A sample of 1,000 parents of Year 6 pupils suggests that around a third of English 11-year-olds leave primary school unable to swim.
Two-thirds of the parents involved in the survey, conducted by Swim England, believed their child would struggle to save themselves from drowning.
Former Olympic swimmer and campaigner for increasing school swimming standards, Steve Parry, warned of the dangers of failing to educate children in water safety.
He warned: “Hundreds of people drown every year, water safety is the only part of the national curriculum that will save children’s lives, it can’t be treated as an optional extra.”
According to the survey, 94 per cent of parents believe it’s essential that children should be taught to swim competently by the time they leave primary school.
A report issued alongside the survey, says that the National Curriculum is supposed to ensure that all children are able to swim at least 25m by the age of 11, but far too many schools are failing to meet this target.
The report uses figures from Swim England that show only 36 per cent of primary schools are reaching the standards set out to them in the national curriculum. Even more worryingly, these figures show that around 25 per cent of English schools are either not monitoring progress or not providing swimming lessons at all.
“Swimming is a vital life skill,” said Children’s Minister Robert Goodwill.
He said the government would work closely with the authors to review the recommendations.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary designate of the National Association of Head Teachers, agreed swimming was a crucial life skill but added that schools needed more resources “to hire a pool, pay for qualified instructors and to arrange transport”.
He added: “At a time when budgets are being pushed beyond breaking point, many schools find it difficult to deliver anything outside of the academic core.
“The government must invest, or risk seeing a further decline in swimming amongst primary age children.”