The business of swimming

A new edition of PAS 81: 2005, the publicly accessible standard for the operation and management of swimming schools, will be published later this month. Steve Franks, one of the standard’s original authors, discusses the impact the standard has had and what the new edition will mean for the swim school sector

Rising temperatures in the swim school market

In the UK today the private swim school market is no longer a niche industry. It is a thriving multi-million pound business sector, one that is now making a positive contribution to the swimming pool market in terms of employment and economic growth. The development of BSi PAS 81: 2005 – the specification for the management and operation of UK swimming schools – has helped transform standards and create a new generation of highly influential and informed swim school entrepreneurs who are now seeking to shape this market sector.

The publication of BSi PAS 81: 2005 was a significant step for the swim school sector. Clear, unambiguous, nationally endorsed guidance and recommendations create positive results because they allow benchmarking of activities, services and operational performance. Our sector provides a range of professionally endorsed standards and qualifications that have precise frameworks and measurable outcomes. However, these standards generally cover course content and delivery, and do not directly impact upon the structure, management and operation of swim school businesses. PAS 81: 2005 is aimed at bridging this gap in a coherent way. It is designed as a blueprint for the sector, available to all organisations that are engaged in the delivery and development of swimming tuition programmes, providing practical, constructive advice and guidance. It was developed by a steering group of industry experts, representing a range of key industry stakeholders, using rigorous BSi methodology and strict protocols. It has been overseen by an extensive review panel made up of representatives from government departments, major sport and leisure organisations, professional bodies and associations, and swimming tuition providers that are active and proficient in the swimming pool industry. The result is a non-proprietary, non-prescriptive document that reflects the most up-to-date guidance and addresses common areas of concern, sector requirements and operational issues.

PAS 81: 2005 stipulates minimum recommendations for the development, management and operation of swim school businesses and schemes in the UK. It includes the minimum safety and operational requirements that should be considered by operators of swimming schools. Its primary aim is to increase safety, raise standards and to spread best practice in the interest of swimming school owners and operators.

The introduction of PAS 81: 2005 has attracted government recognition and, from the perspective of the Swimming Teachers’ Association, has provided a logical extension of its core activities in swimming development and teaching. Most importantly, it has had a positive effect on safety and disseminated the principles of best practice across the industry. Those who have already embraced the core principles are reassured that they are operating in line with nationally endorsed standards and industry best practice.

PAS 81: 2005 also brings together disparate legislation and guidance for accreditation schemes and removes duplication and misinterpretation of standards. In addition it has raised teaching standards, enhanced learn-to-swim schemes, and given the public confidence in the range and scope of the swimming tuition programme that they are attending. It has helped many swim school operators transform from entrepreneurial swimming teachers to all-round business professionals by giving them the skills and confidence to maximise their business growth potential. As a consequence, the sector has experienced significant organic growth, with the larger of the private swim school companies now also building their own pools.

As part of the BSi’s quality assessment programme, the PAS 81: 2005 document has been reviewed by the industry to gauge its performance and identify whether any improvements were needed. Following the input of over ninety organisations across the sector, the updated PAS 81 specification will be published in June. All responses were assessed and, while most said the document remained fit for purpose, a number of comments were taken on board as part of the review. Most of the suggested amendments referred to legislation and changes to qualifications that have occurred since the original document was published. This feedback has helped to ensure that the document is better focused and more pertinent to operational standards, making it a more effective as guidance and more useful as a tool for the swim school sector.

But what of the future? The creation of PAS 81: 2005 has already paved the way for positive change, both in the UK and internationally. It currently provides guidance and recommendations but will evolve to offer a common platform for regulation and registration. To achieve this there needs to be greater awareness across the industry sector, more sustainable partnerships and more ‘joined up thinking’ across all those organisations and professional bodies involved in the development and delivery of swimming tuition. Once a consensus has been reached, the industry can control its destiny and deliver continuous improvement, reviewing its achievements and its future direction. Regulation of swim school businesses can only benefit the public and the sector as a whole. It will drive up standards, improve operational performance and broaden swimming programme provision. It will encourage expansion within the sector, new business ventures and the promotion of new employment opportunities.

The next period of development is likely to be even more significant. Education has embraced the standard and PAS 81 is set to become a significant good practice guidance document within in school sport. Where there had once been no barrier to any operator wanting to enter the swim school market, PAS 81 has set standards and will continue to raise them as the market becomes even more competitive. As well as improving business performance and compliance with good industry standards, PAS 81 is helping to save lives.


Steve Franks is operations director at the Swimming Teachers’ Association

Details of PAS 81: 2005 are available via the websites of the STA at and the British Standards Institution at www.

The Leisure Review, June 2008



“PAS 81: 2005 will evolve to offer a common platform for regulation and registration. To achieve this there needs to be greater awareness across the industry sector, more sustainable partnerships and more ‘joined up thinking’.”
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