Private schools are being urged to open their swimming pools to state pupils, under plans announced by the education secretary.

Damian Hinds called for the private sector to do more to help children in their communities learn to swim, amid concerns about the numbers of children who leave primary school without the skill.

Despite the activity being a compulsory part of the national curriculum, fewer than half of British children can swim 25 metres by the age of 11.

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Mr Hinds said: “As a parent, I want my children to enjoy swimming as part of an active lifestyle, and as education secretary, I want to make sure our children grow up safe and water confident.

“That’s why I wanted to partner with the Independent Schools Council to get more private schools to offer up their pools, teachers or training to their neighbouring local state schools.

“Many independent schools are already doing this, but others can and must do more to help every child in their community.

“And as these partnerships develop, I hope to see some healthy competition between and within schools, so that children can not only have the health benefit of swimming, but the team spirit and personal development that comes from competitive sport.”

The Department for Education has not proposed any measures that would compel private schools to share swimming facilities.

Around half of the Independent Schools Council’s members with swimming pools – 304 of 603 schools – already share facilities.

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Some 72 per cent of primary schools have to use public facilities for swimming classes.

In 2015, the outgoing chairman of the British Olympic Association, Lord Moynihan, tabled an amendment to the Charities Bill that would require independent schools to share sports facilities to keep their charitable status.

But the bill was defeated, by 156 votes to 105.

Responding to the government announcement, Labour deputy leader Tom Watson – who is responsible for sport in his party – said: “This barely moves the dial on the pressing need to improve the health of our children, when six out of 10 are leaving primary school either overweight or obese.

“If you really want to improve children’s health, make guidelines on nutrition in schools mandatory, not voluntary.”

Barnaby Lenon, chairman of the Independent Schools Council, said: “Swimming is a life skill which helps develop fitness, and for many people leads to a lifetime of enjoyment.

“Many of those independent schools that have pools are already involved in swimming partnership work with other schools and the wider community.”

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