Following the creation of minimum requirements for school hygiene rooms, Clos-o-Mat - the country’s leading hygiene room provider - has produced a toolkit available for free download from its website to simplify the specification and design process. ERIC has welcomed the news, which should help schools implement the requirements, whilst renewing its call for minimum standards for school toilets.

Department for Education guidance (Building Bulletin 103) specifies the inclusion of specialist hygiene rooms in mainstream secondary schools. These rooms cater for the needs of pupils with disabilities who may need assistance with toileting. They are designed to encourage the child’s independence and to deal with possible toileting accidents, whether the pupil is able or disabled. The rooms must be at least 12m2, with a fixed or mobile hoist and space for assistants to change a pupil.

The fact that the Department of Education's laid down these requirements demonstrates it recognises the need to provide adequate facilities for children with toileting difficulties. However, ERIC also wants to see minimum requirements for pupils’ toilets brought in line with requirements for staff toilets, coupled with school toilet policies that permit children to use the toilet when they need to.

Insufficient regulations

It is stipulated in the School Premises Regulations that ‘suitable toilet and washing facilities must be provided for the sole use of pupils’, and that ‘separate toilet facilities for boys and girls aged 8 years or over must be provided except where the toilet facility is provided in a room that can be secured from the inside and that is intended for use by one pupil at a time.’ There are, however, no minimum standards related to regular cleaning, stocks of toilet paper and soap, doors that lock, or proper maintenance.

This is in stark contrast to the standards for staff school toilets which are laid out in the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations. The regulations state that workers’ toilets must be ‘adequately ventilated and lit’, ‘kept in a clean and orderly condition’, ‘include soap or other meaningful means of cleaning’, and ‘include towels or other suitable means of drying’.

Commenting on the story, Rhia Favero, ERIC’s Communications and Campaigns Manager said: ‘There is no justifiable reason for the discrepancy in the quality of facilities available for children and staff. Why should children have to put up with poor toilet facilities when the adults teaching them do not have to? ERIC has campaigned for many years for new legislation to address this imbalance, but successive governments have failed to act. We will not stop until changes are made and will continue to push for change via our Right to Go campaign.’

Poor toilets and toilet bans

It is common for children to avoid using school toilets because of the poor state they are often kept in – they can be smelly, cold, and lack sufficient toilet paper, hand towels and privacy. Toilet avoidance can lead to children developing continence problems, or to a continence problem getting worse.

Many schools prohibit children from using the toilet during lesson times, claiming it disrupts the class. Such policies discriminate against children who have a continence problem and should not be forced to hold on. Children can develop continence issues such as Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) if they are prevented from going to the toilet when they need to. Lesson time toilet bans can also lead to embarrassing accidents in the classroom that can happen to any child, whether they have a bladder or bowel difficulty or not.

Policies that encourage toilet use at set times of the day are also problematic: by going to the toilet ‘just in case’, children’s bladders never have the opportunity to stretch to their full capacity, which can lead to difficulties in controlling the bladder.

Take steps to improve toilet facilities

Improving school toilets doesn’t only have an impact on children’s bowel and bladder health, it can also have a positive influence on pupils’ willingness and ability to learn, their behaviour, self-esteem, morale and attendance levels.

Under Article 24 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, governments have a duty to provide a clean environment so that children can stay healthy. Introducing legislation to ensure school toilets are well maintained and clean would go a considerably long way to ensuring children stay healthy and perform their best in school.

However, schools do not have to wait for legislative change to improve toilet facilities, they can take measures to improve the toilets by signing up to the ERIC School Toilet Charter