Schools are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of frequent intake of water to enhance learning and many schools now have formal school hydration policies

Mental performance can fall by 10% when your pupils are thirsty and it will also add to tiredness, headaches and irritability. Having water readily available to children links well with learning programmes as well as promoting healthy lifestyles in your school. Frequent small intakes of water are better for learning than limiting drinks to breaks and lunchtimes, with children needing to drink a total 8 glasses of water during the day.

St Michael’s Primary School near Lincoln encourages all pupils to bring their own water container into school, with unlimited access to water during the school day. Here are their main findings and suggestions to help make this a successful initiative in your own school.

  • To launch the scheme a water bottle was bought for every child in the school – consider having the school logo on water bottles. Parents now provide the water containers.
  • A letter was sent to all parents explaining the health and learning benefits of having water freely available during the school day.
  • Occasionally during the day pupils are asked to put their bottles down, especially when delivering key information to the class.
  • There is a tap in every classroom for filling up the water containers. LSAs do this for the youngest children with set times for filling up bottles for the older pupils.
  • Spills are surprisingly not an issue and all pupils (even the infants) manage the situation well. Pupils are encouraged to bring sports bottles, which helps minimise leakage.
  • Pupils rarely fiddle with their bottles and they have not proven to be a distraction to either the pupils or the teachers.

An alternative to allowing pupils to bring their own water bottles is to provide water coolers with disposable cups. Disposable plastic cups can add to the litter issue, especially in a large secondary school where schemes using bottles may be much more practical. Dauntsey’s Aided Primary School in Wiltshire has overcome this by purchasing cheap and cheerful plastic cups and marking each one with the names of the children. These are kept on a shelf outside each classroom and pupils help themselves during the school day. Using water coolers and cups does require more maintenance, whereas keeping bottles clean is the responsibility of parents. And finally, contrary to popular belief, drinking more water won’t result in more toilet trips during lessons. The urinary health of pupils will actually improve. If your school has a hydration policy let us know the impact it is having!

Good websites with resources and advice for water in schools include:

  • Water is Cool in School
  • Health Ed Trust
  • Learning Wales

This article first appeared in Teaching Expertise, December 2004.