Sport, Leisure and Water Safety


The benefits of sport and physical activity can last a lifetime, with many children picking up good habits and experiences that they take with them into adulthood. When considered against other activities in school, physical recreation can be thought of as being 'medium risk'. This means that activities need careful consideration but safety measures should ideally not detract from the benefits and enjoyment of sport and physical activity.

It's important to note that with sport and physical activities, there is a recognition that we do not have to constantly seek to eliminate and remove all risks.

Even within well managed activities, injuries may happen, however they are not inevitable. It is important to develop an approach which manages and limits the worst, most severe outcomes, but does not stifle or unduly limit the activity and its benefits.

In practice, managing sport and physical activity safety in schools covers four key areas, which should be considered as part of the wider school approach to safety management:

  • Well maintained grounds and facilities
  • Equipment
  • Supervision
  • Physical Education

Grounds and Facilities

Play spaces

The opportunity to play creatively in a high-quality environment is essential to the development of children. Through their play they learn unique skills and abilities which give them confidence to move into organised sport and PE in school and elsewhere.

Children's play areas are far from being the simple provision most people believe. A swing, a slide and a climbing frame are not, on their own, of great benefit to the growing child. To provide fully for children requires a sophisticated approach to location, design and selection of equipment and surfacing.

For more information see:

Water features

There are many positive reasons for installing a water feature within school or college grounds. The most common are sustainable drainage schemes, creating a school pond for dipping and environmental lessons and as a play feature in their own right.

The risks from shallow water (less than 50cm) are mainly for younger children up to the age of six years, and those with a perception disability and epilepsy.

Some key points to consider are:

  • What are the age and traits of the children in the immediate vicinity? Younger children, particularly toddlers are more vulnerable.
  • Isolating the water area from the children through fencing (650mm to 1100mm in height depending on the age of children). Fences should have a non-climb design with self-closing gates thereby limiting access to reduce the risk of children falling in the water. However, this may not be practical or desirable in every situation.
  • Ensuring that the water feature has shallow sides
  • Eliminating blind spots so that any children near the water are visible
  • Regular checks of the area and water to ensure they are free from debris and other items.

For more information see:

Swimming pools

There are a number of regulations which govern the management of swimming pools. The main one is the HSE's 'Managing Health and Safety in Swimming Pools' which can be found at:

It is important to establish if the regulations apply to you, which can be determined by a range of factors including how your school is organised and if you are hiring out the pool for profit or reward.

There are a number of key points to consider:

  • Ensure you have somebody on site who understands the pool environment (chemicals, in water rescue etc), or have quick access to them
  • Have a method for physically controlling access, particularly if you have children under six in the school
  • Be clear about responsibility with others, particularly when leasing out the facility.

If you are considering installing or refurbishing a pool as part of a development then there are a range of British and European design and management standards in place. If the facility is Big Lottery or centrally funded then Sport England's design guidance notes should be considered.

For more information see:

Shared use, and letting to third parties

Many schools and colleges offer access to their leisure facilities to the local community which can be a useful source of revenue and offer pupils additional sporting opportunities outside of school hours. When considering letting school facilities to third parties the facility must be fit for purpose.

Some points to consider:

  • Is it clear on what basis the facility is being let?
  • How will this impact on the schools use of the site, and running? For example, how will extra vehicles or car parking impact upon pupils travel home?
  • Are the coaches and leaders suitably experienced and qualified to manage groups at your facilities?
  • Is it clear how and who reports in the event of an incident?
  • Does your insurance cover the letting of premises?
  • Does the school have the capacity to supervise or ensure its standards and conditions are being adhered to?


The selection, use, maintenance of appropriate equipment can have a significant impact on the sport and leisure experience. For example, equipment which is to too large or heavy for younger children can be awkward and limit skill acquisition. It could increase the risk of a long term injury.

