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BBC Radio Kent.

Transcript of interview for BBC Radio Kent

dated 28.10.04 held at Dragonsí Gym, Maidstone Kent and subsequent studio interview with Ralph Riley, Chief Executive of the ISRM

 

 

Pool interview conducted by Ian Harker

 

Interviewees:

Dr Anou Rao, Local GP and mother of 3.

Hugh Robertson, MP for Faversham and Mid Kent and Shadow Minister for Sport

Carolyn Warner, Chairperson of the Right to Swim Campaign

Robin Fox, Duty Manager at Dragons health and sports club

 

 

Ian Harkner:

Children enjoying a swim with their parents, itís a pleasure many of us take for granted but mother of three Anou Rao from Maidstone hasnít been able to enjoy that pleasure since being barred from entering her local pool because her children were mainly under 4 and she needed an extra adult.

 

 

Dr Anou Rao:

Effectively it feels ludicrous that as a parent I canít take my children on an activity that they enjoy doing and the fact that they in time are going to lose any confidence they have in the water. The only way round this is to have them in a course on lessons and at the current time that has a waiting list of about 3-6 months.

 

 

Ian Harkner:

So she hasnít been swimming at a public pool at all this year and there are 10,000 others like her according to the campaign group Right to Swim which was born when Carolyn Warner from Maidstone decided to bring together all the disparate groups of angry parents around the nation who felt the same way.The group is campaigning on just one issue, the right to exercise parental responsibility and go for a swim in a public pool with their children.

 

 

Carolyn Warner:

I support safety in pools but I donít support a guideline that in essence bans anyone from swimming.We should be promoting swimming for families; we should be making it more accessible for people who are single parent and those who have twins.We should be helping them to swim not discourage them and put things in their way and the government are quite happy to stand back and let it happen.

 

 

Ian Harkner:

And it is single parents and larger families who are worst affected according to the campaign, particularly those with 3 young children or more.Essentially the guidelines issued by the Institute for Sport and Recreation Management donít bar entry to young families but as an independent body representing those who run swimming pools they do lay down guidelines for child supervision.These recommend that if the child is under 4 and a non swimmer then they should have an adult with them in the water on a one to one ratio.If they are between 4 and 8 then it is one to two.The Shadow Minister for Sport and Kent MP Hugh Robertson calls the guidelines draconian and unnecessary.

 

 

Hugh Robertson:

I think it is absolutely stupid and the implication will be that a whole generation of children who grow up with a single mother or a large family will be denied the opportunity to learn to swim and that is just disastrous.

 

 

Ian Harkner:

They may only be guidelines and not requirements but 90 percent of pools across the nation have adopted them and he wants the Minister for Sport, Richard Caborn to intervene.Meanwhile some of the parents refused entry at public pools where using a private club instead.At Dragons health and sports club in Maidstone they have a broader approach to ratioís and ages.Robin Fox is their duty manager with responsibility for health and safety.

 

 

Robin Fox:

We ask that one parent doesnít supervise more than 3 children in the swimming pool at any one time.The children are under 16 and so it could mean anyone from sort of a baby up to 15 years of age.

 

 

Ian Harkner:

And have you had any incidents?

 

 

Robin Fox:

We havenít, no.

 

 

Ian Harkner:

The Instituteís website says that the guidance hasnít come out of the blue but has evolved over 12 years of consideration and consultation with pool operators and experts in water safety.The site says that the vast majority of pools have adopted the guidance without causing public concern.This is Ian Harkner for BBC Radio Kent in Maidstone.

 

 

Studio Interview

 

Interviewees:

 

Ralph Riley, Chief Executive, Institute of Sport and Recreation Management

 

Interviewer:

Well listening to that is Ralph Riley, Chief Executive of the Institute of Sport and Recreation Management who now joins me. Good evening to you.

 

 

Ralph Riley:

Good evening.

 

 

Interviewer:

Your guidelines may have evolved over 12 years but there are not working are they?

 

 

Ralph Riley:

Well, it depends to what extent you think theyíre not working.

 

 

Interviewer:

Well, thousands of families are being barred from entry.

 

 

Ralph Riley:

Well, the idea of the guidelines was to improve safety in swimming pools and over that 12 year period virtually every swimming pool in the country has adopted some form of admissions policy for children and many hundreds of them have done it without affecting in any way the patronage of their pools.There are always going to be some parents affected and we have to recognise that but this is a policy that is about keeping children safe, it is not about trying to get as many people through the door no matter what the risks are involved

 

 

Interviewer:

But you are being unrealistic for single mums and larger families being banned.Thousands of them are.Thatís just not right is it?

 

 

Ralph Riley:

Well, they are not necessarily banned in all pools.What we say is people donít have to adopt the guidance as we write it.What we say is look; this is our guidance to you.What you have to do by law and this is what legally operators have to do, is to do a risk assessment and in that risk assessment take into account any national guidance and so they do the risk assessment.Now if they believe the risks are less then they can vary the policy if the risks are more as it is in some leisure pools for example then they might need to increase the policy.

