Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

It's Time for a Loo World Order in Our Schools

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

It's Time for a Loo World Order in Our Schools

Article excerpt

School toilets have got a bad reputation, and it's up to us to clean them up for the sake of our students, says TES editor Ann Mroz

At Hogwarts, girls enter the first-floor girls' lavatory - otherwise known as Moaning Myrtle's bathroom - only when they really have to, because, apart from being haunted, "it is very gloomy, with cracked and spotty mirrors and chipped stone sinks. The doors to the cubicles are flaking and scratched..."

The Harry Potter books capture the experience of thousands of children up and down the country. School toilets are unloved, neglected places, purely functional, often filthy, and sometimes very smelly.

They can be dark spaces, in which pupils are bullied and tormented many a young head has been held down the pan and flushed. But they can be useful too, for a crafty fag or a quick gossip, away from the watchful eye of the teacher.

In essence, the toilet area is a microcosm of school life with its own rules and power plays.

It's also a place to which access is tightly controlled by schools. During lessons, children have to ask to use the loo, which raises eyebrows with some foreign visitors. The decision then to grant permission or not can come not in response to any physical need of the student, but to the teachers' need to maintain order in the classroom.

Unsurprisingly, not many children ask. Like the Hogwarts girls, most pupils use the lavatories only if they have to: their dreadful reputation is well earned.

A survey a few years ago by the website Netmums and the children's continence organisation ERIC found that a quarter of all schoolchildren avoided using the school toilets because they were "dirty, smelly and missing soap, toilet paper or even locks on the doors".

This often forces children to go to extraordinary lengths to avoid using the facilities, with some not drinking or even eating all day, leading to all sorts of health problems. …

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