School toilets campaign

Many schools in Wales have mixed sex toilets which 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.

Read more about the problem and download the full report here. 

Following the release of our report Breaking the law: mixed sex toilets in Wales’ schools, we’ve been following up with the Welsh Government and local authorities responsible for new school buildings that don’t comply with regulations.

Our research, using Freedom of Information requests, found 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.

The Education (School Premises) Regulations 1999 specify separate washrooms for male and female pupils aged eight and above. Any mixed-sex provision must be in standalone, lockable rooms with a floor to ceiling door, and a washbasin included.

What does the Welsh Government have to say?

The Welsh Government’s Sustainable Communities for Learning Programme, formerly known as  21st Century Schools and Education, has seen a £1.4 billion investment in school infrastructure over the five year period ending 2018/19, with a further £2.3 billion in the second phase, starting in 2022.

Sustainable Communities for Learning are pointing the finger firmly at local authorities.

The Sustainable Communities for Learning Programme works in a co-construct partnership with local authorities where the local authorities are responsible for building specifications and the legal compliance of the school buildings. As part of the business case process, following the HM Treasury Green Book, local authorities are required to confirm compliance with all necessary laws and regulations applicable to any project and signed off as compliant by the Section 151 Officer.

What can you do?

  1. Please let us know about mixed sex toilets in your local schools, particularly if what you’ve seen doesn’t match up with what Councils are telling us – see below! You can contact us at [email protected]
  2. If your local school has these toilets, you can use our report to help push back and get them changed. We know of three schools in Wales where mixed sex toilets have been changed back to single sex following objections from parents and children and two more where plans have been changed following challenge from vigilant parents/governors who asked searching questions during the planning phase.
  3. Write to your local Council and let them know that you want them to comply with the law, and provide single sex toilet facilities in schools to protect children’s privacy, safety and dignity.

What does your local authority have to say?

We’ve sent a copy of our report to the Chief Executives of all the Councils in Wales, and also to the education leads, asking them whether their schools are complying with the regulations, and what they plan to do about it where they don’t. You can see the full text of our letter below. 

Here are the responses we’ve received so far. We’ll update this list as we get more information.

Council response: 

Mixed toilet cubicles are installed in some of our schools, however in all schools’, pupils have access to separate toilets if pupils want to access these rather than the mixed toilets.

We have replied to point out that, while it’s good that children do have another option available, that does not make mixed sex toilets compliant with the regulations. 

Council response: none as yet

Council response: This information is not held 

Frankly, we’re a bit shocked that the Council claims not to know whether its school buildings comply with regulations. We’ve requested a review of our information request on the basis that if they don’t have the information, they really do need to find it out!

With reference to the issue of single sex toilets, Cardiff Council provides single sex toilets in all schools and schools are able to designate toilets as male and female as they see fit, according to their pupils’ needs and any particular concerns amongst their pupils and parents.  Therefore the Education (School Premises) Regulations are fully complied with.

We have responded to point out that:

  • Two schools told us that they have no single sex toilets at all.
  • The fact that a school could designate a toilet for use by males or females does not make a mixed sex toilet facility compliant.

Cardiff Council are quite clearly not complying with the regulations.

Council response:

School washroom and toilet provisions across Carmarthenshire for Key Stage 2 and above is based on two scenarios.

The first being separate male and female washrooms (incorporating toilets and wash basins) in the majority of schools.

The second being the provision of male and female toilet-only cubicles with full height, lockable doors for individual use. This option is supported by the provision of alternative self-contained washrooms (incorporating toilets and wash basins) elsewhere on the premises. In practice these areas are designated for single sex use.

We’ve responded to point out that they have in fact described three scenarios. The first and the third are legally compliant. The middle one – male and female toilet-only cubicles – is not compliant with the regulations. Cubicles opening onto a shared space where handwashing facilities are shared with the opposite sex are  not compliant with the regulations. 

