Mandatory swimming lessons reflect the importance of teaching children water safety skills, Bendigo primary school leaders said.
Their comments come as the state commemorates Water Safety Week.
There were 43 drowning deaths in Victoria in the past financial year – five more than the 10 year average.
“It’s a message that we need to do more,” said Education and Emergency Services Minister James Merlino.
“Many schools deliver quite an intensive swimming program… but a number of schools do precious little when it comes to swim survival and learning to swim.”
Swimming and water safety lessons will be taught as part of health and physical education classes at state government schools from next year as per the new Victorian curriculum.
Schools will decide how they incorporate the lessons into their curriculum.
“The goal, through the Victorian Water Safety Certificate, is that kids by the end of Grade 6 are able to swim 50 metres continuously and have those swim survival skills,” Mr Merlino said.
Principals of Heathcote Primary School, Strathfieldsaye Primary School and Huntly Primary School welcomed the focus on water safety skills.
All three schools offer swimming programs.
“It’s really important for kids to be safe around water,” said Heathcote Primary School principal Kate Ballantyne.
Huntly Primary School offers its program at the end of the year, so the lessons are fresh in the students’ minds as they start summer holidays.
Heathcote Primary School will follow suit in 2017, shifting its program from the start of the school year to the end.
Specimen Hill Primary School physical education co-ordinator Todd Broadbent was supportive of making swimming lessons a mandatory part of the Victorian curriculum, particularly for primary schools.
“Many of our students over the summer period swim in pools, rivers and the ocean and it makes us feel a lot more comfortable and assured knowing the students have participated in school swimming program,” he said.
“All students need to feel confident in the water but also develop their swimming skills and knowledge.”
He said he had noticed a particular improvement in the students’ skills development and confidence in the water in the past two years, since Specimen Hill Primary School teachers became qualified to conduct the lessons.
“We have eight swimming lessons over two weeks at Golden Square Pool,” Mr Broadbent said.
Strathfieldsaye Primary School principal Cindi Bruechert said transport was the most costly part of her school’s program.
Parents pay $55 per student for travel and entry to the pool for the week-long program.
No additional funding was announced in relation to the mandatory lessons, though Mr Merlino said needs-based funding for schools had increased by 70 per cent.
The state also offers a $148 million Camps, Sports and Excursions Fund for families in need of support.
“This upcoming season, we’ve had so much wet weather over the spring and winter period that our inland rivers are full and they’re running faster,” Mr Merlino said.
“That’s why we just need to be so diligent coming into this summer season.”