Ah the school changing rooms, where pupils hide when they don’t want to be in lessons (I have not done this before honest) … or where children get changed to do PE. It is arguably the most chaotic room in the school. In this all action, all motion room there are plenty of dangers we need to be aware of and able to protect our children from. So I’m going to look at ways we can make sure the changing rooms are as secure as our classrooms should be.
Let’s start by looking at regulation. According to the School Premises Regulations passed in 2012, every school must have changing accommodation for all pupils above the age of 11 years from the start of the school year. Also included in these regulations are showers that spout out hot and cold water as to avoid scalding the pupils. While we can consider children below the age of 11 who have to wear a PE uniform (which if I’m not mistaken is most schools, certainly true for all the schools I’ve taught in or visited) but this is not required under the regulations.
Next comes the benches and clothes hooks. Traditionally benches used in changing rooms are made of polished wood so that they do not deteriorate due to the moisture of the sweat from the pupils running round after a PE lesson. The danger with benches is the possibility of sharp edges, which could cause cuts and bruises should pupils fall on it. Obviously these edges are rounded to take the worst possible scenarios out the way. Similar story with the clothes hooks, these need to be rounded and not protruding too far away from the backboard so it doesn’t injure a pupil or give someone the chance of hanging a pupil on them …
Next comes the flooring, quite an easy slipping hazard in a moisture environment if not correct. The floor must be non slip, or at very least provide measures, such as textured tiles, in showering areas that aid with foot grips. Floor mats should be provided in doorways as to avoid mud or dirt entering the room from the pupils shoes. The floor will need to be mopped on a daily basis so the type of flooring needs to be easy to maintain. This leads me nicely onto the next issue …
Cleaning. According to the 1992 Workplace Regulations any floors or indoor traffic routes should be cleaned at least once a week, and places where dirt and refuse accumulate, such as school changing rooms, should be cleaned daily. Cleaning should also be carried out when necessary to keep areas free of spillages – so if there is excess water within a changing room then this must be mopped up to prevent someone slipping on it and injuring themselves. It is also necessary to clean changing rooms of any offensive waste matter or health hazard – for instance if a pupil hurts themselves on the playing fields and gets cut, then any blood spilled in the changing room must be cleaned up as soon as possible and the surrounding area disinfected.
Next comes behaviour and discipline. It’s always best to try to run your changing room with the right attitude and discipline. If pupils understand the importance of safety and security then it’s easier to get them to behave in a safe manner. Rather than assuming that good behaviour is mandatory, why not take one lesson at the beginning of the year to discuss potential dangers within the environment, which should help them understand why there is a need for them to act in a responsible manner.
It is very hard to give individual pupils privacy in the changing room. The most important thing is to instill an atmosphere of discipline where pupils are encouraged to change as quickly as possible to get ready for their sports lesson. It is important to remind them that getting changed is not actually part of the lesson and that they stay focused on their own behaviour whilst getting changed.
Although you may have a number of strict rules about how pupils should behave in any changing room, signs can be employed to remind them of the right behaviour. For instance, you may wish to put up signs that remind pupils to dry off thoroughly when leaving a shower area to prevent them from bringing water into the dressing area of the changing rooms, cutting down on the chances of the floor becoming slippery. Outside the changing rooms signs can be employed to remind pupils to remove the mud from their football or hockey boots, or signs regarding general behaviour in gym or pool can be displayed as a helpful nudge in the direction of safe and sensible behaviour.
Next issue surrounds the children’s belongings. One way of ensuring that pupils’ belongings are safe I’ve noticed in the past is providing lockers throughout the changing room on a one locker, one pupil basis allowing them to keep their valuables safe whilst participating in sports lessons. If this isn’t possible I’d suggest that you employ a safe box system where pupils can voluntarily put any valuable item into a locked box that is stored in the teacher’s office for collection after the lesson. It is of course vital that the changing room has a proper deadlock that is religiously locked when lessons are being conducted to prevent outside parties from breaking in.
Next comes damage and vandalism, whether it’s deliberate or not. If you are concerned with unruly or badly behaved pupils damaging parts of the changing room then it is possible to invest in heavy duty fixings that will stand up to most attacks. These range from toilets through to shower fixings and even benches that are specially made from strong materials and components and use mechanisms such as lockable housings for plumbing features to prevent vandalism.
The last, and quite clearly the most controversial of them all, is cameras. A report in 2012 noted that some 207 schools have a total of 825 cameras in changing rooms and washrooms. They have a very strict policy about how footage is viewed – it can only be accessed by authorised staff and every time any footage is viewed the reasons must be recorded in a log book. I’d always suggest that this is a last resort if discipline within the changing rooms can’t be maintained, but it can serve as an effective deterrent to stop particularly troublesome pupils causing fights and stealing other pupils’ property.