compares to 45-50 per cent previously.
A special gala was held at the Commonwealth pool in Edinburgh last week to celebrate the success of the scheme. Paul Godzik, the council’s education convener, said it had provided thousands of children with extra swimming opportunities.