When selecting appropriate equipment, consider the following:

  • What do the rules of the sport state? Has the equipment been modified for developing age groups?
  • Are there British or European standards available? Is the product certified by the designer or manufacturer as fit for use? What do they say about any limitations and expected use?
  • What level of use is expected, and what maintenance regime is required? Can the inspection of the equipment be carried out in school or does it need external assurance?
  • Will the staff and pupils require training to use the equipment? Do they need to be made aware of associated risks? Examples where training and risk awareness are essential include setting up a trampoline or running javelin lessons.
  • What are the storage and security arrangements?
  • Is the equipment safety critical? For example, a climbing rope and harness as the primary protection will need a high level of inspection and maintenance.

The establishment of a good maintenance and storage regime will prolong the life of the equipment. Logging critical aspects is useful.

RoSPA members can access our information service, which lists a range of standards.


There is a delicate balance to be struck between the need to allow and foster independence whilst seeking to avoid significant harm. In this context we focus on general supervision, rather than prescribed teacher/coach: pupil ratios.

There are some key points to consider:

  • Limiting unrestricted access to hazards such as deep open water is the most effective risk control method, particularly when younger children are present.
  • Many of the significant incidents occur during unstructured and unsupervised times - your assessment of risk will be more effective if this is taken into consideration.
  • Older children can assess risk with appropriate guidance and this should be actively encouraged as part of the lesson or activity. They will show judgement in the face of danger and obvious hazard.

Often the national guidelines for particular sports or activities will consider ratios. These are good starting points for your risks assessment. However they are not absolute positions and your circumstances may need or allow variation.

RoSPA has produced guidance on school visits and adventurous activities.

Physical Education (PE)

High-quality PE can improve pupil confidence to take part in new activities and help to teach about the value of a healthy active lifestyle.

The Department for Education (DfE)

The national curriculum sets out the standards, objectives, and aims of the delivery of physical education activity. Further information regarding Key Stages 1 and 2, along with the attainment target level descriptions are accessible from DfE links below:

The Association for Physical Education (afPE)

The wide range of different activities available, as part of a physical education programme, are too numerous to cover in this section. The most comprehensive guide on managing safe practice when delivering PE is provided by afPE in their document 'Safe Practice in PE and Sport'.

More topic or sport specific information, such as the rules and laws, teaching resources, lesson plans, safety precautions involved, can often be found at the particular sport's National Governing Body (e.g. the Rugby Football Union).

Generic Risk/ Common Factors

Some issues and risks relating to the delivery of physical education are common in different activities. These can be grouped together or included in an over-arching policy covering the safe delivery of physical education and school sport. These include:

  • Venue, environment and designated area – for example pitch, sports hall, multi use games area
  • Weather (if outdoors), temperature extremes and lighting
  • Provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) and mandatory kit such as boots, trainers and shin pads
  • First aid cover and provision (minor injury treatment, strains) and any pre-existing medical conditions
  • Emergency response (including access), serious injuries and incident management
  • School equipment (checks, maintenance, repair, replacement, training and records)
  • Travel arrangements
  • Staff training
  • Missing child policy
  • Evaluation and feedback
  • Child welfare.

Other issues (some of which could be potentially legal) such as safeguarding children may be dealt with separately, but should also be incorporated in a safety policy covering the normal operation of the school, its activities, and the physical education program. They may include:

  • Safeguarding/child welfare (including photography policy)
  • Risk assessment
  • Method statements
  • Manual handling
  • Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (CoSHH)
  • Fire risk assessment.

Adventurous sports and activities

RoSPA has produced extensive guidance for more adventurous sports and activities which take place outside of school premises.

Download School visits guidance

Amateur Swimming Association (ASA)

The ASA has developed a guide for teachers, School Swimming and Water Safety. The guide is designed to support school teachers and swimming teachers with their current teaching of swimming and water safety. Swimming is a statutory requirement within the national curriculum and every primary school is expected to deliver a school swimming programme. Swimming not only provides numerous health benefits but it is also an essential lifesaving skill and should therefore be a high priority activity within physical education.

Teachers who are involved in facilitating swimming lessons for primary school children should be aware of the National Curriculum programme of study for swimming and water safety which is included in this document.

RoSPA cannot be held responsible for the accuracy or completeness of any pages on linked websites.

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