A child with a drink is more able to think

21st September 2001 at 01:00
Why do so few schools provide decent drinking facilities for children in class? Brenda Jennings reports on a neat solution

It does not seem an inordinately tall order to expect a child to have access to drinking water, should he or she become thirsty during the course of the school day. However, according to Radio 4's Food Programme recently, 10 per cent of British schools do not provide drinking water for their children.

Many of the schools which do provide water do so in dubious hygienic conditions. I, for one, would have no desire to take a drink from a drinking fountain in a toilet or from a plastic cup at a sink mostly used for washing out paint pots.

It has been shown that only 1-2 per cent dehydration affects a child's ability to do arithmetic. How then can a child be expected to settle down and produce satisfactory work after an arduous physical education lesson and going without a drink because none was available?

I have seen teachers allow children with their own drinks to partake while others look on in anguish. Being thirsty is not pleasant but witnessing others drinking without access yourself is cruelty.

I have frequently sent my classroom assistant to the staffroom to acquire a large jug of cooled water and an assortment of paper cups. Watching the children's appreciation as they gulp down the refreshing liquid, it seems unthinkable that they might have been denied this most basic of commodities.

Any child being refused access to a drink because it is a nuisance or not the correct time, such as break time or lunchtime, is unforgivable.

In Scotland, most afternoon sessions extend to two hours without a break. In the summer, some classrooms become unbearably hot. Imagine how gruelling this must be to a child with no access to water and how difficult for that child to stay on their task.

Advocates of "brain gym" - brief sessions involving cross-lateral movements to stimulate the brain - almost invariably agree that there is a link between being allowed to drink water freely and performing well in the classroom. The consensus is that the exercises and drinking combined will achieve the best possible results from a child academically, helping him or her to work efficiently and reach his or her full potential.

Some teachers have tried to find a feasible solution to the drink problem in schools. A number of primary schools in South Lanarkshire now allow their pupils to drink in class. The most successful means has been non-spill plastic water bottles for each child.

These can be purchased cheaply (less than pound;2 per child), are more hygienic than most other options available in schools, eliminate the need for anyone to leave the room in order to obtain a drink, save valuable time expended by staff in acquiring jugs of water and cups or clearing up spills and, best of all, ensure that a child need never be thirsty in the classroom. The bottles can be kept at the child's desk and, once the novelty wears off, will only used when needed.

At Kirkfieldbank Primary, headteacher Edna Fairweather found a sponsor to provide bottles for each child. These are filled by the older children and taken home each weekend.

Many of the problems regarding water in schools have in the past been born out of ignorance. It is time to take a fresh look at the situation and take a few simple measures to eliminate them.

Brenda Jennings teaches at Bankton Primary school in Livingston, West Lothian

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