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This information can be used by schools to improve their policies to avoid discriminating children with bowel and bladder conditions and to ensure pupils with continence problems are fully supported. It can also be used by pupils and parents to encourage schools to improve their policies and their toilets.

1. My child is still in nappies. Can a school deny their admission?

No they can't. The Equality Act 2010 states that schools must not discriminate against or disadvantage disabled children or those with special educational needs. A delay in achieving continence - or not being toilet trained - is considered a disability. It is therefore not acceptable for a school to refuse or delay admission to children who are not yet continent. 

The Children and Families Act 2014 places a statutory duty on schools to support pupils with medical conditions, including bladder and bowel problems. If a child has an identified continence issue which won't be resolved before they start school (whether related to toilet training or not), the school cannot refuse entry.

Schools must work to support those children in the school environment so they can play an active role in school life, remain healthy and achieve their academic potential. Schools should also avoid putting pressure on parents/carers of children who are having accidents to send them in wearing a nappy 'just in case' an accident should occur. Schools and parents/carers should work together to identify an appropriate containment option such as a small pad in the child's pants or washable absorbent pants.   

Read our blog about schools and medical conditions.

2. My son, who has recurring constipation and often soils his pants, starts school in September. What should the school do to help?

It’s important to let the school nurse and the teaching staff know that your son suffers from constipation and soiling before he starts school. Talk to the school about setting up an Individual Health Care Plan (IHCP) to manage your son’s constipation. The IHCP will set out a proactive toileting programme which focuses on regular supervised toilet visits rather than solely dealing with soiling accidents. It’s not enough for your son simply to be given regular access to the toilet – young children with constipation need to be supervised when going to the loo.

The IHCP should also ensure your son’s constipation and soiling is managed discretely and sensitively so that it doesn’t become apparent to other children.

Download our Template Individual Health Care Plan

3. Do two members of staff need to be present to change my child?

There is no legal requirement for two members of staff to be present, so schools should not refuse to clean a child if only one member of staff is available to leave the classroom.

For safeguarding reasons, staff who help with intimate care should make sure another member of staff is aware they are going to change a child and is in the vicinity and visible or audible (see page 14 of the 'Guidance for safer working practice for those working with children and young people in education settings', 2015)

It is good practice to ensure that all aspects of continence care in school are documented in advance, for instance using an individual health care plan making sure parental consent is obtained for named carers to meet the child's needs. 

The guidance also states that 'intimate or personal care procedures should not involve more than one member of staff unless the pupil’s care plan specifies the reason for this.' So not only is there no need for two members of staff to be present, it is in fact discouraged unless the child needs two members of staff.

4. Are schools allowed to call a parent or carer in to change their child if they've had an accident?

Although school staff should use their discretion and judge each case on its merits with reference to a child’s individual healthcare plan, it is not generally acceptable practice to ask parents to come into school to change their child after they've wet or soiled themselves.

Only one member of staff needs to be present when changing a child, as long as another member of staff is nearby, so it shouldn't be necessary to call in a parent (see answer to question 2).

It is tantamount to abuse to force/allow a child to sit in wet or soiled underwear until their parent or guardian can come in to change them.

For more detail on this and other unacceptable practice, see the statutory guidance on implementing the Children and Families Act.

The Department for Education's statutory guidance on supporting pupils at school with medical conditions states it is not acceptable for schools to:

  • Prevent pupils from drinking, eating or taking toilet or other breaks whenever they need to in order to manage their medical condition effectively;

  • Require parents, or otherwise make them feel obliged, to attend school to administer medication or provide medical support to their child, including with toileting issues. No parent should have to give up working because the school is failing to support their child’s medical needs;

  • Prevent children from participating, or create unnecessary barriers to children participating in any aspect of school life, including school trips, e.g. by requiring parents to accompany the child.

5. My child is being treated for constipation with macrogol laxative. How long should I keep my child off school during/after the disimpaction process?

There’s no set amount of time a child should remain off school as each child is an individual and will respond differently to being cleared out. As a general rule, it can take up to 10 days to complete the process, but not all children will need this long. Parents may want to consider starting disimpaction over a school holiday. See our Parent's Guide to Disimpaction and Template letter for school re disimpaction

6. Can school staff refuse to let pupils use the toilet (or even lock the toilets) during lessons?

Yes, schools can stop pupils from using toilets during lessons and often do as a way of dealing with disruptive behaviour by some pupils. Unfortunately, we aren’t aware of any legislation or government guidance stating that schools cannot lock toilets during lessons or at other times of the day. To our knowledge, it is therefore legal for schools to restrict toilet access during lessons, but we think this is unacceptable and can cause children and teenagers unnecessary suffering and risks to their bladder and bowel health

Read our suggestions of what to do to get your school to re-open the toilets during lessons

7. Are unisex toilets in schools legal?

Yes, unisex toilets can be legally provided in schools as the only washroom facility for children under eight years of age. Unisex toilets can be provided for children over eight as long as separate toilets for each gender are also available. Some schools are finding that these toilets are working well to reduce bullying and are providing a safe gender neutral space.   

Disabled toilets can be unisex for any age.

See the School Premises Regulations (SPRs) 2012 for more information on toilets and washing facilities in schools.

Help and support

If you have more questions about toileting policies in schools and early years settings, please contact our bowel and bladder helpline.

Visit the Child Law Advice Charity for further help with supporting children with medical needs in school.