Outdoor swimming lessons require confident teachers

Outdoor swimming lessons require confident teachers

Now that parts of the swimming lessons will take place outdoors, there is a lot of news for the teachers as well. But we can find out by working together.

Most drowning accidents happen outdoors. The swimming lessons at the schools will therefore now partly take place outside as well.

The goal is to make the teaching more realistic for students who will be able to save themselves and others. You are not as prepared if you have only practiced in the hot pool inside.

It has not been common to teach swimming outdoors – neither in school nor during teacher training.

But this is challenging, also for the teachers.

It has not been common to teach swimming outdoors – neither in school nor during teacher training.

But a new collaboration between NTNU and Bærum municipality has provided new knowledge that can be useful for teachers who want a little help before they dive into the depths and teach students according to the new competence goals.

In, on and by water

The new curriculum in physical education states that students must learn to travel safely in, on and by water.

  • When traveling in water, we often think of those who swim, swim or dive.
  • On water are, for example, canoes, kayaks and board activities, or those who travel on the ice or on the pier.
  • Water can be on the shore, on the rock or on the pier.

We are thus thinking of the places where we stay close to or in the various water environments, and of places where we can end up in the water, for example at the pier or in a boat.

The municipality contacted

Bærum municipality takes the changes in the subject renewal seriously, and contacted NTNU to find out how we can together create good and relevant competence development in the physical education subject.

Swimming.  The picture shows teachers by the river Lysakerelva.

One goal of teaching together is that physical education teachers should be confident in what they are doing. Photo: Egil Galaaen Gjølme, NTNU

Especially the part with swimming and lifesaving outdoors was unknown and was perceived as unsafe for many teachers.

Decentralized competence development, or Dekom, is a new scheme for competence development in schools. Through the Dekom scheme, we therefore initiated a collaboration where the goal was to develop a professional community for teachers across schools.

Learning in professional communities

In the last two years, the physical education teachers in the municipality have met twice during the school year. They have had intermediate work between the gatherings where they find a place to practice in their immediate area, make a good plan to ensure safety and try out the scheme together with the students.

The teachers were offered competence development in a professional community to get a theoretical starting point, learn and try out new practical skills in, on and by water.

The goal was for the physical education teachers to feel safe.

They should also reflect and share experiences with each other. This had to be anchored in practice, so that the teachers received support to prepare their own teaching plans, and then tried them out with students at their own school.

The goal was that the physical education teachers should feel confident in making risk assessments and that they had enough competence to take the students on swimming and lifesaving outdoors.

In-depth learning – also for teachers

In-depth learning is a term that has been frequently used in connection with subject renewal.

The Directorate of Education defines in-depth learning as the gradual development of knowledge and lasting understanding of concepts, methods and contexts in subjects and between subject areas. When we learn with depth, we must also have the ability to reflect on our own learning.

Within swimming and lifesaving training, this can mean that we develop water competence by traveling safely in, by and on water, and that students can use what they have learned in different ways in known and unknown situations.

Outside we can experience both waves, wind, current and not least cold water.

In other words: To what extent can what you have learned in the pool have value if you fall through the ice or into the river?

If competence in dealing with dangers in and by water is to lead to fewer people drowning, both students and teachers must be able to save themselves. This applies not only indoors, but also outdoors where most accidents happen. Outside we can experience both waves, wind, current and not least cold water.

How can we practice to achieve a broad water competence so that we can be safe in natural environments that we travel in on a daily basis?

The school’s responsibility that it is safe

All education in the school must be carried out in a safe manner, and the schools themselves are responsible for ensuring that this is the case. This also applies to swimming lessons.

The Directorate of Education has produced the guide “Safe training in swimming, self-rescue and lifesaving and when swimming under the auspices of the school”.

The schools must ensure that the teachers at all times have the competence that is necessary, so that the training can take place in a responsible manner. Schools must also decide how often an update of competence should take place.

There are no formal and legal requirements for an annual lifesaving test in a pool, but the pools can still require this through their internal control. The same applies to outdoor activities.

Swimming.  Picture from teacher meeting at Lysakerelva.

The teachers had a real need for competence related to training in outdoor swimming. Here from Lysakerelva and the teaching there. Photo: Egil Galaaen Gjølme, NTNU

Teachers and schools can therefore not lean on a lifesaving test in a swimming pool as an entrance ticket to all activities in, on and by water.

Wet card competency certificate

The training system Våttkort has been developed jointly by the Norwegian Paddle Association, the Rescue Company and NTNU. This is a relatively new competence and training system for swimming, self-rescue and lifesaving.

It may be appropriate to provide teachers with a certificate of competence.

Transparent course plans ensure that participants know what to learn, should be able to, and understand what is expected of them. Most teachers who teach swimming and lifesaving have received training in indoor pools, but in the Dekom project we have chosen to give teachers a certificate of competence that shows that they have also received an update outdoors.

The Internal Control Regulations state that competence must be documented and that “voluntary certificates can also be included as part of the documentation”. Therefore, it may be appropriate to provide teachers with such a certificate of competence.

Evaluation and further work

The evaluations from the collaborative project in Bærumsskolen show that the teachers experienced a real need for competence related to training in outdoor swimming, self-rescue and lifesaving outdoors.

Few had received this training in their teacher education, and the teachers experienced the competence development and experience sharing as crucial to dare to take students out into an authentic learning environment with cold or flowing water.

There will be a need for annual meetings for teachers.

In addition, the teachers, through a work requirement, gained insight into and reflected on each other’s soundness assessment. Due diligence assessments are fresh, and are a job you will not finish. Here it is important with continuous updating, experience sharing and reflection on a sound practice in, on and by water.

This is one of the reasons why there will be a need for annual meetings for teachers. This is not to show that they can dive to the bottom of a swimming pool, but to give them the opportunity to further develop and refine practice experiences. The collaboration between Bærum municipality and NTNU will therefore continue.


Gjølme G., E. (2021) Outdoor swimming and lifesaving training. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget

Høgskulen på Vestlandet (2020). Safe training in swimming, self-rescue and lifesaving in physical education and swimming under the auspices of the school.

Lovdata (2018) Act on the processing of personal data (Personal Data Act).

Directorate of Education Curriculum in physical education.

Directorate of Education, 2019. Competence in the subjects.

Directorate of Education, 2020. In-depth learning.

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