Down the plughole
Recently, I read about a school leader who had installed security cameras in his school toilets. There was a predictable outcry from parents. But, I suspect like many school leaders, I can sympathise with his reasons: he simply wanted to eliminate the vandalism taking place in the toilets.
It's a problem that, hard as I tried, I never cracked. When I first arrived at my school, I could understand why the children behaved as they did in the toilets, which were grim. I had the old outdoor ones knocked down, built a school garden instead and spent a great deal of money refurbishing the toilets on each floor.
For a while, the children treated them with respect, but then the amateur plumbers and saboteurs got back to work, partly, I suppose, because it was more fun and partly because school toilets can't be easily monitored.
If I'm honest, I had to admire the sheer ingenuity the culprits displayed in rearranging the fixtures and fittings, however childproof I tried to make them.
Toilet seats would suddenly go missing, or the fixings at the back would be removed so that when a child sat down they would slide all over the place. The collar on a cistern pipe would be loosened, so that when a student flushed the toilet, water would cascade all over them. A whole roll of toilet paper would be deposited in the toilet bowl. And, even though I had childproof locks put on the doors, someone discovered how to lock a child in a cubicle by slipping a penny into the rotary handle.
In the end, I was convinced that the miscreants must be coming to school each day with a Stillson pipe wrench and a set of ring spanners concealed in their lunchboxes.
Sinks were a particular source of fun, especially on the top floor. The saboteurs would stuff toilet tissue into the plughole and turn on the tap, so that the sink overflowed and water seeped into the stockroom below. Appeals to the children in assembly made little difference. I thought I could conquer the problem by fitting push taps that shut themselves off, but eventually they stopped self-shutting without liberal amounts of easing fluid.
The issue was finally resolved when the water flow was reduced to a trickle, which at least gave us a chance of spotting an overflow before piles of stock were ruined. By now, the tiny, irresponsible minority have probably grown up to be the expert plumbers you rely on in a crisis.
However, the worst toilet problem I experienced had nothing to do with the children. We had refurbished the outside of the school and the muck from the brick-washing had clogged a playground drain. One of the workmen had a bright idea: their high-pressure hose would shift the blockage. Unfortunately, the exterior drain was linked to the one in the infants' toilet, where a barrage of sludge shot around the walls and into the school corridor.
It took our premises officer a weekend to clear up, but thankfully no children were in school at the time. What on earth would I have told the parents?
Mike Kent is a retired primary school headteacher in England. Email: email@example.com.