A clean bill of health

Emma Gilroy asks if we underestimate the importance of the link between hygiene and education

When you’re looking for the best schools for your children to attend, chances are you’ve never considered the cleanliness of each institution’s facilities. Why would you? Surely, finding a school or college that has a good track record of achieving strong grades and is convenient to get to is your biggest priority? While this is obviously true, we shouldn’t underestimate the important role that general hygiene and cleanliness has to play in our children’s education. 

Driving down absence rates

It doesn’t matter how good your teachers are, if your children are too ill to attend classes, they’re going to fall behind. By the same token, there’s been a steady increase in the number of sickness absences being taken by teachers and support staff in recent years. Official government statistics showed that in 2012-13, 57 percent of serving UK teachers had at least one illness that prevented them from going into work. This was a marginal increase on 2011-12, when the figure stood at 55 percent.

While measures are put in place to ensure back-up teachers are available in the event of an absence, there’s no denying that a student will be adversely affected if their influential mentor is missing for a period of time. This is true right the way through the education system, from primary school to university. 

Minimising the risks

Sickness absences are unavoidable, but are education establishments doing enough to minimise the problem?

Walking around your washrooms to see where hygiene standards can be improved is not a glamorous job, but it’s an important task nevertheless. According to the Food Standards Agency, upset stomachs affect nearly 17 million people every year in the UK, and this statistic reiterates the point that we simply must address the rampant spread of harmful bacteria.

Education budgets are tight, but investing in better washroom services could pay dividends in the long run. Although it’s nigh-on impossible to gauge accurately how many sickness days you have prevented by improving the cleanliness of your onsite facilities in the short term, you’ll probably notice a big difference over the course of a year.

Working alongside a company that specialises in washroom management makes sense. Not only can they ensure that your facilities are squeaky clean and germ free, they’ll also guarantee that your school, college or university is following the UK’s hygiene legislation, fending off any potential fines for non-compliance in the process. 

Altering people’s habits

As the old saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. It’s important to invest as much money in sanitary washrooms and other facilities as you can, but you also need to ensure that everybody on your campus is doing their bit to maintain high hygiene standards.

At the risk of sounding patronising to your older students, you should take steps to develop a culture of hygiene throughout your institution. Public Health England has published numerous documents that highlight the importance of cleanliness and offer helpful tips on best practice when it comes to infection control.

You’d hope that most students of a certain age will have this nailed down without you having to put up “Catch It. Bin It. Kill It” posters around the place. Nonetheless, old habits die hard and you may need subtly to remind everybody about the merits of washing hands properly and keeping the place as clean as possible. You can’t completely eradicate sickness bugs from your campus, but if everybody’s pulling in the right direction, you can make a serious dent into your annual absence rates.

Emma Gilroy, Direct365 W: www.direct365.co.uk 

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