Client: Amateur Swimming Association (ASA)
PR Team: Michael Humphreys and Partners (MH&P), assisted by the Public
Campaign: Swim for Life
Timescale: Jan-June 1998
Budget: Part of an on-going programme
In January this year the Government announced that it was proposing to
make swimming a non-core subject in the National Curriculum and that it
would be left to individual schools’ discretion whether to continue with
lessons. Since 93 per cent of schools use an off-site pool, often with
associated travel expenses involved, it was likely that many would take
the easy option and drop swimming completely.
To make the Government and the media aware of the implications for
children’s safety and health if this proposal went ahead.
The chief executive of the ASA, David Sparkes, was refused a meeting
with the Department of Education and Employment on this urgent subject,
and was asked to write again in the year 2000 when they would review the
new arrangements. It therefore became imperative to mobilise public
opinion swiftly and lobby MPs in order to put immediate pressure on the
Since the ability to swim can be a life saving skill, the Swim for Life
campaign emphasised that children could be at greater risk from drowning
if they were not taught to swim at school. A survey had been
commissioned in early 1997 by the ASA to assess the level of swimming in
schools and it was used as a key reference point to back up the ASA’s
claims, since swimming lessons were already proving financially
difficult for many schools.
MH&P launched a national and regional campaign using this information
targeting sport, education, news and political correspondents, broadcast
media and feature programmes on national and local radio stations.
Lobbying consultancy the Public Policy Unit wrote to MPs and ministers
highlighting the consequences of the proposals and requesting their
It was announced at the beginning of this month that the Government was
backing down on its ruling, and that swimming would remain a compulsory
part of the curriculum.
A ground-swell of criticism of the Government’s proposals was built up
in key areas of the media. BBC TV’s Breakfast News carried a five-minute
piece featuring Olympic swimming champion Duncan Goodhew in which he
conveyed the key message, ’If you are not educating children how to look
after their own health, you’re not educating them at all.’
National press coverage included the Daily Telegraph, the Independent,
the Express and Radio One’s breakfast show. Nearly 50 MPs confirmed
their support for the campaign in writing and some raised questions in
The campaign was viewed in crisis management terms. No planning and
evaluation budget was applied.
David Sparkes is in no doubt that it was the campaign that succeeded in
changing the Government’s proposals. He says: ’Initially the media was
lukewarm and thought it was too late to change anything but the BBC
coverage, with the support from Duncan Goodhew in particular, swung it.’
This was an urgent job, carried out quickly and efficaciously. If the
ASA had been forced to wait until 2000 for the situation to be reviewed,
reinstatement would have been a more difficult prospect.