Tuesday, 13 May 2008

21st century learning environments - why are we STILL talking about bathrooms?

If we give students woeful standard facilities we get what we ask for - even these UK signs reflect poor standards!
21st century learning environments, collaborative learning, agile learning spaces, wireless environments, collaborative work areas, project based learning, distance learning facilities, research areas, lecture areas..... and so many conversations about new school design revert back to ... you guessed it.....student bathrooms!
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I am amazed that people are still publishing stories that 'discover' that school bathrooms are a problem. Everyone who works in schools, especially secondary schools, knows that the old style 'cattle shed' communal bathrooms are a major source of issues within school, including those of bullying, smoking, drugs, hiding goods and so on and so on. (Yes I have been one of those staff recovering cellphones and the like from behind fittings or bathroom ceilings) It has been the same for many years - what's new?... but if we all know it why are we STILL complaining about them and not just sorting it out!

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Even this week the Welsh National Assembly is calling for urgent action, noting that over 50% of inspection reports were criticising school bathrooms, and the failure of many schools to provide basic bathroom supplies. I cannot understand why some schools haven't tackled their bathrooms as a major way of reducing a whole host of undesirable behaviours. It would be money well invested! If we give students woeful standard facilities we get what we ask for!

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Professor Stephen Heppell in presentations various, often refers to the research that 75% of students try and avoid going to the bathroom during their school day. He even refers to them as the 'special bullying ante-chamber'. This is true even of my own daughter when she was at school, who avoided the bathrooms as much as possible to avoid the inevitable 'hassle'. It may seem trivial to some, but to avoid going to the bathroom - students don't drink, thereby becoming dehydrated, thereby reducing effectiveness in concentration and learning capacity.

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As a headteacher of several schools, the bathrooms were often places where groups of students would attempt to make a rather bizarre meeting place, which, if allowed to happen, would at times result in 'issues' that would take too much valuable staff time in unravelling! (Why is it that the girls bathrooms are always worse than the boys?). We were never criticised for our bathrooms, partly because we made them as near adult office standards as possible, and maintained them as such. They were always praised by parents on the 'choose a school' circuit and the vast majority of students really respected them, liked them and kept them in good order. (These were challenging students in difficult schools!)

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However, as we design new education facilities, all schools should actually be focusing on these as one of the priorities. In Cayman, students have contributed to the design of their new facilities. One crucial feature is that individual office standard bathrooms for students are scattered throughout the learning environments, where students spend their day learning. They do not have to go on a special trip down a corridor to what ever may await them! Students are very (and some may think disproportionately) excited about the new designs - and see the potential for any 'issues' reducing in a huge way. From all the experience in the education systems around the world, it's pretty obvious really isn't it?

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