Making the invisible visible is a moral issue

18th October 2013 at 01:00

School toilets are often antiquated, dirty and about as enticing as a cockroach flapjack. A basic human function is fraught with the prospect of humiliation, whether it's students on the cusp of adulthood having to squat on toilets designed for infants, or sniggering peers sliding their smartphones under the cubicle door for a snap the occupant will never want appearing on Facebook.

Children's commissioner Tam Baillie and UK charity Education and Resources for Improving Childhood Continence have underlined the importance of raising the standard of school toilets (see pages 16-18).

It's not just about dignity: poor toilets are a health hazard, not to mention deleterious to some children's chances of doing well at school. How hard will they concentrate on algebra or conjugating irregular verbs if all they can think about is the post-school dash home to use a decent loo?

If children don't feel comfortable going to the toilet, that's more than an inconvenience - it's a clock ticking down to the most humiliating moment of their entire school lives.

It's surprising, then, that the Scottish government and local authorities body Cosla are so laissez-faire about the issue. The government seems to have no plans to make school inspectors assess toilets, nor to update legislation that safeguards health to include such facilities. In response to the concerns of Mr Baillie and chief medical officer Sir Harry Burns, who has backed the commissioner's campaign, Cosla told TESS: "Are they really both saying that children's toilets are a top priority ahead of all other things that councils provide for children?"

Perhaps our public bodies are resting in the knowledge that the issue of toilets is unlikely to capture the public's imagination. But as the United Nations puts it, "Ensuring access to sanitation is imperative for health, education and dignity. It is a fundamental right that must be promoted."

In a completely different area - but equally neglected - is religious education. It's a subject more commonly known as RME or RMPS (M for "moral", P for "philosophy"). At its best, it is closer to ethics than religious indoctrination, yet it is still sometimes dismissed as a fusty adjunct to "proper" subjects.

But University of Glasgow research (see pages 7-8) has shown an "overwhelmingly positive" response from science and RME teachers to a project that got both working together (although some sceptics perceived an intrusion of faith upon reason).

Some science teachers professed their ignorance of exactly what RME entailed, and were delighted with how it teased classroom debate out of scientific rigmarole.

Whatever one thinks of the subject, its popularity has undeniably soared - more than 4,100 students took the RMPS Higher in 2013, up from 1,300 in 2006. It's time to harness that enthusiasm, not dismiss it.

henry.hepburn@tess.co.uk.

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