Why Water?


Why Water?

We frequently take water for granted. Many of us still have unmetered water supplies at home and give little thought to the commodity that literally keeps us alive, as we flush the toilet or brush our teeth.

For young people - our pupils - water is, perhaps, even less of an issue. Water comes out of taps; it goes down drains. It is tasteless (not true), colourless (sometimes true) and harmless. Pretty boring stuff.


So why should water be on a school's agenda? The curriculum section of these teacher's materials gives full details of how water fits into the curriculum and how it addresses many of the current issues of Citizenship, Sustainability and the 'Every Child Matters' Agenda.

Although the site is designed to be used by any school, it will be particularly useful to schools registered under the Eco-Schools scheme. The scheme is rooted in a genuine desire to help children become more efficient citizens by encouraging them to take responsibility for the future environment. Please use the 'links' section to find out more about Eco-Schools and Encams.

The cost to schools

Schools spend a total of around £70 million a year on water, an average of over £2,500 per school. A large secondary school can spend as much as £20,000. It has been shown that careful water management, coupled with an effective education programme, can reduce water use from 12 cubic metres (12 tonnes!) per pupil per year to 4 cubic metres a year. This could save a school of £600 pupils around £5,000 every year.

Getting Help


Caretakers or site managers are a frequent under-utilised source of expertise in schools. They have a vast experience of the systems that keep a school functioning properly. The caretaker or site manager's active co-operation and participation in the project may prove to be vital to its success, so it is suggested that he or she be involved from the outset. In some cases it may not be possible for the meter to be read by the pupils, in which case the caretaker or site manager will need to be called upon on a regular basis.

All members of staff, both teaching and ancillary, will need to know that a water conservation programme is to be instigated. Although only some will be involved in taking and analysing meter readings, everybody will have their part in cutting down water use across the school.


Often a source of hidden expertise, they may be plumbers, architects, engineers or even work for a water company. Calls for assistance at parents' evenings or in school newsletters can often reveal useful talents. Many parents are happy to offer their time if they are asked appropriately, feel they will be adequately supported and that their contribution will be valued. Other local experts could also be recruited.

The Local Authority will have engineers or other officers who may be able to help or at least advise on the system in the school and suggest how it could be improved to make it more water efficient.

Current Situation

A water review/audit

Before starting you water conservation project it is vital to assess the current situation in the school. It is suggested that this is done as an activity with some of your pupils. In the Pupil Activity Sheets, which may be downloaded from the website, there is a sheet on which this information may be recorded.

Meter size

Almost all school water supplies are metered. This can be a valuable source of information for teachers and pupils when investigating school use of water. But the size of the meter itself also affects how much the school is charged for water. A larger meter attracts a larger standing charge than a smaller one. This can range from around £100 to nearer £2000. It is possible for a school to have a meter which is too large for its current water consumption, especially if water use has been reduced significantly since the meter was fitted. Installing a smaller meter which is the correct size for the amount of water now being used, could mean significant savings.

Where Water Is Used

Leaks and drips

Any leakage occurring in pipes on the school's property will waste water and cost the school money. For example, a leak of 10 litres a minute (equivalent to one tap permanently on) could cost more than £5000 per year! A tap leaking at one drip a second wastes 1460 litres a year - enough for a large school pond.

Leaks may be difficult to spot so check by looking at the water meter at night or at weekends when water is not normally used. If a leak is suspected it would be possible to shut down all items overnight, including items which use water 'automatically' such as urinals. Take an initial reading and then leave the system shut down for as long a period of time as possible before taking a second reading of the water meter.

Washroom taps

Apart from drips, taps can be a source of water loss - or saving - in a number of other ways.

  • Water flow. Is the maximum flow rate like the Niagara or adjusted to 'just adequate'? It may not be possible to adjust individual taps, but most individual buildings will be governed by a stopcock or other control mechanism.
  • Taps design. What type of taps are fitted?
  • Screw-down (standard-type) taps which have been left running can waste enormous amounts of water.
  • There are various types of self-closing, press taps that cut off the supply shortly after a set time. They can waste water if they jam in the 'on' position and so need to be inspected and maintained regularly.
  • Spray taps have spray heads that can reduce water consumption up to 50%, but as with push taps, they need regular maintenance to ensure that the head does not become blocked with soap, grease or limescale.


