Bring us relief from this toilet trauma

8th July 2005 at 01:00
Rising stress and staff levels are placing an intolerable burden on our lavatories. Steve Eddison can't keep it in any longer

Last Thursday afternoon, out of desperation and possibly in breach of union policy, I left a teaching assistant in charge of my class. It was only for five minutes and, anyway, had I not done so things might well have come to a sticky end. Whoever coined the phrase, "When you've got to go you've got to go," forgot to mention what to do with 30 primary children while you're gone.

Increased workload, poor pupil behaviour and shorter, sharper inspections may be the issues that make the headlines when it comes to top teacher concerns, but there is another. Certain sections of the tabloid press might accuse me of bellyaching here, but surely ours must be the only profession where visits to the toilet have to be fitted into a strict and increasingly dense timetable.

Well, enough is enough. In those few minutes of blessed relief last Thursday afternoon, as the weight of the world fell away from me, I resolved to do something about it. There are times when a man has to stand up for what is right. Strain for justice. Break free from the chains of oppression.

At the bottom of the problem is the changing nature of schools. The remorseless drive to expand them into inclusive communities catering for the whole child and his grandmother, while at the same time trying to raise standards, has led to the system becoming painfully bloated. Pressures within it are increasing, the key ones being access and availability of resources. Time, space, and toilet facilities have never been so much in demand.

Take our primary school. A few years ago the only adults using the staff toilets were a handful of teachers, the school secretary and a general assistant. Now the same three cubicles cater for the bodily functions of a whole host of mentors, home-school link workers, teaching assistants, social workers, advisory teachers, adult learners, IT technicians, community policemen, parent helpers and people who wander in off the street.

And while the proportion of loos per person has declined, abandoned playtimes and shortened lunch breaks have in turn minimised the windows of opportunity when teachers can get in the queue. Couple that with a leap in stress levels since the arrival of Ofsted and national curriculum testing, which in turn has led to a rise in the incidence of irritable bowel syndrome and the number of harassed teachers who just need somewhere private to weep, and it is clear the situation is becoming intolerable.

Which is why I urge Tony Blair to do something about it. While he is still flushed with success from winning a historic third term, I appeal to him to cement his place in the hearts, minds and bowels of the teaching profession. Let "Constipation, Constipation, Constipation" be the new rallying cry. And as for workforce reform, bring in the only PPA time that really matters: time for peeing, pooing and ablutions.

Steve Eddison is a Year 6 teacher in Sheffield

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