ERIC's Water is Cool in School Campaign
The Water is Cool in School Campaign ran from 2000 – 2011. The campaign aimed to improve the quality of provision and access to fresh drinking water for children in UK primary and secondary schools, to increase public awareness of the health benefits to children of drinking good levels of water regularly during the school day and to obtain comprehensive legislation on drinking facilities in schools.
The campaign successfully achieved these aims and now more schools are aware of the importance of providing access to fresh drinking water and encouraging pupils to drink regularly throughout the day. The School Premises Regulations now include clear legislation on drinking facilities.
The following pages include archived information for those interested in the campaign and improving drinking facilities in schools.
In order to find out more about the water situation in schools, Education and Resources for Improving Childhood Continence (ERIC), in conjunction with the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, carried out a survey of drinking facilities in primary and secondary schools in two education districts.
The results published in the Nursing Times, 5th October 2000, revealed that drinking facilities and access to water in many British schools were highly unsatisfactory:
In response to these findings, the Water is Cool in School Campaign was launched in October 2000, with a press launch at the House of Commons in March 2001.
In 2003, in order to evaluate the effects of the Water is Cool in School Campaign and to evaluate the state of school toilets and access for pupils, the Community Practitioner's and Health Visitors Association (an organisation representing over half of school nurses in the UK), in co-ordination with ERIC, carried out a random survey of primary and secondary schools across the UK.
The results from 928 schools in 70 LEAs show a huge improvement in the provision of water in schools since the start of the Campaign, but there is still some poor practice. For the majority of primary schools, drinking water in lessons and throughout the school day is now commonplace (water bottles in the classroom are permitted (29%) or encouraged (48%) in 78% of the primary schools surveyed). In secondary schools, there has been more attitudinal resistance from staff to improving water facilities and consumption (as a result water bottles in the classroom drops to 48%, with 17% encouraged and 31% permitted). Plumbed in water coolers and chilled modern fountains with a swan neck are increasing in popularity. Taps (in 21% of schools) and traditional water fountains (in 38% of schools), are, however, still the most prevalent water facilities and are still most frequently sited in the toilet area (84%) - both facilities and location are poor practice. 22% of secondaries did not provide any water at lunchtimes. Three schools did not allow any access to drinking water at any point during the day.
The links between water, dehydration, health and learning
How does drinking water link to health?
Drinking adequate amounts of water regularly throughout the day can protect health and contribute to well-being.
Drinking adequate amounts of water can help prevent a range of short and long-term health problems from headaches, bladder, kidney and bowel problems to cancer.
Water has none of the health problems associated with drinks containing sugar, additives, sweeteners, acids or caffeine.
How does drinking water improve learning?
The key to boosting the capacity to learn is to keep well hydrated throughout the day.
When we are thirsty mental performance including memory, attention and concentration can decrease by about 10 per cent
Pupils concentrate better because they are not distracted by the effects of dehydration such as thirst, tiredness and irritability
Can aid behaviour management by helping to settle pupils in the classroom.
Children will achieve more when both their health and learning needs are met. Ensuring free access to water and promoting a regular water intake throughout the school day is a vital role for schools in promoting health and providing a healthy learning environment.
How much should children drink?
The standard recommendation is at least 6-8 glasses (1.5 - 2 litres) a day, drunk regularly throughout the day (at least 3-4 glasses while at school) ensuring that plenty of additional fluid is drunk during warm weather and/or when exercising."When exercising" means before, during and after exercise and is not restricted to formal PE and games lessons, but is also applicable to active play (e.g. football in the playground or periods of running around).
The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, Washington DC (2004), includes a separate category for teenage boys aged 14 over who require a higher average fluid intake of 2.6 litres (about 11 large glasses).
Pupils spend at least half their waking hours in school. During this time, they should be drinking at least half their daily requirement, spread regularly throughout the day.
What is dehydration?
Dehydration is simply not having enough water in your body. It may result from inadequate water intake and/or from losing body water and can develop rapidly or slowly.
How can you tell if children are dehydrated?
A lot of people don't even realise they are dehydrated because they have become so used to feeling below their best.
Symptoms of mild dehydration can be difficult for teachers to spot. In class some children may become irritable, tired and less able to concentrate. By the time they get home many children are complaining of tiredness or headaches and some may be too lethargic to do anything but slump in front of the television. Although we may think of this behaviour as normal, it is now known that it may, at least in part, be due to the effects of dehydration.