Mose urinals are flushed by an automatic system that controls the flow of water at a minimum set rate per hour when in use. This rate will depend on the number of urinals and the volume of the cistern. If the rate is significantly higher than that set by law, it may be possible to save water by reducing the flow.

At night, weekends and during holidays, bylaws require a means to stop the cistern from filling. Various devices can be fitted to control water use during these periods, ranging from simple timing devices to 'people detectors'. Most controllers have a 'hygienic flush' every 12 hours. Such control devices are not cheap, ranging from £80 to £120 per cistern. However, the savings made can pay for a unit within the first year of installation.

Waterless Urinals are becoming popular. There are two basic ideas behind urinals which use little or no water. In the first, the urinal itself has a gel coating which is completely urine repellent and is smoother than glass. The urine passes immediately through into a special trap cartridge which contains a biodegradable fluid which prevents unpleasant odours from moving in the opposite direction. In the second, a small energy efficient fan constantly removes odours from within the urinal 'pan' which is designed to prevent any build up of residues.

Toilet cisterns

Most modern cisterns have a small overall volume (7.5 litres) set by bylaws. There are also devices such as the 'Hippo', 'Freddie Frog' or Savabag which can reduce cistern volume. Ball valves and overflows should also be checked regularly.

Dual flush toilets now make up approximately 75 - 80% of all new toilets sold. They usually have two buttons, one for a short flush for most occasions and another for a longer flush to remove solids.

Measuring Consumption

Water Meters

The vast majority of schools have meters that record the volume of water used and on which their water bills are based. Surprisingly few schools ever look at their meters and even fewer routinely monitor the amount of water used.

The most important aim of this website is to encourage schools to do just this and in so doing provide their pupils with a starting point for an interesting and educational experience which ahs applications across the curriculum. One of the downloadable pupil information sheets explains how to read the meter correctly.

Find your meter

The main meter will be on the incoming main, usually coming off the road front of the school, although its exact location will obviously vary widely. The caretaker should be able to locate the meter.

Reading meters

The metering software has been designed to analyse water use based on readings taken on a daily basis. Ideally the readings should be taken at the same time every day, although the software is designed to cope with readings taken at different times of the day or missed readings.

It is possible to carry out valuable work based on a shorter period of time such as part of a school day. The meter read-out will obviously give the most useful data which the pupils will be able to analyse and represent graphically without the aid of the computer - an important and necessary skill! The meter normally records use in terms of a tenth and sometimes a hundredth of a cubic metre (100 and 10 litres respectively) and meaningful measurements can therefore be taken over relatively short periods. The difference between two readings, taken over a known period of time, will give the amount of water used, i.e:

2nd reading - 1st reading

= Volume of water used per minute (litres)
time (minutes)

For further information on reading meters see Pupil Information Sheet 'How to read a water meter'. Once the water review has been carried out it is time for the cuts in water consumption to be made. A mix of technological improvements and behavioural improvements!

Getting Involved

Making a difference

Pupils can make a valuable contribution to the everyday saving of water and therefore money, by promptly reporting drips, leaks, jammed or faulty taps and other problems to the appropriate person, usually the caretaker. This doesn't come easily! It needs to be seen to be a cool thing to do. It also needs to be seen as a whole-school responsibility. Simple good practice such as using plugs in basins, drawing cold water before hot and turning off taps fully (if non-press action), should become routine practice in the school. There should be opportunities through PSE, assemblies and tutorial time to develop the message, either specifically about water use or care of the school environment generally. It is also important to ask the children to suggest what they think the money saves by taking these measurements should be spent on.

Loo with a view

Toilets and shower blocks in schools can be pretty uninspiring places; and yet their condition is as important as that of the entrance hall - perhaps more so. Clearly this is a sensitive area, involving caretaking and cleaning staff as well as pupils and teachers. But the fact remains that many school toilets are maintained to poor standards. Broken locks, graffiti (however creative), leaking or overflowing bowls and soap bombs on ceilings cannot engender positive attitudes to water (or the school in general). They are also a poor advertisement for the school. The latest guidance on water provision in schools states that drinking water should be provided in locations other than toilets.

Out and About

School grounds

A number of aspects of school ground maintenance may be outside the control of the school, but others can be directly influenced. Could the mowing regime be altered to reduce loss of water during the summer? (This could also benefit other aspects of the environment, for example setting aside uncut areas to encourage wild flowers). Is rainwater collected routinely for watering?

