Showcasing STAr Achievements Across Swimming and Aquatics Training

At STA’s inaugural Aquatic Excellence Awards on Friday 13th October, we celebrated and showcased the achievements of all those who have been involved in delivering learn to swim programmes and aquatics training over the last 12 months, in line with STA’s charity objectives.

Ten STAr winners were announced at the presentation ceremony, which was held at the Marriott Hotel in Leicester as part of STA’s national conference and hosted by record breaking 4x Paralympic gold medallist swimmer Marc Woods and STA’s President Ali Beckman. Here alongside the release of the official photos, we run through the achievements of each of the 2023 STAr winners.

STAr Member

Sophie Etheridge, the Founder of Adaptive & Disabled Open Water Swimmers is an inspirational STA member and ambassador. She has not only written and shared valuable resources and visited schools to promote inclusivity and accessibility, in August 2023, she also became the first person with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome to swim the English Channel solo – and in doing so broke a world record for the longest Channel swim in an incredible time of 29 hours 4 minutes. Swimming the Channel solo was a huge, and some might say an impossible challenge for someone with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, but Sophie defied the odds through pure determination and grit – she is an inspiration to everyone and a STAr member of the STA as well, for raising more than £6000 for STA’s STARLIGHT charity campaign.

STA’s Trustees applauded Sophie for all she has done to raise awareness of open water swimmers with disabilities, and has shown what those with disabilities can achieve with the correct support and people around them.

Sophie Etheridge STAr Member Award

STAr Swimming Teacher

STA’s Trustees were blown away by all the nominations Leanne Kennedy from SNAPS received, and apart from them all agreeing what an amazingly compassionate and committed swimming teacher she is, what stood out was this statement:

“Leanne and SNAPS make the impossible possible for children with additional needs. With Leanne’s help, the charity is seeing children accomplish things that other health professionals said wouldn’t be possible. Leanne’s tailored plans for each child means they flourish and make amazing progress.”

Leanne Kennedy STAr Swimming Teacher Award

STAr Tutor

As Head of Aquatics for Turtle Tots and the company’s Approved Training Centre, Joanna Wood has led a team of tutors across the UK and Ireland for the last 9 years; and over the last 12 months, has tutored / co-tutored 38 learners for the swim school’s growing network of franchisees, qualifying them as STA Baby & Pre-school swimming teachers.

STA’s Trustees were impressed with Joanna’s dedication to furthering her knowledge of babies / toddlers, and their development in and out of the water, and how this really shines through in every course she delivers. Her passion for understanding young children and her wealth of knowledge ensures learners come away feeling inspired not just to teach, but to embrace all aspects of babies’ and pre-schoolers development. Joanna’s excellent post-course evaluations serve to prove that she expertly guides learners to be truly reflective baby swimming teaching practitioners.

Joanna is also credited for leading the way for Turtle Tots teachers to gain the STA Level 3 Diploma in Aquatic Teaching – Baby and Pre-school, the highest professional qualification for baby swimming teachers, and pioneering a partnership with the Institute of Aquaphobia for Turtle Tots to become the first UK-wide swim school to commit to having all its teachers trained in how to help adults with a water phobia – to encourage even more adults to bring their children to lessons so that they are given the opportunity to learn a key life skill from an early age.

Joanna Wood STAr Tutor Award

STAr Swim Academy

Castlepoint Swim Academy was singled out as this year’s winner because of its commitment to bringing the community together to raise awareness of swimming. This resulted in increasing swimming participation by more than a third for people of all ages and abilities. With their centres located and surrounded by water, the academy cited how they regularly organise engaging events including graduation ceremonies for pre-schoolers moving into the swim school, and host community open days to help promote the importance of learning a key life skill. The ongoing work the academy does with SEN schools and in partnership with Active Essex to help deliver free swimming lessons was also praised, and shown as examples of best practice – this also included the success of the academy’s junior lifeguard programmes, which has resulted in retaining swimmers for longer.

STA’s Trustees also highlighted the academy’s new KPI ‘health’ measurements designed for informed decision-making, the reward schemes that have been implemented for swimming teachers, and its overall ongoing commitment to training and continuous professional development.

Castlepoint Swim Academy STAr Swim Academy Award

STAr Not-for-Profit Campaign

Triton Training impressed the STA’s Trustees with the results of their Brent NCIL-funded initiative, and the impact it has made in the community in helping to give free swimming teaching and lifeguard training opportunities to people in Brent who needed them the most. Of the target 50 residents Triton Training needed to recruit to secure the funding, 46% lived within the 10-30% most deprived neighborhoods in England, and 48% were from an ethnic minority background. These courses were a lifeline for the participants involved; they gave them the opportunity to gain a professional qualification and a route into employment. Local employers welcomed this too, especially at a time of swimming teacher shortages, and it also helped to diversify the workforce.

Alongside the training courses, STA’s Trustees also applauded Triton Training for creating free swimming lessons for circa 300 local children and young people to take part in as part of a week-long crash course. For most of the participants attending these swimming lessons, including many with special educational needs, this was the first time they had been in a pool and were non-swimmers.

In just over 12 months, Triton Training has single-handedly delivered an amazing community-led initiative that has positvely changed people’s lives and given young people the opportunity to learn a life skill.

Triton Training STAr Not-for-Profit Campaign Award

STAr Approved Training Centre – UK

GLL is an explementary Approved Training Centre that has created an internal tutor development team that runs around 230 STA courses per year, qualifying more than 2,300 learners. The ATC manages its compliance responsibilities to the highest level, and clearly demonstrated how they consistently go above and beyond in planning, delivering, assessing, and moderating courses; with everything based on creating the best learning experience for aquatic tutors and future teachers. Of note is GLL’s thorough IQA team who have detailed plans in place to ensure they are meeting all policies, procedures, and the highest standard of delivery.