Children can be taught to recognize when their fluid intake is too low as the urine becomes concentrated (small amounts of deep yellow, cloudy, smelly urine). If their urine's no darker than the colour of pale straw, odourless and copious they're doing OK.
What are the effects of dehydration on children?
The early effects of even mild dehydration are significant for health, well being, performance and learning - and in the long term carry a higher risk of a number of health problems and disease states. These include constipation, continence problems, kidney and urinary tract infections, kidney stones, and some cancers. In some scientific studies, a decrease in cancer risk was specifically associated with water, as opposed to any other fluids.
What's the link between wetting problems and drinking water?
There is a link between not drinking enough and day and night wetting problems - and a low fluid intake is also a contributory factor in constipation and soiling.
If children do not drink adequately during the day, their urine becomes concentrated which can irritate the bladder and may cause daytime wetting. Insufficient daily fluid intake can also reduce bladder capacity. If children then drink when they get home, their bladder may not be able to cope and bed-wetting may result. When children start drinking more during the day they may initially need to go to the toilet more, but once their bladder capacity has improved, they will need to go less frequently but will produce larger quantities of urine.
It is the experience of continence advisors that certain other drinks such as fizzy drinks, drinks containing caffeine, blackcurrant juice, and a high consumption of milk, particularly before bedtime, may be linked to wetting problems.
My child doesn't get water at school during or after exercise - what are the effects?
It is in a school's best interest to promote water when exercising. Mild dehydration not only has an adverse effect on physical and mental performance and temperature regulation during exercise, making exercise feel harder and more tiring, but will also affect the subsequent mental performance, energy levels and mood of a child back in class. In the long-term, the effects on health from failing to rehydrate between bouts of exercise are significant.
Children's drinking should be supervised, as they do not instinctively drink enough during exercise. An hour of just moderate and/or intermittent exercise can mean a child weighing 30kg can lose around half a litre of water, and in warm weather this loss could be much higher. Researchers advise that to restore normal fluid balance after exercise, we should consume at least the equivalent of 1.5 times (i.e. 150%) the fluid lost during exercise. The key to avoiding dehydration is to drink before exercise and at regular intervals during and after.
If children are well hydrated, exercise feels easier and more enjoyable, helping to develop positive attitudes towards exercise and encouraging children to exercise more willingly another day.
What effect does dehydration have on the brain?
Water makes up about 80% of the brain and is an essential element in neurological transmissions. Poor hydration adversely affects a child's mental performance and learning ability. Symptoms of mild dehydration may include tiredness, headaches and a feeling not unlike jet lag, as well as reduced alertness and ability to concentrate. Mental performance including memory, attention and concentration can decrease by about 10 per cent, once thirst is felt. Mental performance deteriorates progressively as the degree of dehydration increases. Thirst is usually felt when dehydration results in 0.8 - 2 per cent loss of body weight lost due to water loss. For a 10-year-old child weighing 30kg this is equivalent to one or two very large glasses of water (300ml each), which is the amount a child could lose during a PE lesson or running around in the playground. Water consumption also has an immediate alerting and revitalising effect. In schools taking part in the Food in Schools water provision pilot project, the consensus from teachers was that "enhanced provision contributed to a more settled and productive learning environment, as well as helping to instil good habits". The key to boosting the capacity to learn is to keep well hydrated throughout each day (ideally from a personal water bottle within arm's reach).
What are the current regulations for drinking water in schools?
The Education (School Premises) Regulations (Department for Education and Skills, 1999) merely state that: 'A school shall have a wholesome supply of water for domestic purposes including a supply of drinking water.' These regulations do not specify the means of delivery, appropriate locations, whether the water should be accessible to the children and how often, the type and number of facilities per pupil, hygiene standards, or that water should be palatable.
The National Healthy School Standard Guidance, 1999, similarly makes no reference to water facilities or access other than a basic requirement that "clean drinking water is provided". Furthermore, this requirement for drinking water is added to a sentence that deals with toilets; which gives the impression that drinking water should be provided in the toilets.
The Guidance for Caterers for School Lunch Standards (Department for Education and Skills, 2001) expects that "drinking water should be available to all pupils every day free of charge". However, these are guidelines only, not requirements - and there are no guidelines for provision of water during the rest of the school day.
Frequently Asked questions
What are schools usually concerned about?