School gardens

The application of water-saving ideas to school gardens can develop good life-long habits and raise awareness of the value and role of water for life. There are a number of measures that can be taken, all of which are relatively inexpensive and some of which may save money as well as water.

It is not assumed that all schools have the luxury of gardens or substantial school grounds. Most of the ideas described can be applied to containers in playgrounds which also do much to enhance the appearance and atmosphere of the school environment.

School ponds and wet areas

Somebody once speculated that the UK should be slowly sinking in view of the number of holes being dug for school ponds. Nevertheless, school ponds fulfill a number of important educational and environmental functions and their construction and maintenance should be encouraged.

Drinking Water

Why children should drink plenty of water

Although the Water School website is primarily concerned with promoting Water conservation in schools we also are eager to ensure that the 'Drink more water' message is given high priority.

The following section is based on information available on the WaterUK website which has been edited to ensure its relevance to the target age range of The Water School.

The full document has brought together all the recent fully referenced research into the importance of hydration to children may be viewed at:


Thirst in children

Depending on age and ability, children and infants need carrying degrees of support in order to maintain an adequate hydration level. They may feel thirsty, but have limited capacity to express their need, or to access drinks.

In addition, children may not recognise the signals of thirst as readily as adults and should be encouraged to drink at regular intervals. Since drinking patterns are established in childhood, this encouragement helps children to develop healthy drinking habits which will be of benefit throughout their lives.

It is important that children receive guidance in relation to appropriate levels of fluid intake and beverage consumption. In a survey of 2-7 year olds' drinking habits, it was found that fruit squash was the most frequently consumed drink and had replaced plain drinking water especially among the pre-school age group. The authors suggest that children as young as 2 years had been conditioned to the sweet taste of squash, to the extent that they refuse to drink water as an alternative.

Water requirements in infants and children

The most recently published recommendations from the National Academies, Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board in 2004 suggest that water requirements for children are as follows:


The Medical Director for Great Ormond St Hospital recommends that healthy children over 6 years old should drink at least 2 to 3.5 litres of fluid spread throughout the day. The Education and Resources for Improving Childhood Continence recommends between 1.5 and 2 litres per day for children, with the proviso that this amount will need to be higher in warm weather and when exercising.

Research shows that children and young people in the UK eat too much sugar, and more of it comes from fizzy drinks than any other type of food or drink. Reducing the amount of sugary drinks is a good way to reduce sugar intake. Soft drinks not only have minimal nutritional value, but may diminish appetite so that the child misses out on valuable nutrients provided at mealtimes.

Conversely, the high calorific content of soft drinks may lead to excessive energy intake and obesity. Water is one of the best drinks to give to children. It is best choice for quenching thirst, it is totally calorie free and contains no sugars that damage teeth.

Water in schools

The ability to maintain adequate levels of hydration throughout the day is very important for school children. Dehydration not only adversely affects general and dental health, but can also impari concentration and mental performance.

Anecdotal reports from school indicate that attention spans, concentration and behaviour are noticeably improved by frequent intakes of small amounts of water. Dehydration can also contribute to bed-wetting, daytime wetting and soiling problems in children.

In 2000, ERIC (Education and Resources for Improving Childhood Continence) launched a national 'Water is cool in school' campaign to improve childrens' access to fresh drinking water in schools. More information is available from the Water is cool in school website; http://www.wateriscoolinschool.org.uk.

Drinking water is now being promoted in schools as part of the National Healthy Schools Standard (NHSS) programmes, sponsored by the Department of Health and the Department for Education and Skills, and managed by the Health Development Agency. More information is available from Wired for Health; http://www.wiredforhealth.gov.uk.

The Water Provision pilot project involves 40 schools across the North East and the East Midlands. The needs assessment revealed the following key findings:

  • Primary schools tend to have more considered approaches to water provision and access is greater.
  • In secondary schools, students have poor access to water and facilities are scarce and usually outdated.
  • Schools involved in health-promoting activities such as National Healthy Schools Standard are more likely to recognise the benefits of drinking water and to have explicit policies in place.
  • Teachers must support an increase in water provision if it is to be introduced successfully.
  • There is a broad understanding of the importance of drinking water among students, but only the small minority drink the recommended daily amount.
  • Existing water facilities are frequently insufficiently durable to withstand school life, and suitable sites for facilities are restricted in number.