To help improve schools' policies in relation to toilets and toileting, we've outlined the best practice. Below we’ve answered the most common questions from pupils and parents about continence issues in education settings.

The 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. 

Visit the Right to Go campaign page for more information and free resources about best practice in education settings in relation to continence management, toileting and school toilets. 

1. Can schools refuse admission if a child is still in nappies?

In line with the Equality Act 2010, schools must not discriminate against or disadvantage disabled children or those with special educational needs. A person has a disability if they have a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out day to day activities. A delay in achieving continence - or not being toilet trained - can be considered a disability. It is therefore not acceptable for a school to refuse admission to children who have not yet mastered potty training or are still in nappies.

Schools can’t turn away children who haven't learned to control their bladders or bowels, but 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.

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.

School governing bodies should ensure that school leaders consult health and social care professionals, pupils and parents to ensure the needs of children that aren’t toilet trained are effectively supported.

2. Do two members of staff need to be present to change a child?

Many schools believe that it is the law for two adults to be present when a child is being changed and claim this is because of concerns over safeguarding. Schools will often refuse to change children if their staffing levels mean two members of staff cannot be present during changing.

However, 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. 

Nevertheless, 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). 

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.' Hence 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.  

3. Are schools allowed to call parents in to change their child if they've had a wetting or soiling 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 in order 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 always be necessary to call in a parent (see answer to question 2).

It is tantamount to abuse to force 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.

4. Can schools lock toilets during lesson times?

We have not come across 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 lock toilets during lessons, but we think this is unacceptable.

The legislation that covers school toilets and washing facilities is the Schools Premises and Regulations (SPRs) 2012.

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

5. Can school staff refuse to let pupils use the toilet during lessons? 

Yes, schools can stop pupils from using toilets during lessons. We have not seen any legislation to the contrary. There are many schools that have policies preventing lesson-time toilet breaks on the grounds that pupils go to the toilet to play truant, meet up with friends or misbehave. In many schools the fear that pupils will take advantage of their freedom to mess around in the toilets overrides the importance of bowel and bladder health. At ERIC, we think this is unacceptable.

Some children will have bladder conditions which mean they need to wee urgently and frequently, others will have bowel conditions like constipation. When these children need to have a bowel or bladder movement, they have to go and shouldn't be told to 'hold on'. If they’re afraid to ask to go to the toilet, this may make their continence problem worse and reduce their ability to manage or overcome it. For small children it may negatively affect their ability to learn to use the loo.

Banning toilet breaks during lessons can also create continence problems when children are forced to hold on or stop drinking and/or eating to avoid the urge to use the toilet. What’s more, stopping drinking can lead to dehydration which can affect their concentration and energy levels, which impacts on their ability to achieve academically, and holding back the urge to urinate can result in children being distracted and unable to focus on their studies. This is the case for younger and older children.

If a pupil has an identified bladder or bowel problem that the school is aware of, they should be given a 'toilet card' or similar that allows them to go to the toilet when they need to. In schools where the toilets are locked, these pupils have to get a key before they can use the facilities. Although on paper this sounds like a reasonable compromise, for a child with urgency problems, this is not a feasible solution. This policy also signals out pupils with bowel and bladder conditions – when they may want to keep their condition private - as they are the only pupils allowed to use the toilet during lessons.

6. 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. 

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