Here's an old open-evening trick from seasoned parents: ask to see the pupils' toilets. No matter how fresh the foyer paint, how shiny the staff shoes, how clean the corridors, if the loos whiff and their walls feature Shannon Brown's Turner Prize entries, parents will go elsewhere.
And so they should. That's why one school's efforts to raise bog standards (sorry) are so admirable. Deptford Green School, in south-east London, ran a "Love Your Toilet" week recently, with a competition between the boys and girls to see who could keep their loos cleaner. Pupils leading the campaign were fed up with finding toilets unflushed and sinks stuffed with paper towels, but that insidious principle of "Well, it's already a mess, so why should I care?" was holding sway.
The girls won, but only by a margin, so I won't breathe a word about how that didn't surprise me in the least. Anyway, the whole school had a mufti day as a reward, and let's hope that the days of pee puddles and mutinous cleaners are over for Deptford Green. Well done, them.
It's a challenge for schools everywhere. When my kids were at secondary school (yes, I know, I look too young - thanks), the first thing they did on coming home was dash into our own facility, having held on since third period. That takes some doing, and when you're sitting through Mr Drone's double physics in the last two periods, you can do without a barrage balloon of a bladder reminding you that there are 50 minutes and a bus ride to go before you can access a loo with a lock and toilet paper that doesn't look second-hand.
Speaking of periods, it can be worse for girls. One school decided to lock their toilets during a bad graffiti phase. Pupils had to ask for the key and any emergency sanitary supplies from a male caretaker. No doubt those same girls were taught in personal, social, and health education that menstruation was nothing to be ashamed of - that's a mixed message if ever I heard one.
It's bad enough as a female teacher. I was in a staff toilet on a visit to a boys' school recently. There was a sign on the back of the cubicle door saying, "Sanitary supplies are available in A block". As I was in Z block, I could only conclude that this wasn't exactly next door. I'll leave you poor unfortunates to imagine my dilemma, but, believe me, it's not often I wish I was post-menopausal.
It's not easy convincing your average teenager to pick up after themselves. The typical adolescent bedroom tells a sorrowful story. But if schools put the renovation of toilets to the - ahem - bottom of budget priorities, it's no surprise that the kids don't care either. Faced with cracked tiles, rusty taps and tracing paper for toilet roll - plus Year 11s peering under the doors, confident that no staff will dream of coming in - I'm not surprised they're peed off.
Fran Hill, Teacher at an independent school in London.