Primary cloakrooms can be dark, dirty and dangerous. Gerald Haigh discovers new ways to brighten them. A primary school cloakroom should be a trouble-free sort of place. As Betty Kerr, headteacher of Crawley Ridge Junior in Surrey, puts it: children ought to be able to go to the cloakroom and change their coats and shoes. But primary cloakrooms are either too small, too old-fashioned, too inaccessible or too badly laid out.
And children now bring more and bigger things to school. Modern anoraks are bulky and sports bags are approaching the size of cross-Channel ferries. More expensive school dinners also mean that children bring lunchboxes which have to find a place.
Acocks Green Infants, in Birmingham, is in a Victorian building - with a large cloakroom. But by last year headteacher Joyce Bevan felt it was overdue for modernisation. "As the first point of contact for the children each day, it should reflect the values and standards of the school as a whole".
As it was, the room had unattractive tubular fittings that were "just right" for the children to swing on - "I was worried about their health and safety. " And they stopped the room from ever looking tidy. The aim was to create a brighter, safer cloakroom, with storage for lunchboxes, and benches for children to sit on.
First, wasted space at one end of the room was converted into staff toilets. Then Mrs Bevan looked around for units and, after some initial enquiries, talked in detail to the Bromsgrove firm, Arkinstall Cloakroom Equipment.
She was looking for cloakroom "island units" - in this case, racks with coat pegs each side, benches underneath, and storage for lunchboxes under the benches. They had to be self-contained and mobile, so that the space was not committed to cloakroom use for ever.
The options were almost endless. There are free-standing units, wall-mounted racks, shelves to mount on top, wire cages to hang underneath. Plus there were optional colour finishes, and children could have animal pictures by their pegs. The cheapest units from Arkinstall were simple, sturdy and practical; the most expensive, chunky and brightly-coloured, with soft padded benches.
Mrs Bevan chose a mid-range product, for practicality and economy. But she wanted some changes made.
For example, she specified her own spacing for the coat pegs, arguing that small children need more room "because they are not so aware of where they are - they put things down and move around and if the pegs are close together they have more problems".
Arkinstall will tailor things to suit a school and Mrs Bevan was impressed with their response: from first visit to delivery took 10 days - and when she was dismayed at everything arriving in flatpacks, the company took them away, built them up and brought them back two days later, for no extra charge.
The cloakroom at Acocks Green now has six mobile stands - two per class, each with 16 pegs (eight each side), a wooden slatted bench each side and an open wire mesh shelf under the bench. The total cost for all six was Pounds 980.
Joyce Bevan is "really pleased" and the children are thrilled - "they can sit on the little benches and put their lunchboxes underneath."
Six-year-old Katie Pendleton says: "The old cloakroom only had hooks on one side and it was very squashy. The new one has hooks on both sides, and there's a space down the middle so it's not squashy any more. There's a space underneath to put your bags now. In the old cloakroom we had to hang our bags on the peg with our coats. The only thing I don't like is when people leave their coats on the floor and you slip on them."
Yasmin Hansrod, aged five, is equally delighted, but for a different reason: "I like the cloakroom, because I can hang my coat and scarf up," - which she proudly demonstrated. Her appreciation is not to be taken lightly as she is quite small - and it was important to Joyce Bevan that the smallest children be able to reach the coat pegs without difficulty. She discussed this with Arkinstall, who modified their original plans to suit.
Catalogues show a wide range of coat pegs. If protruding hooks are thought unsafe, a projecting shelf above is one safeguard used at Crawley Ridge.
Modern pegs are usually safer - chunky and round-edged - than the brittle aluminum ones common in the Seventies. Perhaps safest of all are pegs which can be mounted so that they project inwards towards the rack.
Children's anoraks are expensive, and the occasional theft of one causes endless trouble for parents and heads. One security device that schools might consider is a cable which goes through the sleeve of a coat and is then locked to the base. These can add more than Pounds 20 per hanger, perhaps doubling the cost of the whole installation. But management time spent chasing lost expensive coats should come into the equation.
Wire mesh lockers, in stacks of two, tall enough for coats, are available from Arkinstall at Pounds 124. These can be padlocked.
