I’m not looking to create an Olympic swimmer, I just want my child to be able to swim safely by himself. However, finding a suitable swimming lessons for children with additional needs where we live is a major problem.
Last September, after years of looking and lots of tears, we finally found the right teacher. Jean was amazing. She ran classes in groups of two or three for children with complex needs and was passionate about enabling them to reach their full potential.
Big Bear had developed a fear of water. At the start of his first lesson, he burst into tears at the side of the pool and refused to get in. This didn’t phase Jean who picked him up, took him into the pool and calmed him down. A few weeks later, he was getting in voluntarily. After three months he was jumping in the pool and using a woggle and armbands to swim on his own. She was a miracle worker.
Then we heard the news that hit us hard. Someone in the council had decided Jean’s lessons, which were subsidised by the council and run through a disability organisation, should be brought into line with its own disability hubs.
The disability hub format uses an instructor at the side of the pool to teach a group of children who are in the water. This works for the council but sadly it doesn’t work for the children who need a teacher in the water.
The council withdrew Jean’s funding and said she’d have to run her lessons its way, according to its timetable.
Jean knew running swimming lessons for children with additional needs the way the council wanted wouldn’t work for the children she taught and reluctantly resigned.
Parents formed an action group to share their concerns about the decisions made.
I wrote a story for the local paper about our plight. It gathered support from other parents who had struggled to find swimming lessons for children with additional needs too.
A group of parents met the council’s chief executive, aquatics manager and a local MP to discuss the problem. They were assured changes would be made.
The council managed to persuade Jean to join the disability hub in a mentoring instruction role. It plans to recruit more instructors and create a new class level with an instructor in the pool.
Initially the council has given Jean a reduced timetable and a few of her old pupils.
It’s taken six months to get this far. Thankfully Big Bear is now one of the children she is teaching again, albeit at a pool on the other side of the city.
However, there are lots of families in limbo and left on a waiting list. The council says it is struggling to recruit new instructors. It is pushing for Jean’s pupils to move into the existing disability hubs after a few lessons with her.
When I took Big Bear to the new pool a couple of weeks ago, a member of the council’s aquatics team made it very clear that Big Bear’s lessons with Jean were temporary. He said he was keen to move Big Bear into an existing disability hub class.
When I pointed out that Big Bear would not be able to learn from an instructor at the side of the pool due to his anxieties, sensory issues and concentration difficulties, he looked confused and wandered off.
Trying to fit all children with complex needs into one type of swimming lesson is impossible. If the people making these decisions had any idea about children with additional needs, they would understand that just because someone in the council’s aquatics department has devised a class model, it doesn’t mean children will fit into it.
If children with additional needs don’t learn the way the council teaches, maybe the council needs to change its methods rather than trying to change the children.
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