SWIMMING lessons for primary school children should be a compulsory part of the Scottish curriculum as it emerged that 40 per cent of those going entering secondary are unable to swim.

Last night, former Olympic athlete turned MSP Brian Whittle, said Scotland should be brought into line with England and Wales where all primary kids are given free lessons.

Under existing arrangements in Scotland primary school children are not charged for swimming lessons, although provision is not binding and varies between local councils. Campaigners claim this has led to patchy services, with many children denied lessons.

Scottish Swimming, the national governing body for the sport, claims that as many as four out of 10 children leave primary school – about 15,000 each year – unable to swim.

Whittle insists the Scottish Government should ensure all primary children have access to free lessons.

The former European Athletics Championship gold medalist said the government should reverse a £1.72 million cut to a programme to support school swimming.

Whittle, a Tory MSP, said: "The withdrawal of funding from the Scottish Government for free school swimming lessons for all primary school children has had a significant impact.

"Now 40 per cent of children heading to secondary school cannot swim – 60 per cent from the most deprived areas in Scotland.

"The cut of £1.7 million that was specifically targeted at free school swimming lessons not only curtails many children’s ability to participate in the ways my friends and I enjoyed, it also exacerbates the health inequality gap. The fact is that without free school swimming lessons the children most likely to be able to swim are those whose parents can afford private lessons.

"Taking money out of this fund may take some cash out of one page in the Finance Secretary’s ledger, but I would suggest that it will just appear in another page, be it health or education and be much costlier.

"It is without doubt a false economy."

Scottish Swimming’s director of development, Sharon MacDonald, echoed the MSP's call to extend free swimming lessons. She said: "Some local authorities and some schools are doing excellent work ensuring children have the opportunity to LTS (learn to swim).

"The funding the Government provided in 2010 (£1.7 million over a four-year period) was for the Top Up swimming programme which aimed to enhance and improve these school swimming programmes to try to address the significant number of children leaving primary school unable to swim.

"This funding was beginning to make an impact by focussing on those schools in areas of deprivation with high numbers of children unable to swim. It enabled lower teacher-to-children ratios critical in learning to swim and as a result we were beginning to see an increase in the number of children leaving primary school able to swim.

"It was disappointing that this funding was stopped. We have, however, continued to speak to the Scottish Government to try and find other ways to address the situation."

Scotland's Minister for Sport Aileen Campbell maintained the government had increased access to PE in schools. She said: “The Scottish Government continues to support increasing activity levels and highlighting the importance of leading an active lifestyle.

"Swimming forms an important part of the PE curriculum in many schools and 99 per cent of primary schools now providing two hours of PE a week. This demonstrates remarkable progress since 2004/05 when only 10 per cent of schools were meeting this target.”

A spokesperson from Sportscotland, the national agency for sport, said it had invested in boosting participation in school swimming.

“Sportscotland continue to invest heavily into Scottish Swimming and enjoy an excellent partnership with them. The governing body is doing lots of terrific work across the country in teaching children to swim and in the current four-year cycle (2015-19),

Sportscotland is investing over £5 million into Scottish Swimming," the spokesperson said.

"This is the largest funding settlement of all the Commonwealth Games sports and supports grassroots and performance swimming.”