Money is rarely the issue, apart from in some very deprived areas of the country, as water facilities can be improved at relatively low cost or, in the case of bottles of tap water from home kept on pupil's desks, at no cost to the school at all. Schools are usually more concerned about disruption, misbehaviour and hygiene. The campaign appreciates these concerns but reports from schools show that these fears are largely unfounded and the benefits greatly outweigh any initial worries. We address the common concerns in the Information Pack for Schools.
What is your opinion of schools encouraging pupils to drink water during exams, but not during normal lessons the rest of the year?
We have heard many reports of this happening in schools. While we normally welcome initiatives to promote drinking water during the school day, doing so for just one or two weeks seems to imply that the school doesn't have concerns for the health and well being of the pupils in their care during the rest of the long school year, which, we hope, would not be the case in any school. Drinking water regularly throughout the school day makes healthier pupils who in turn make better learners. Exam results are not determined by performance on the day alone. Children need to be adequately hydrated during all school lessons in order to maximise their learning potential. By the time a child feels thirsty, their mental performance may have deteriorated by 10% - attention, concentration and memory are all adversely affected. Furthermore, it normally takes a few weeks for bladders to adjust to an increased water intake so introducing increased water consumption at the start of exams is not very helpful! There are definite benefits to encouraging pupils to drink water during exams, not only improving performance but also helping to cool them down and reduce stress levels, but pupils should be drinking water regularly during the school day throughout the rest of the year too.
Where can I find references to support the facts in this campaign website?
The website of the Water for Health Alliance (ERIC is a founding member), established by Water UK, has an excellent library of published information for health professionals and the public. The Medical Facts section (written by Hilary Forrester, Independent Researcher and Senior Policy Executive, Science and Education, British Medical Association) analyses the research exploring the links between hydration and good health and has specific sections on children as well as concentration. The research is fully referenced. From the home page click on Medical Facts which takes you to "Ask About ..the links between hydration and health". The website also has posters, images and publications (e.g. "Wise up on water! Kids run on water too!") that can be downloaded and printed free-of-charge. You will find the website HYPERLINK "http://www.waterforhealth.org.uk/" here.
Every school should provide drinking water, which is:
- free of charge
- chilled in summer
- from a mains water supply
- readily available at all times
- to all pupils, ensuring equal access to those with special needs or disabilities
- from a number of points around the school, including within the dining area
- from modern, clean and regularly maintained dispensers (mains-supplied water coolers, modern water fountains with a swan neck, bespoke taps and sinks)
- not from outlets (taps, fountains or any other type of dispenser) in or near toilet areas
Pupils should be:
- provided with clean drinking vessels, if drinking from taps
- permitted to carry water with them and consumption encouraged in class, during break and lunch time, before, during and after exercise and during extra curricular activities.
- able to use toilets that are clean, well-stocked and safe, whenever they need to
- listened to regarding complaints and suggestions relating to the provision of water and toilets
Many schools already provide traditional drinking fountains but we are keen to encourage schools to do more to improve the provision of water to pupils in their care to encourage children to drink regularly throughout the day. This need not be expensive or disruptive - all that is required is a positive attitude and a few ground-rules.
Enable pupils to drink at least 3-4 full glasses of water per day at school; boys aged 14 and over need at least 5-6. All pupils, whatever their age, need to increase these amounts when exercising and in warm weather. Make water freely accessible to pupils from a number of points throughout the day and encourage pupils to carry water with them (personal water bottles within arm's reach on desks are the most practical and effective option) or give pupils a minimum of 3-5 fluid breaks per day at school with at least one in the afternoon. Pupils should be encouraged to drink a full glass of water at each drink.
Provide facilities and access that encourage children to drink water regularly throughout the school day - in numerous safe, hygienic and easily accessible locations conducive to drinking, and not in toilet areas. The water should be palatable in both taste and temperature
Wherever possible, pupils should have free access to the toilets throughout the day. The toilets should be well maintained and clean
Find out from your children how frequently and how much they actually get to drink at school. What about after PE and active play? In warm weather?
Find out from your children what the rules are - and what goes on in practice! Do your children usually come out of school thirsty?
Go and have a look at the drinking facilities for yourself and try them out! Would you be happy to drink from them? The facilities can be there but it doesn't mean they are used if the children don't like them or the taste of the water, or they can't always get access to the water.
Don't forget the toilets. Would you be happy to use them?
With the help of other parents, raise the issue with the teachers, the head and the governors.
Set a good example at home by drinking plenty of water and limiting soft drinks. Children need encouragement to drink.