There are also standard steel lockers - a nest of four, in two tiers, from Garran Lockers, will typically cost about Pounds 80. Acocks Green has some steel lockers in the new cloakroom for use by supervisory staff. Arkinstall also supplies standard steel lockers.
young children can hang traditional drawstring shoe-bags on their pegs, or keep them on a shelf underneath. Older children, however, want to bring large sports bags to school. One answer is Moreton's bag storage unit. Each of 12 open-fronted sections is a little over 30cm wide and 45cm high - more importantly, perhaps, it is 60cm deep, allowing it to swallow all but the very biggest bags, albeit perhaps with a little overhang at the front. The timber unit at just under two metres high and a little over one metre wide, with 12 storage spaces costs Pounds 298.
An alternative is one of Arkinstall's many wire mesh units which come with or without doors. These can be made tall enough to put a bag in on its end, but, at 45cm, are not as deep as Moreton's units. A unit of 12 compartments is just under Pounds 200.
storing lunch boxes
some schools allow children to bring their lunchboxes into the classroom or the hall. Acocks Green pupils keep them under the benches in their new cloakroom units. "The cloakroom is cooler and the children are very good and never interfere with each others' lunches," explains Joyce Bevan.
The standard unit had double-decker wire mesh shoe containers, but Joyce Bevan felt these were not big enough. "I wanted an open shelf to take any size of lunchbox and still leave room for other things." Arkinstall made this change.
At Crawley Ridge, a shelf on top of the units is used for the same purpose. A J Binns and Arkinstall catalogues both show ways in which this can be done.
Another approach is to try to limit the size of lunchboxes. This is difficult, as children like to use large and jolly boxes in the shape of buses, Postman Pat's van and so on. But the opportunity may arise when a new group of children starts school or a new building opens. Boxes made by the Folding Box Company are like little oblong plastic briefcases and come in bright colours with the option of printed names and logos. They cost from Pounds 2.19 to Pounds 4.33 each. Some schools encourage their use by selling them through the parent-teachers' associations.
lost clothing wastes a lot of school time. Woven name tapes still provide the most permanent solution. Cash's of Coventry, which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year, supplies name tapes to several large High Street stores, scores of smaller school-wear shops as well as direct to the public. Prices vary according to quantity, from Pounds 4.99 for 36 to Pounds 6.99 for 144. The firm now also supplies stick-on labels for shoes (shaped to go inside the heel) and other non-fabric items - Pounds 4.99 for 40.
some schools, particularly where the surrounding area is muddy, insist on children changing into indoor shoes. The problem this causes is well described by Betty Kerr: "Where do you make them take them off, and what do you put them in? At the moment we put them in plastic crates - several children's shoes in each crate. It's not ideal, and we're going to buy some open storage units. "
A coated wire mesh unit is popular. Arkinstall supplies these in various sizes and director Peter Whitehouse says they make good containers for boots and outdoor shoes, because they can be hosed down when empty.
Betty Kerr, though, was not keen on these: "The mud all flows through and they look untidy." Her solution is to use stacks of open-fronted wooden "pigeon holes". The first set was given to her by a local shop, but she found it difficult to find anyone who would make more. Eventually she got them from Moretons in Nuneaton: "We wanted more and smaller storage spaces than their catalogue showed, but they were able to accommodate us." Moretons makes a range of educational furniture and fittings, including non-standard items.
* Arkinstall Cloakroom Equipment, 6 Buntsford Park Road, Bromsgrove, Worcestershire B60 3DX. Tel: 01527 872962
* A J Binns Cloakroom Equipment, Harvest Works, Vale Road, London N4 1PL. Tel: 0181 802 5211
* J and J Cash Ltd, Torrington Avenue, Coventry CV4 9UZ. Tel: 01203 466466
* The Folding Box Company, Ridgeway Cross, Malvern, WorcestershireWR13 5JN. Tel: 01886 880599
* Garran Lockers, P O Box 4, Nantgarw Road, Caerphilly, Mid Glamorgan CV83 1WW. Tel: 01222 869924
* Moretons Educational Furniture, Whitacre Road, Nuneaton, Warwickshire CV11 6BW. Tel: 01203 384641