Mixed sex toilets in Wales’ schools – breaking the law

New and refurbished school buildings across Wales are imposing mixed sex toilet facilities on children. These toilets are not compliant with the law, and present considerable problems, particularly for girls.

Merched Cymru’s research shows that 15% of Welsh secondary schools surveyed have only mixed sex toilet provision, with many more having some or most of their provision in mixed sex blocks with shared handwashing facilities, which are not compliant with the regulations.

Download report here

Mixed sex facilities are being installed as default in government-funded school building projects, without an evidence base for any benefits. Consultation on this issue has been missing or compromised, and concerns ignored.

Merched Cymru and others have been raising this issue for several years.

What’s the problem with mixed-sex loos?

There is plenty of evidence about the problems of mixed sex facilities. Read our full report for more detail.

  • Hygiene – fully enclosed toilet cubicles are harder to clean and ventilate. Without urinals, boys make more mess. Girls need access to sanitary bins.
  • Safety – fully enclosed cubicles pose a safety risk. A child who faints or harms themselves is harder to help, violence or bullying can take place in a fully enclosed space. In an environment where sexual harassment and even assault are sadly commonplace in schools, sharing toilets with boys exposes girls to unacceptable levels of risk.
  • Privacy and dignity – both boys and girls have a right to privacy and dignity in a single sex space when using the toilet.

Teacher testimonies

Toilets are a challenge in any school, but there were massive issues, definitely made worse by the layout [fully enclosed unisex cubicles with shared handwashing] and being mixed sex. There was drug dealing in cubicles – you had no idea how many kids were in there at any time. Kids would go in there to have sex, to drink alcohol. They’d push other kids in and lock themselves in with them. They’d block the drains and flood the corridor.

 

The toilets were really smelly and unpleasant. Because they were fully enclosed spaces they weren’t properly ventilated, and harder to clean.

 

The CCTV in the corridor was only any good retrospectively. The toilets had turn locks, so you could open them from the outside if you needed to. But you couldn’t hear through the door, couldn’t see whether there was one or two people in there, or if someone had collapsed. You had to check CCTV before opening. So you would have a paralytic drunk student, or one who had overdosed on prescription drugs, collapsed and you’d have to go and check the CCTV before opening the door on them.

 

Kids would push up the ceiling tiles and hide stuff up there – drugs or whatever. Because the cubicle was fully enclosed they could do so without anyone being able to see it.

In a few cases parents have been able to push back, and single-sex facilities have been reinstated. In others there have been well publicised protests where legitimate concerns raised by children (eg period dignity and privacy for girls) have been dismissed due to wider misbehaviour in the protests.

There are single sex toilets – the school was designed to have gender neutral toilets but parents objected.

Yes [we have single sex toilets] although was not initially the plan, due to concerns from parents. There are however some toilets that are gender neutral.

What does the law say?

The School Premises Regulations 1999 apply in Wales. They state that children over the age of eight must be provided with single-sex toilet facilities. Cubicles with shared handwashing arrangements do not meet legal requirements, even if the cubicles themselves are designated male and female, and even if the cubicle is fully enclosed, with a floor-to-ceiling door.

Any change to the regulations would require a full public consultation and an examination of the evidence for any proposed change – something that is completely lacking so far.

Many schools offer additional, fully self-contained unisex/gender-neutral toilets with handwashing facilities. These are fully compliant with the law, and a good alternative option for children who don’t feel comfortable using the toilets available for their sex.

Action is needed

Local Authorities, who hold ultimate responsibility for legal compliance, need to ensure that all school buildings provide toilet facilities which are safe and compliant with the law, and make sure that all current and future building projects also do so.

Welsh Government, through its school building programme, Sustainable Communities for Learning (formerly 21st Century Schools) must ensure that public money is spent legally and responsibly, by ensuring that all school building projects are compliant with the law.

Parents and children deserve better – they shouldn’t need to push their local schools and Councils to ensure that their voices are heard and children get the facilities to which they are legally entitled.

DOWNLOAD OUR REPORT HERE

 

What has the Welsh Government said?

In response to the report, a Welsh Government spokesperson said: “The provision and design of toilets, changing rooms and washing facilities for pupils is a matter for the school and local authority. The Education (School Premises) Regulations 1999 specify separate washrooms for male and female pupils aged eight and above. In addition, the Welsh Government provides advice for governing bodies and head teachers on the facilities required.

“Grants awarded are subject to compliance with all relevant laws and regulations as stipulated in the terms and conditions of such grants. It is the local authority’s responsibility to ensure that all applicable regulations to schools are adhered to.”

What you can do

Contact the education lead for your local authority – you’ll be able to find a name and contact details on your council website. Send them a link to the report, say you’re concerned about what you’ve read, and ask them whether the schools in your council area are complying with the regulations. Point out that the Welsh Government has made it clear that single sex toilet facilities are required under the Education (School Premises) regulations 1999, and that it is the local authority’s responsibility to make sure that school buildings comply with the law.

If you’re a parent – send a link to your child’s school. Ask whether the school’s toilet facilities are compliant with regulations, and if not, what the school proposes to do about it.