Always focus on water and toilet facilities when visiting new schools and raise the issue with the staff.
Health and education professionals
Raise awareness in schools that the provision and access to good drinking water and toilet facilities is fundamental for health, well being and learning.
Encourage schools to implement practical measures that allow children free access to cool and palatable fresh water from an adequate number of attractive facilities in sites conducive to drinking. Do the toilets encourage children to use them? If possible offer practical help and assistance.
Download Information Booklet here (pdf)
Contains information that supports the benefits of drinking water regularly throughout the day and provides practical guidelines on how schools can make improvements.
Information Booklet - Water Cooler Guidance for Schools
Download booklet here (pdf)
ERIC (Education and Resources for Improving Childhood Continence) worked with the Health Education Trust (HET) to write and produce this free downloadable guidance for schools on the use of water coolers to help ensure that the highest standards possible prevail in the selection, provision, installation and maintenance of water coolers in schools. It also contains guidance on personal water bottles.
Water provision checklist for schools
For a drinking water provision and access checklist for schools click here
Water provision checklist for parents
For a drinking water provision and access checklist for parents click here
School Councils UK
UK registered charity that provides information and training for schools and pupils to help create effective school councils. One our our partner organisations behind the Bog Standard campaign for better school toilets for pupils.
TeacherNet is the website for the Department of Education and Skills and contains information about drinking water, the government's water initiatives and advice on good practice on drinking water provision in schools.
Food In Schools
The Department of Health's website for Food in Schools, which includes a separate Water Provision project, launched in 2005. The website has many resources for schools on the provision of drinking water, including a booklet written with the help of ERIC.
Food Standards Agency
The FSA is an independent Government agency, which issues information on drinking water.
Water UK is the industry association that represents all UK water and wastewater service suppliers at national and European level.
Established Water for Health initiative, which guides and informs health professionals and health authorities about the health benefits of drinking water. Water for Health has an excellent library of published information for health professionals and the public: the Hilary Forester Report analyses and compiles key health findings to date, including full references, in the Ask About section. It also has media articles, Parliamentary Questions on drinking water for pupils and lists regional water companies running initiatives to provide water coolers and/or water bottles in schools. ERIC is a member of the Water for Health alliance.
Water for Health
UK registered charity which concentrates its research on children.
National Kidney Research Fund
UK registered charity funding research that focuses on the prevention, treatment and management of kidney disease. The Fund also dedicates its work to improving patient care and raising awareness of kidney disease. Holds an annual National Drink Water Day to encourage the public to drink more water, to keep their bodies, and especially their kidneys, healthy.
WaterAid is a UK registered international charity dedicated to helping people escape the stranglehold of poverty and disease caused by living without safe water and sanitation. WaterAid works in partnership with local organisations in 15 countries in Africa and Asia to help poor communities establish sustainable water supplies and latrines, close to home. WaterAid also works to influence governments' water and sanitation policies to serve the interests of vulnerable people.
Water Aid - Drink More Water! Campaign
A well-being campaign aimed at the whole community in the UK, including schools, launched by Water Aid. It features the benefits of water, a hydration calculator, links to water-based games and case studies to raise awareness of others in developing countries less fortunate in their access to drinking water. The website is interactive and animated
Yorkshire Water Cool Schools
Yorkshire Water's initiative to provide water coolers and water bottles into all schools in Yorkshire
Yorkshire Water Cool Fuel
Yorkshire Water has created this site for pupils about drinking water consumption and health. Also includes games.
Drinking water is the way to go! Child-friendly, useful information for children and teachers from a USA site on why drinking water is important and the effects it has on the body and health. There is further easy-to-understand information on dehydration, exercise and sweating, accessed by clicking on "More articles like this".
Brita in School
The jug filter company Brita has pupil work sheets and corresponding teaching guidelines in maths, English and science, as well as suggestions for activities linked to the curriculum in its Teacher Notes.
The Health Education Trust (HET)
UK registered charity, formed to promote the development of health education for young people in the UK. HET is dedicated to initiating and supporting work to encourage the growth of healthy lifestyles, such as HET's School Nutrition Action Groups concept. Website includes a useful Healthy Drinks Vending Guide for Schools.
The "Chew on this" website aims to provide useful information to 11-14 year olds about food, where it comes from, how it is marketed and labelled, and how it affects both their health and the environment. The website will also be useful to inquisitive adults who want to know more about the food they eat.