An NS reader, David Browning, recently raised the question of drinking water in schools. "Some Health Action Zones," he wrote, "have discovered that many schools no longer supply drinking-water, even at lunchtime. Gone are the jugs and glasses, replaced by bottled water being sold at the serving hatch."
Browning is right and his complaints are not the half of it. Despite a legal requirement to provide drinking water to their pupils, recent research shows that almost 10 per cent of schools have no drinking facilities at all. But even where the lunchtime jugs and glasses are still brought out, the problem is far from solved. A single beaker of (often lukewarm and unpalatable) water at lunchtime is not enough to hydrate a child's body throughout the school day. Increasingly, evidence from health professionals links dehydration to bad behaviour and loss of concentration in the classroom (something schools just might want to minimise), not to mention headaches, constipation, urinary tract infections and, perhaps surprisingly, bed-wetting (a child who doesn't drink all day will stretch their shrunken bladder when they finally quench their thirst at night).
In 50 per cent of schools, the only water facilities are drinking fountains in the loos. Professor David Hall, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, calls this "almost barbaric". Would you like to get your water hunched in an undignified way over a toilet-infected spout? The metal nozzle festers with the germs of a hundred other mouths and may actually harbour meningitis. The water supply is usually turned very low, to avoid messy spurting. This creates the overall impression that you are sucking up your own dribble. In order to get the equivalent of two or three small glasses of water, you would have to return to the "fountain" (a misnomer, if ever there was one) no fewer than ten times. …