'We were cutting edge in 1874'

14th March 2003 at 00:00
Despite ministers' pledges hundreds of primary pupils still use outside toilets. Helen Ward reports

HUNDREDS of young children are still forced to use outside toilets at primary school five years after the Government pledged to end the scandal.

David Blunkett, the then education secretary, promised to get rid of the "unacceptable" trek to Victorian toilets by 1999. There were then around 600 schools with outside loos. The Department for Education and Skills believes the number has dropped to "a handful".

David Miliband, school standards minister, now wants to focus less on basic repairs and more on high-tech refurbishments.

But some schools are still struggling with 19th-century facilities.

When Great Bridge primary in Tipton was built in 1874 children had to go outside to visit the toilet. Almost 130 years later, more than 300 pupils still do so.

Inspectors said staff at the West Midlands school show a "remarkable tolerance"of their working conditions.

Later this year, work is due to start on a new two-storey school.

The plans are posted up on headteacher Terry Keasey's door and he hopes the pound;5 million building will be ready before he retires in July 2004.

"This school may have been cutting-edge technology in 1874, but it isn't today," he said.

Paint peels from the walls in the main building and bars have been put on the office windows after two break-ins. Staff say the "aluminium building" for the upper juniors is freezing in winter and too hot in summer.

All the children's toilets are in the nursery block, meaning pupils over the age of five have to make that "unacceptable" trek. The 72 under-fives have their own inside lavatories.

When Mr Keasey took over in 1975, plans to close Great Bridge and send the children to another local primary had been shelved.

Most of the 173 pupils used an outside toilet block in the playground, adjoining the local abbatoir.

Ten years ago the abbatoir closed and the toilet block was demolished. And so for the past 13 years the older children have been trekking over to the nursery block.

As new housing went up in Tipton, the three boys' and five girls' toilets have come under pressure. Nine years ago there were 273 pupils. This year there are 413.

Classrooms are also in short supply. In order to keep class sizes in the infants at 30, Years 1 to 3 can spread themselves across six classrooms.

But this means the remaining four year groups also have to squeeze into six rooms, meaning class sizes of up to 35. Except of course when someone needs to set off to use the toilet.

Is your school equipped for the 21st century? Contact Helen Ward at helen.ward@tes.co.uk

Building Schools for the Future, dfes.gov.ukconsultations, closing May 30


* Research published in January revealed 62 per cent of boys and 35 per cent of girls avoid using their primary school toilets because they are dirty and lack privacy.

* In 1997, 600 schools, mainly primaries, had outside toilets.

* In 1998, education secretary David Blunkett pledged pound;35 million to get rid of them. The Department for Education and Skills now says only a "handful" of schools still have outside loos.

* Six out of seven English schools were built more than 25 years ago.

* Overall, central government spending (including PFI credits) on school buildings rose from pound;683m in 199697, to pound;3 billion in 200203, and an expected pound;5.1 bn by 2005-06.

* There is an estimated pound;7bn back-log of repairs

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