3 Mar 2017

Schools struggle to keep pools afloat

9:25 pm on 3 March 2017

An Auckland school says it has to dip into its capital funding to maintain its school pool.

Glen Innes School principal Jono Hendricks says some students are missing out on lessons because they don't have swimming togs.

Glen Innes School principal Jono Hendricks says government funding does not cover pool maintenance costs. Photo: RNZ / Tom Furley

The Ministry of Education said about 60 percent of New Zealand schools had pools.

Ministry associate deputy secretary for early learning and student achievement Pauline Cleaver said those 1300 schools got extra funding as part of their annual property maintenance grant. Schools could use their capital funding to maintain their pools.

Glen Innes School principal Jono Hendricks said the extra money was nowhere near the $8000 to $10,000 annual costs.

His decile one school had not received any pool-specific funding since 2015. It was struggling to keep the facility open.

"Before, they would have given you a monetary allocation for having a pool onsite. That has been removed as late as 2015."

"[It] is unfortunate because the onus then falls back on us to find that money within our operation grant ... not only for the pool, but also the rest of the academic programme."

Mr Hendricks said while having a pool came at a cost of resourcing other areas, his 219 pupils were better off with a pool on site.

"The kids who are regular with their training, they come in and they get some extra time just to either work on their strokes or just relax or in some cases it's just play time. We have a facility, why not give them every chance to use it?" he said.

Water Safety chief executive Jonty Mills said over the past five years about 156 school pools closed and 130 were at risk.

There were 81 preventable drownings last year - one of the highest rates in the developed world, he said.

Mr Mills said more children were coming out of the education system without basic water safety skills, which would only lead to a spike long-term in drowning statistics.

Pupils scrape hands on shallow pool floor

In Hamilton, decile 10 Tamahere Country Model School is fundraising $500,000 to build two new pools, one for the juniors and one for the seniors.

Principal Waveney Parker said the current pool was too shallow and senior students scraped their hands at the bottom. A deeper pool would build their confidence when they swam in the ocean.

"We value swimming - if we can make a difference for kids and save lives. If they go to the beach later on - you hear all these drowning statistics - well, there's so many children in New Zealand who are now not really experiencing deep water or pushing themselves and their ability to swim."

Ms Parker said the school had already raised $200,000 dollars selling a cook book. It hoped to raise the remaining $300,000 to provide a facility to the wider community as well.

In the meantime, the school's pupils hoped their facility would not become a statistic.

"I like learning new ways to swim because it's just fun to practise to it," a year 8 Glen Innes school student said.

A group in the pool at lunchtime said they felt confident swimming at the beach and learning to be competent was important because "otherwise you'll drown when you're in the ocean".

Pools owned by communities - Ministry

The Ministry of Education said the Glen Innes School was owned by the community, not the Ministry.

"It does not provide maintenance funding for it, and has never done so."

It said it owns the changing sheds and gives the school funding to maintain them.