JUNIOR and primary schools have stopped using the council-owned Torridge Pool at Northam for swimming lessons because of concerns about the changing facilities. Bideford Learning Community, representing a dozen local schools, said this week: We are tempo

JUNIOR and primary schools have stopped using the council-owned Torridge Pool at Northam for swimming lessons because of concerns about the changing facilities.

Bideford Learning Community, representing a dozen local schools, said this week: "We are temporarily suspending swimming lessons at Torridge Pool while talks continue with Torridge District Council about alterations to the arrangements for changing.

"Currently any adults using the leisure centre have access to the communal changing rooms, which have a limited amount of individual cubicles, while our children are changing.

"The safety and welfare of pupils are our paramount concern at all times. We have taken legal advice from Devon County Council about the arrangements for changing and have decided that we should suspend swimming lessons until the issue is satisfactorily resolved. We hope this will happen very soon."

Parkwood Leisure, which operates the pool on behalf of the district council, said school swimming lessons had taken place at the centre under the current arrangements for more than 20 years without incident.

It said: "Currently, school staff are responsible for the supervision of pupils when changing. The arrangements are that children are segregated from members of the public in the male changing area via the use of a large curtain and in both changing rooms other customers use cubicles, therefore, they are fully segregated from the children.

"Although schools have exclusive use of the swimming pool, there are at times a small amount of public present in the changing room, either from a previous public swimming session or changing in order to use the fitness suite. This 'segregated' arrangement has proved to be successful and has previously been scrutinised and deemed acceptable by Devon County solicitor and legal department.

"We are aware that, at times, some schools struggle to provide adequate supervision in the changing rooms, specifically relating to their ability to provide male members of staff to supervise the boys. At the last meeting of the Bideford Learning Community, to which Parkwood were not invited, it was put to the committee that Parkwood Leisure staff would assist in the supervision of the children in the changing area. All Parkwood staff have an enhanced police check, which is updated every three years, and also undergo child protection training. This offer was rejected out of hand.

"It was also proposed that two areas that are currently being used as sun bed rooms could be adapted for a small changing room for the boys. This could be locked from either side, enabling the school pupils to be adequately supervised and fully segregated from the general public. A curtain could be erected in the ladies' changing room for the girls.

"To Parkwood Leisure's knowledge, our improvement plans have not been put forward to the Devon County solicitor and there have been no site visits to review the practical implications of these proposals in order to take this matter forward.

"Parkwood Leisure manages over 70 sites throughout the UK. We take child protection issues very seriously and have effective management procedures in place at all our changing room areas. The proposals that have been put forward will enable our existing customers to continue to use the facilities and have no detrimental impact on the site's timetable, while maintaining the protection of children.