I write to advise that Ceredigion County Council does comply with the Education (School Premises) Regulations 1999 by providing pupils age 8 or above with access to single sex toilets. Whilst most toilets within our schools have separate spaces for boys and girls toilets, we do have some instances whereby the single sex toilet cubicles for boys and girls occupy the same space. In these instances, the cubicles are clearly marked identifying gender, have full height cubicle partitions and doors, and within secondary schools, have separate boys and girls handwash facilities.
We’ve responded to point out that the arrangement described for some primaries is not compliant with regulations for children over the age of eight.

Council response: none as yet

Council response: none as yet

Council response:
Flintshire school network complies with the law of providing single sex toilet facilities.“n the very small cases where there is a mixed sex/gender neutral toilet block/s in a very small number of our schools there is also the provision of single sex toilet provision – there are options for learners.  Whilst designing new schools or extensions to schools we work closely with the school teams to develop a toilet strategy taking into consideration the relevant legislation, operations of the school and guidance.  In our most recent builds we have gone beyond building bulletin requirements and specified sink facilities in the single sex toilet blocks to support period dignity.
We’ve responded to ask for more detail about the toilet strategy, and in what ways they have ‘gone beyond’ guidance in recent school builds.

Council response:

Most Gwynedd schools have single-sex toilets and a small number have mixed toilets which include hand washing facilities within the cubicle. 

So as a response to the queries:

  1. From the information we have Gwynedd schools comply with the legal guidance when designing and building toilets in schools
  2. Full consideration of compliance with the regulations on law is given when designing and constructing toilets in Gwynedd Schools and we will continue to prioritise this when building or making modifications within our schools.”

Council response:

There are 40 primary schools, 5 secondary schools and one special school on Anglesey. 
All toilet spaces are designated as single sex aside from two facilities at secondary schools where handwashing facilities are shared. Please note that there are additional female designated facilities, with no shared elements at both schools also.

We’ve responded to reiterate that the toilets described are not compliant with regulations, and need to be changed, and also to highlight that another secondary school in the area told us, in response to our FoI request that they had no single sex toilets at all.

Council response: none as yet

Council response: YES 

We’ve responded to say that we’ve had sight of a Freedom of Information request about a new school building which clearly states that the plans include gender neutral toilets with shared handwashing. These are not compliant with the regulations, and will need to be changed. 

Council response: none as yet

Council response:

Newport Schools provide single sex toilets and wash areas for pupils in school year 3 and above, in line with the Education (school premises) regulations. Schools are also supported to provide a gender- neutral alternative, where possible.

Council response:
All schools in Pembrokeshire comply with the requirement to provide separate toilet facilities for male and female.  The toilet facilities provided in schools built as part of the Sustainable Communities for Learning programme (formerly known as the 21st Century Schools Programme) do have more open plan facilities to allow for better supervision and reduce bullying in these areas, and these have been agreed as part of extensive client engagement consultation with schools as part of the development of individual projects. However, such facilities retain sufficient separation for males and females and can be identified by signage, e.g. male on the right and female on the left. This is line with paragraph 5 of the washroom for pupils section of the regulations which states ‘washrooms for male and female pupils who have attained the age of 8 years should be separated’. In most cases, there are also separate washing facilities for males and females, again either to the left or right of a designated area.  In one school, whilst separate toilet cubicles are installed, there is a shared, circular wash facility. For all schools which have benefitted from the Sustainable Communities for Learning Programme, and other refurbishment projects, cubicles are full height in key stage 2 and above, so they provide privacy and all have locks that are not easily opened by pupils on the outside of the door.  This is in line with the Welsh Government document ‘Schools toilets: Good practice guidance for schools in Wales’, which states that ‘Toilet cubicles are private and have a door with a working lock that is easy for learners to operate from the inside but not easily opened from the outside by other learners’ and ‘Cubicles have walls and doors that cannot be peered over or under wherever possible. There shouldn’t be gaps around hinges.’ This approach will continue on all future projects to ensure that regulations and guidance are adhered to. However, we will issue a reminder to all schools to ensure that their toilet facilities signage is clear and unambiguous. If individual parents have concerns about any area of a school’s work and wish to make complaints then they should follow the complaints policy for that school. These can be found on school websites.
We’ve responded to say that the shared handwashing described is not compliant with the regulations and should be changed. We’ve also heard reports of cubicles which are not full-height doors and where a phone has been held over the door to film the occupant. Please let us know if you have anything to report.

