Lake Macquarie City Council is set to enhance its school water safety training programs in a bid to improve children’s swimming skills.

Manager Leisure Services, Brad Sutton, said the move followed a recent Royal Life Saving Australia report showing that almost half of 11 and 12-year-old children could not achieve the minimum benchmark for swimming and water safety skills.

The RLSA benchmark tests skills such as swimming 50 metres without stopping, treading water for two minutes and performing a safety jump into deep water.

“We want to do everything we can to ensure kids across Lake Macquarie are confident and capable in the water,” Mr Sutton said.

“Council already offers an extensive school-hours water safety training program for schools throughout the city, however, from Term 1 next year it is hoped this will be expanded to provide more opportunities for schools to participate.”

Council is also investigating the feasibility of providing subsidised out-of-school learn to swim programs for children in lower socioeconomic areas.

“Studies have shown that children from lower income households are less likely to participate in learn to swim courses,” Mr Sutton said.

“Working with the Department of Education and local primary schools, we hope to offer these courses at a reduced fee for eligible families will hopefully prompt more parents to get their kids involved.

“The ultimate aim is to reduce the number of drownings in Australia, not just in backyard pools but at the beach and in all other waterways.”

Royal Life Saving Australia data released last week shows 965 Australian children aged under five had died from drowning in the past 25 years.

Council’s learn to swim programs are developed in conjunction with Royal Life Saving Australia to provide effective, enjoyable programs for children.

The programs are offered at Council’s swim centres at Charlestown, Swansea, West Wallsend and Speers Point, with more than 24,000 children taking part each year.

Classes are provided across five age categories and eight levels of competency, from basic water familiarisation for babies aged six months and above to advanced swimming skills for children aged five and over.