 

 

Interviewer:

But if you issue guidelines then woes betide any company that doesnít adopt them and there is an accident, they will be doubly sued for every penny wonít they?

 

 

Ralph Riley:

No. No.The pools have a responsibility themselves to write their own safety policy and if they base that on their own risk assessment then that is all that they need to do.This thing that says this is a complete misapprehension.People donít have to just adopt the policy as we write it, they have to do their own risk assessment but as an expert body we are asked by our members to provide advice on such things.Now then, when we first developed the policy what we did, we went out to all the swimming pools in the country and we said look, ďhow do you, whatís your policy for swimming admissions?ĒWe then based our policy on what the most common practice was and we took into account also coroners comments that were being made at that time about child drowning in swimming pools.

 

 

Interviewer:

Ok.The Shadow Minister for Sport Hugh Robertson, Kent MP for Faversham says these guidelines are stupid and disastrous.

 

 

Ralph Riley:

Well, the guidelines as I say were developed by operators out there in the industry, people who actually have legal responsibility for making sure that children are safe in swimming pools.We asked hundreds of them what their policy was, these are experts in swimming pool policy so I donít think itís stupid.Also a recent survey you know showed that in the UK pools are 6 times safer than pools in the rest of Europe.In other words youíre 6 times less likely to drown in our pools than in Europeís pools.

 

 

Interviewer:

Ok.So the statistics are there and thatís fine but your own guidance says the guidelines donít apply if the child is in a group being taught to swim by a lifeguard.†† Yes?

 

 

Ralph Riley:

Not quite, no.It doesnít apply where there is programmed swimming where a class is under instruction and as such the degree of responsibility is passed on to the instructor and a degree of controlled is far greater than in an ordinary public session.

 

 

Interviewer:

What is the difference between that and a parent teaching his 3 children to swim who can look at what is happening?

 

 

Ralph Riley:

Because you have a controlledÖthat is like saying, what is the difference between a classroom environment and a playground environment?The difference is the degree of control and responsibility that is provided.

 

 

Interviewer:

But they have more people to look after donít they?If youíve got a classroom full of people then they have more people to look at.If youíve got a parent who is just concentrating on their 3 children they are much more in a position than a lifeguard sitting on the side.

 

 

Ralph Riley:

No, we are not talking about lifeguards we are talking about swimming teachers who are especially trained to be responsible for childrenís safety in a swimming pool and quite often that swimming instructor is also backed up by lifeguards in the pool so you donít have one person, you invariably have 2 and probably 3 and once again the ratioís are quite specific as to how many children and what age a swimming instructor can be responsible for.

 

 

Interviewer:

Ok.If a child doesnít get to learn to swim because of these rules, they canít go in and learn to swim, arenít we running the danger of not exposing them to water in the early years that there could be a problem when they try to learn to swim outside they donít know how to swim?

 

 

Ralph Riley:

We want to encourage as many children as possible to learn to swim.That is in all our members interest but we want to encourage them to swim in a safe environment.The fact is that most children learn to swim either as key stage 2 as part of their school sports programme or else they learn to swim through a local operated swimming programme.In fact, that is the best way to do it, itís a bit like teaching your children to drive a car, it is far better in fact if you leave it to an expert.

 

 

Interviewer:

How many deaths and injuries are there due to lack of parental supervision?

 

 

Ralph Riley:

Thereís er. I think if you are talking about incidents, we recently did a survey and in that survey it showed; and then we covered over 500 pools; about one third of the pools in the country, that the incidents, the average incident in the pool is 10 per year.That is where children are put at risk to a drowning incident but it could be as many as 100.Drowning that take place are a handful, probably 3 or 4 a year, thatís all.

 

 

Interviewer:

Do you accept that these rules are right if there are parents across the country who know their own children, who know the situation, and there are many parents who have been teaching their children for years how to swim. Do you accept that many feel that these are completely wrong, the whole guidelines?

 

 

Ralph Riley:

I can accept the situation that where a pool does a risk assessment and it takes into account the guidelines and it says ďright, ok.We will operate our pool this weekĒ.†† For example if the pools got areas of shallow water then the policy should be varied and so it can be relaxed.If the children are wearing armbands then the policy can be relaxed.If there is additional supervision present then the policy can be relaxed if the children can swim and are competent at swimming then the policy can be varied.I think that there are so many degrees of flexibility that it is very, very rarely that parents would be affected in the way that you have said.

 

 

Interviewer:

Many parents do not agree, we have heard from them, we just heard from them there in that report.

 

 

Ralph Riley:

Well, I mean that may be the case but I mean, we donít hear from the vast majority that are not being affected.

 

 

Interviewer:

Ok, right.We are going to have to leave it there.Ralph Riley thank you very much for being with us.

 

 

Ralph Riley:

Thank you.