Council response: none as yet

Council response:

A review of the toilet provision in schools within Rhondda Cynon Taf is ongoing, however, we can confirm that the vast majority of schools do have single sex toilet provision.  The Council will ensure that all new schools built in RCT will be designed in accordance with the Education (School Premises) regulations 1999. Where there are potentially a small minority of schools that currently don’t have single sex toilet facilities, and where necessary the Council will make the required adjustments to ensure that they do. It is anticipated that any adjustments will be implemented in time for the start of the September 2024 academic year.

It’s great to see a Council acknowledging that there has been a problem, and clearly committing to ensuring that future buildings will be compliant, and that existing facilities will be amended, with a timeline for action. We’ve responded to say thank you, and to ask about specific schools where we’re aware of mixed sex toilet provision. 

Council response:
Yes, all Swansea schools are compliant with the above regulations. A number of new build/remodelled secondary schools in Swansea have open plan communal WC spaces accessed from circulation areas, these are designated for use by a specific sex. In all new school developments, provision is designed to allow pupils the full privacy necessary, cubicle doors and partitions are full height limiting gaps which would permit a phone/camera device to pass through.  Signage for male/female designation in most cases is situated directly outside the facilities, on the corridor wall. It has been recognised that the approach to WC design in schools has continued to evolve since the Education (Schools Premises) Regulations 1999 came into force. New approaches to WC design best practice is reflected in: UK government’s guidance (SSLD 3 ‘Toilets in Schools’) published in 2007 as part of the English Building Schools for the Future programme. The Education (Schools Premises) Act 2012  (applicable in England only) which permits private unisex ‘toilets’ for individual use. Secured by Design 2014 guidance for new schools. Within Swansea Council where new provision has been or is to be developed, these new approaches to best practice are applied in consultation with the schools themselves, this includes pupils. All building alterations in Swansea schools is managed through our Landlord Consent process to ensure compliance with current regulations and recommendations.
We’ve responded to say that while design trends may change, the law is still the law, and public bodies must spend public money lawfully.

Council response: 

I can confirm that Torfaen schools are compliant with the law.

We received a contradictory reply reiterating the regulations and saying that,

We are not aware of any Vale of Glamorgan School that do not comply with this legislation.

but going on to say that,

Ideally, where funding and space allows we ensure our schools provide pupils and students with access to a mixture of toilets including:

  • single sex toilets
  • blocks of floor to ceiling cubicle toilets which open directly onto a circulation space other than stairs that can be used by all, with bins for menstrual products in each cubicle (‘toilets for everyone’)
  • accessible toilets.

We have responded to highlight the Vale schools which responded to the Freedom of Information request to say that they had no single sex toilets at all, and to point out that the ‘toilets for everyone’ as described are only compliant with regulations if every single cubicle has a washbasin in it – is this the case?

Council response:
Schools in Wrexham comply with the law in line with the Education (School Premises) regulations 1999 with toilet areas for male and female learners over the age of eight being separate. Toilet facilities are located throughout school buildings. All new school builds and refurbishments, whether funded through Sustainable Communities for Learning or not, comply with the Education (School Premises) regulations 1999 and are built following the relevant building bulletins, Primary BB98, Secondary BB99 and ALN BB104. Our Facilities and Maintenance SLA with schools ensures statutory compliance of school buildings where required and all new school builds and refurbishments are managed in house through the Access and School places team. New toilets and refurbishment of existing school toilets are undertaken through our Capital Minor Works programme which is facilitated through Wrexham’s Assets team and monitored through Education’s Capital Minor works group for approval.