Clean, free drinking water everywhere: Starting with water-only Schools

02 March 2020

Tim Baker, March 02 2020

Through my many years’ experiences, as Head teacher of Charlton Manor Primary school, I have learned that listening to children and allowing them to learn all subjects in a creative and real way is hugely powerful. I brought this knowledge with me when I joined London’s child obesity Taskforce back in November 2019. We have been working hard since then and I’m excited to now move forward with action.


We are aware of the importance of partnerships and collaborations and encourage leaders to take up our call to action and help us realise our ambitions. When looking back over our ambitions we realised that there was one clear cross cutting area of action that links all ten of them together – Water. It’s here that as a Taskforce we felt we could being the most value.


It’s with great enthusiasm that we joined forces with Public Health England who have developed a Water Only Schools Toolkit to support primary schools across London to become ‘Water Only’. We hope water only will build on the brilliant work of existing campaigns such as Fizz Free February and Sugar smart.


Charlton Manor is already a water only school, the main driver behind the decision was an awareness that many drinks being brought in by students contained unnecessary sugar. I saw an opportunity to not only reduce the amount of sugar sweetened drinks being consumed by the children but to promote water as the best drink for their health. A huge focus of the school is to support children in adopting healthy lifestyle behaviours such as cooking and being physically active. Ensuring the children are drinking plenty of water was an obvious additional priority that would have a positive impact on their health.


To begin, staff taught children about the importance of hydration and how not drinking enough water can make it difficult to concentrate and play. I asked children to bring in their own bottles which they can refill at school. It's important to ask parents to ensure names are on bottles and that they have non-spill lids to prevent spills and potential slips. During the day staff reminded children to drink water and refill their bottles. Continuously recapping reasons why water is better for them provided positive reinforcement to the children.


There are some logistical considerations that schools need plan for before becoming water only. Easy access to water fountains is really important to support children in developing habits around drinking more water. School must consider taps in the classrooms and allow the children to fill up their water bottles here as well as  from drinking fountains in the playground. All children should be able to access fountains during break times.


For Charlton Manor, a big behaviour shift was needed around lunchtimes as previously students would bring in drinks. I made it clear to parents that they only needed to send in a packed lunch and that the drink would be supplied by the school. Explaining that drinks were not only provided as part of the school lunch but supplied to all children helped in excluding sugary drinks bought in from home.


There was some initial push back as parents wanted their children to bring cartons in to school. In these cases I instructed staff to confiscate the cartons and to bring them to me. Parents were told that they were welcome to come and collect the confiscated drinks, few ever did. For parents who did come to see me, I used the time to reiterate the school policy and ensure they understood the importance of adhering to it. Our school food policy was updated to include water only, the update was ratified by our Governors, whose backing and support is vital.


The school has seen a positive shift in children's behaviours towards water. This includes an increased awareness of why hydration is important for a healthy body and why water is the better choice over sugar sweetened drinks. I hope that by modelling these behaviours at school both children and parents will begin to adopt them at home. I really hope that this new toolkit will encourage and support all primary schools across London to become Water Only and to start seeing the benefits.


The Mayor has responded to our full set of recommendations, read the response here.

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