Hang ups

26th January 1996 at 00:00
Despite the Government's commitment to new technology, schools are still some way from fulfilling the dream of "a paperless office". The paperless toilet, however, is common. There are school loos where the ceremonial rolls are only brought out on open days or to coincide with an OFSTED visit. Pupils who find themselves caught short are obliged to make a detour to the head's office to put in a formal request for the requisite length of tissue.

There is, probably, a "Tissue Issue" module on those high-powered management courses: prospective heads are taught how to estimate the number of sheets to allocate, basing their calculations on the claimant's height, body-weight and degree of anguish.

Some children carry pegs in their pencil cases to clap on to their noses in an emergency. Others contrive excuses to go home - "forgot my homework, Miss" - in order to spend a civilised penny.

One in five local authorities still has primary schools with outside loos, according to the Campaign for State Education (CASE). I don't suppose that there's anything wrong with having to answer a call of nature by getting a little closer to nature (Baden-Powell would have approved), but most adults wouldn't think it good enough for them.

It says a lot about how much we value this generation that we are preparing for a new technological age. Margaret Tulloch of CASE hit this obvious nail squarely on the head. "It is ironic," she says, "when all parties are emphasising the importance of linking schools to the superhighway thatIsome primary children still face a freezing walk to an outside lavatory." Schools are left with the question of deciding which is more important: high-tech or hygiene?

But it isn't just the loos that are in need of attention. Some schools are simply falling to bits. The mandarins in their pleasant offices at the Department for Education and Employment might claim that there's no cause for concern, but a report from the National Union of Teachers claims that more than 25 per cent of schools had "to close part of their buildings because of the danger posed to staff and pupils".

What, then, should be the top priority: IT or the basic amenities? I know which side I have to come down on. It might be different if The TES had a WC page instead of this IT page, and I had my own column on it (low-level, in tasteful avocado). But stuck here, I feel duty bound to argue the case for high-tech.

So, instead of wasting money upgrading the toilet block, schools could experiment with a new uniform. It could be modelled on the garb worn by NASA astronauts, plumbed with a discreet system of tubing which would eradicate the need for any pupil to be excused from class ever again. And if the fabric of the school is in chronic disrepair, investing in the latest Virtual Reality equipment could prove decidedly cheaper than calling in the builders. Pupils could don headsets and, at the click of a switch, be transported to some far more convivial environment - those pleasant DFEE offices, perhaps.

Arnold Evans's e-mail address: arnold evans@easynet.co.uk

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