STA’s Trustees also acknowledged GLL’s dedication to the development of future tutors with the implementation of mentoring processes, standardisation tests, and monthly check-ins with all tutors. Also highlighted as an example of best practice was GLL’s commitment to making courses accessible for all learners, and the exceptional EDI initiatives they have created that support and provide discounted training opportunities for the local communities they serve.

GLL STAr Approved Training Centre - UK Award

STAr Approved Training Centre – International

Although international ATCs are not bound by the same regulatory, and compliance governance that UK ATC’s have to adhere to, Play and Swim Taiwan stood out as exemplary by showing how they consistently deliver baby and pre-school training to the highest standards in line with STA’s principals.

With Taiwan having one of the highest drowning rates for children aged 0-14, Ms. Lan who founded Play and Swim in Taipei 10 years ago, used her extensive experience of working in the UK for over a decade to embed STA’s teaching strategies. In line with these concerning drowning statistics, which are mainly attributed to a traditional cultural emphasis on academic pursuits over recreational activities such as swimming – led by an authoritarian parenting style – Play and Swim has successfully built their ATC and swim school on two core principles. Firstly, to impart vital swimming skills from an early age with professionally STA-trained baby and pre-school swimming teachers, and secondly to facilitate parent-child bonding built on mutual respect and understanding.

As an example of their commitment to excellence in both instruction and education, STA’s Trustees noted that 30% of their STA baby and pre-school swimming teachers have also attained STA’s Level 3 diploma in baby swimming. Play and Swim is a proud STA ATC and swim school; prior to their establishment in Taiwan, the concept of baby swimming was unfamiliar – a narrative they have successfully shifted by setting a high standard for aquatics education and training.

Play and Swim Taiwan STAr Approved Training Centre - International Award

STAr Water Safety Educator

Since April 2022, Embers Aquatics has delivered water safety workshops to 5000 children – 4,000 by volunteers in Uganda and 1250 to schools on the West Coast of Scotland where children live on islands, or by lakes and lochs. The workshops focus on three topics; Spot the Dangers, Look After Yourself, and Look After Each Other.

STA’s Trustees loved that the workshops, created by Anna Roscoe, are fun and interactive, and inspire children to both love and respect the water.

Embers also carried out their own survey with parents of primary school-aged children, with more than three-quarters saying they had concerns about their children’s safety around water, half saying their children couldn’t swim and an overwhelming majority saying they would like their children to have access to these water safety workshops. This evidences just how important the work Embers Aquatics is doing in promoting water safety education, and the value it is bringing to children.

Embers Aquatics STAr Water Safety Educator Award

STAr Swim School Provider – International

As a STA Swim Star Swim School, Tiffany’s Swim School has demonstrated a strong commitment to policy development, health and safety, customer satisfaction, and the overall well-being of its students. This demonstrated to STA’s Trustees that they are dedicated to providing a safe, enjoyable, and fulfilling experience for all of their students in Kenya.

The swim school states that their topmost priority is safety, and this is evidenced by their comprehensive safety protocol, ensuring that all facilities, equipment, and teaching practices adhere to the highest industry standards. STA’s Trustees also noted how Tiffany’s Swim School supports their team of STA-qualified swimming teachers by allocating each teacher an annual budget of 20,000 Kenyan Shillings (£110) for continual professional development, ensuring they keep up to date with the latest swimming teaching practices.

Tiffany’s Swim School also showcased how they have a proven record of delivering outstanding swimming education through STA’s ILSP; with teachers employing evidence-based teaching methods, and by regularly evaluating and updating their curriculum. They also have an online platform and a mobile app so that teachers and parents can monitor a child’s progress. Inclusivity is also at the core of their values, with the school stating they believe everyone, regardless of background or ability should have access to aquatic education. To achieve this, they offer adaptive swim programmes tailored to individuals with disabilities, and their teachers undergo specialist training such as autism swim instruction.

STA’s Trustees praised Tiffany’s Swim School’s commitment to creating a positive and enriching swimming experience for all their participants.

Tiffany's Swim School STAr Swim School Provider - International Award

STAr Swim School Provider – UK

Teaching 2,300 participants aged from 4 weeks to 87 years in 837 sessions per week across fourteen locations sounds good, but what stood out more is Individuality Swimming’s learn to swim strategies; how they have been designed, and successfully applied, to provide supportive, individualised learning for all their participants. Examples noted by STA’s Trustees included how swimming teachers are encouraged to have their own style – with learners matched to the appropriate teacher, i.e. high energy or a calmer teacher or one that is sensory aware. Individuality Swimming also cited this approach works particularly well with SEN children, and nervous participants, including aquaphobes.

Individuality Swimming also evidenced best practices in training, education, and career development for their swimming teachers. One example is how they organise regular assessments and goal settings, and conduct a ‘self-audit’ followed by a ‘manager’s audit’ after which each teacher is given three things to focus on. They also shared how they nurture talent from age 14 through the STA Aquatic Helper programme.

STA’s Trustees also praised how the coastal-based team gets involved in local charity and community projects, and that they have their own outreach programme, which includes visiting schools and nurseries to educate children on water and beach safety.

Individuality Swimming STAr Swim School Provider - UK Award


Nominations for next year’s STAr awards will be open in Summer 2024, and just like this year, as per the published ‘Rules and Guidelines’ you can be nominated, or you can enter yourself or your organisation for more than one award.
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