Locked into a double bind

24th March 2000 at 00:00
Children struggle to lessons bent double under the weight of books. But with a shortage of both space and money, what, asks Carolyn O'Grady, are governors to do?

THE SUBJECT of lockers is a continuing bugbear for schools. The effect of carrying books and sports gear on the posture and backs of children is a recurrent theme of newspaper articles, not least in this paper.

It's an exasperating topic for schools that are constantly being prevailed upon by parents and others to provide more lockers. But many schools, it seems, will continue to ignore government

regulations requiring them to provide storage facilities - in part because of the costs involved.

Standards for School Premises, a new guide from the Department for

Education and Employment due out this summer, says "there must be facilities for storing pupils' belongings.

"Given parents' concerns about

schoolchildren carrying heavy books and other materials around school,

bodies responsible should think carefully about how best to meet this standard," it adds.

But schools have been thinking carefully about it for years.

"Every year I can remember parents have expressed concern about their

children carrying heavy weights," says Muriel Ryding, headteacher of Baines secondary school in Poulton-Le-Fylde, Lancashire, a school with 1,000 pupils and no lockers.

"We have taken very seriously our responsibility to provide good textbooks and other resources, but these days it means pupils are carrying heavy weights for long periods. It's a serious problem and one to which we've been seeking a solution for about 10 years."

The reason schools such as Baines do not install lockers is twofold: space and money. One thousand lockers would take up an enormous amount of both. Nor is Baines alone in lacking lockers. Surveys show that 40 per cent of schools do not have them.

"In the old days we used to have cloakrooms. Now they're being used for something else. So much more

information and technology equipment is being put into schools, and it takes up a lot of space which has not been

factored in," says Chris Gale, chair of the National Governors' Council.

It is not only the pupils who suffer, she adds: often teachers do not have lockers either, and those exercise books for marking can weigh a ton.

At Baines school, parents often point to the school's wide corridors an ask why lockers cannot be installed in them.

"But put lockers on either side; open their doors and take account of children milling round them, and you have a

serious problem of congestion," says

Ms Ryding. Fire regulations would then come into play.

She points out that the school recently had new building work done, and had looked into incorporating lockers. They found that regulations governing the proportion of teaching to non-teaching space did not allow for them.

Many schools are deterred from buying lockers because of problems with

vandalism, children losing keys or forgetting combination numbers.

Maintaining lockers can also be very expensive.

Very strong lockers are available, some with electronic opening systems, and lockers which respond to fingerprints are on their way - but all are very expensive.

A three-compartment, very basic locker of the type schools currently tend to buy costs around pound;60, said Charles Kitchin, marketing manager of UK locker-manufacturer Helmsman. A three-door laminated, "vandal-resistant" locker which opens electronically using a microchip built into a polymer wristband costs approximately pound;325. These were designed for and are targeted at leisure centres, but the company is looking into adapting the technology for school use in a way which reduces the price, he said.

Meanwhile, government regulations continue to stipulate that schools must have storage, though lockers or secure storage are not specified. The new

guidance is equally unhelpful.

"The amount and location of storage facilities needed will vary according to the number and ages of pupils. Storage must be convenient for pupils to use and not situated in places where

bullying is possible.

"Storage in a classroom may be ideal if pupils take most of their lessons in that one room, but this will restrict access for pupils who move between rooms for lessons," it notes.

"Storage facilities must be of a type and design suitable for pupil use.

Common problems with, for example, lockers, are that they may not be of

sufficient quality, keys may be lost or combinations forgotten. Stacked lockers may mean that some pupils have to reach up into them, while others must kneel or sit on the floor to use them."

Not a mention of what kind of storage would be suitable - or how schools are to find the money or space.

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