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Big Brother is watching loo

Smokers, bullies and vandals will have fewer places to hide if a Leeds comprehensive can raise the cash to build futuristic glass-walled toilets. Ceri Williams reports.

Big Brother style lavatories have been planned for a school so teachers can see what pupils are up to.

Schoolchildren at the City of Leeds school, west Yorkshire, who want to use the area to gossip with friends or up-end other students in the lavatory bowl will now do so in full view.

The school wants to build a fish tank into a glass wall for the boys' and girls' lavatories, so staff can see into the washrooms and keep an eye on pupils hanging around outside the cubicles.

The 530-pupil inner-city comprehensive is appealing for sponsors for the project and is also trying to raise funds for its bid for technology college status.

The scheme was part of a wider initiative launched by the BBC for a recent programme Dream Lives, which aimed to help transform the school with some new technologies for the 21st century.

The City of Leeds toilets would still have private, individual cubicles but the "bubble tank" - a fish tank set into the wall, with artificial fish - would help teachers supervise pupils more closely and prevent bullying and vandalism, said headteacher Margaret Hamlt. "It would also be a really pleasant environment," she said.

Roger Crabtree, a former design technology teacher who now works for PSD Associates, a London-based design company, worked with sixth-formers last year to redesign the toilets. The firm also used ideas from pupils elsewhere, including 10 and 11-year-olds in Richmond, London (see illustration).

He said: "The lay-out of most school toilets is a closed room with one door. A small minority of children have always known they can go in there and get away with things like smoking or hanging out in groups.

"By removing the solid wall and putting in a glass wall with a fish tank they become aware they can be seen so it makes it easier for teachers to supervise them." The toilets will be made with stainless steel, rubber-look flooring, and automatic taps and hand-dryers.

Mr Crabtree said background music, such as whale noises, seaside sounds or classical orchestral recordings, could be introduced.

Students at the school were taken to see innovative toilet designs in London for inspiration. These included those in Belgo Centraal restaurant, in Covent Garden, which features unisex toilets and a sprinkler where customers can wash their hands, and the lavatories at the Millennium Dome.

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