Oxford primary school installs pop-up pool to teach swimming

Children are learning to swim in a temporary swimming pool at their primary school, after a local leisure centre regularly cancelled sessions.

The pop-up pool is in a marquee on the playground at St John Fisher Catholic School in Blackbird Leys, Oxfordshire.

Head teacher Paul Higgins said Leys Pools & Leisure Centre cancelled more than two-thirds of lessons last year.

Fusion Lifestyle, which runs the centre, cited a national shortage of swim teachers for the cancellations.

Councillor Chewe Munkonge, who is the cabinet member for Leisure and Parks on Oxford City Council which owns the centre, said: “We are sorry that Mr Higgins has found it challenging to get his children lessons and would encourage him to reach out to us.”

Mr Higgins said: “You don’t remember your English and maths lessons but you remember the two months you had a pop-up swimming pool in your school, and that sticks with them.”

Kids splashing water in a pool

Student Ruben said he “loves that it gives you exercise but it’s fun as well”, whilst fellow pupil Enya added: “I didn’t used to be able to swim and now I’ve improved a lot more by learning how to do different things on the water.”

Mr Higgins, who came up with the idea for the pop-up pool, said the school previously had “all sorts of difficulties” at Leys Pools & Leisure Centre, with cancelled lessons and costs meaning the school “decided that we needed to find a solution”.

Fusion Lifestyle cited a “nationwide shortage” of swimming teachers as the main cause for cancellations.

They added they were “working hard to recruit instructors”, and would “happily” contact Mr Higgins in the meantime to “discuss the particular issues this school is having”.

Paul Higgins
Headteacher Paul Higgins came up with the idea for the pop-up pool

Funding from Sport England allowed the school to rent the pool and pay swim teachers from the Swim Clinic in Abingdon.

Carole Newberry, director at Swim Clinic, said the temporary pool was a way the company could “help put something back in into Oxfordshire” by providing swimming for children.

“Every single child can swim when we have these units in place at the school,” she said.

She said since adding the unit at St John Fisher’s, other schools had been in contact about installing similar provisions.

Carole Newberry
Carole Newberry is a director at Swim Clinic, who provide swimming teachers for the pool

The National Curriculum requires all primary schools to provide swimming lessons, with the aim of students being able to “swim competently, confidently and proficiently over a distance of at least 25 metres”.

Mr Higgins said that with the pop-up pool at the school, he was “extremely confident” the children of St John Fisher would achieve that target.

He added the school hoped to install a more permanent pool next year that would allow it to provide lessons throughout the year, and be open to the community.

Ruben said he loves that the pool “gives you exercise but it’s fun as well”

Fusion Lifestyle said is was “extremely sorry” but added there was a “nationwide shortage of swimming teachers which has impacted us and many other operators around the country”.

“Where lessons are unavoidably cancelled schools and parents do receive full refunds and we are working hard to recruit instructors.,” it added.”We will happily contact the headteacher in the meantime to discuss the particular issues this school is having.”

A Department for Education spokesperson added: “New statutory PE and sport guidance will be published in the spring that will ensure primary schools get support to overcome barriers to teaching swimming and water safety.”We will continue to work closely with Swim England, The Royal Life Saving Society UK and RNLI to support pupils being taught how to swim and water safety through a number of routes.”