Schoolchildren are reluctant to use badly maintained toilets where bullies may loiter, the cleaning industry says.
School toilets are all too often places avoided by pupils
The British Cleaning Council (BCC) has warned that children are unwilling to use unhygienic, badly equipped toilets.
Backing a campaign on the issue, it says too many school toilets are closed for part of the day, and others that boys and girls have to share.
"Children are just as entitled as adults to clean toilet facilities," said campaign chairman Steve Wright.
"Clean, safe, equipped and accessible toilets are becoming high on children's wish lists - but many UK schools are failing to provide this," says Mr Wright.
He warned that poor hygiene could "lead to increased infections such as bacterial diarrhoea and hepatitis A".
The BCC is backing a drive to improve toilet facilities in schools, called Bog Standard.
Also backing the campaign is the Association of Building Cleaning Direct Service Providers - and organisation spokesman David Frogett called for an upgrade in school toilets in the same way that there had been improvements in school food.
"We have had school dinners revolutionised by Jamie Oliver, now it's about time the toilets were sorted out too. We propose that there's a minimum standard of two cleans a day," said Mr Frogett.
Partnerships for Schools, the agency which is overseeing a major programme of rebuilding and renovating schools, accepts that there is a problem with children being reluctant to use toilets at school.
"There is a very real issue around bullying in schools, with toilet blocks recognised as a hot spot for bullies to target those they choose to intimidate and threaten," says chief executive Tim Byles.
"In a bid to avoid having to visit the toilet at school, many young people refuse to drink water, exposing them to the risk of becoming dehydrated or even developing bladder and bowel problems."
But Mr Byles says that upgraded guidelines would mean that "cramped, dirty and vandalised toilets can become a thing of the past".
A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said that it was clearly unacceptable that children might be put off using toilets for fear of bullying.
He said: "We expect teachers to take poor behaviour very seriously.
"School buildings and facilities have already improved immeasurably. But there is more to do.
"We've given schools record capital investment over the next three years and they’ve now got clear design guidance, so schools can build high quality pupil toilets."
What are your experiences of school toilets? Is bullying in school toilets a concern for you or children you know? How serious a problem is poor hygiene in school toilets?
Here are some of the comments you have sent us:
The amenities in my local grammar school are terrible. There's smoking, lack of toilet paper, lack of locks, lack of soap, lack of people who wash hands and a lack of people with successful aiming capabilities. And this is in a grammar school. I've been in other schools, and the situation is the same. It is awful. Something must be done!
Lee Adama, Ballymena, Northern Ireland
I recently went back to my old senior school to do an aerobics class. The loos were disgusting and there wasn't even a single working tap for washing your hands which is disgusting. I would be furious if my kids were at this school and they couldn't even wash their hands after going to the loo.
Back in the 1960's the toilets were often targets for would be bullies and as a prefect most of my lunchtime break patroling the female toilet block, which in those days, was outside. We didn't have the drugs problem we have today, but smoking was rife as was the bullying. By bringing the toilets inside the school setting just means the bullies prey on their victims inside.
Hazel, Erith, Kent
My children go to a primary school in Radcliffe, Manchester and both of them complain that the toilets smell and are dirty. My eldest is in year 6 (age 11) and tell me that other pupils can see you because the doors are so small. They also complain that the toilet paper is too hard.
Annon, Radcliffe, Manchester
Why not have a lockable loo - key from teacher, returned after use. With a 'panic button' in case of bullies?
Kate, Kingston Upon Thames
In my old secondary school (2003) the female toilets were locked to stop a minority of pupils smoking in them. Teachers held the keys, but were often nowhere to be found. The result was no sanitary facilities throughout the entire school day, with the obvious implications for GU hygiene and health. Some friends would truant from school during the lunch hour just to go home to use the toilet. And this was a good school in a rural northwest middle-class area. But still the basic sanitary needs of the many were neglected to make it easier for the school to police the behaviour of rule-breaking few.
Anon., Pennines, UK
The toilets are that bad in our local school that my son of 8 years refused to go due to the state of these toilets. He now has problems with constipation due to not going when needed, he is even under the local hospital due to the state of these toilets.
Antony, Pembrey, South Wales
I have complained twice to my son's school about the lack of soap in the toilets and have yet to hear anything back. My son won't use the toilet at school because he can't get his hands clean - it's terrible, especially as they are now complaining about his attendence as he keeps falling ill!
Lisa Preece, Worcester, England
Perhaps individual toilets straight off a corridor, rather than blocks with their scope for lurking bullies, would be a better idea where feasible? In my daughter's school a single loo for adults straight off a corridor works very nicely, but the children's loo banks just round the corner are grim. Maybe an alternative is no main door on the block so that the cubicles (with doors) are visible from the corridor. Not very pretty, but it would make it much harder to hide any anti-social activities, whatever they might be!
Mrs H D, Herefordshire, UK
My children will not use the toilets at their school as 1. They are unclean. 2. Most of the cubicle doors do not lock. 3. They are locked most of the time.
Mrs D Strathern, Wellingborough, Northants
I was bullied at school and the toilets were a place of refuge! I had to be forced out of them by dinner ladies on more than one occasion. For every school where the bullies hide in the loos, there'll be one where the loos are a haven from the bullies who stalk the corridors or the playground. It's much more likely kids avoid the school toilets because they're unpleasant places, not because of bullies. Others might avoid drinking water to avoid the embarassment of having to ask to go to the loo during class, something that teachers often ridicule older kids for doing.
I am currently an A-Level student and i will not use the school toilets. They are not too dirty, probably due to the fact that they are locked all the time and the school supervisers wont open them, but most do not have locks or toilet roll. It is hard to find a working tap and soap is completely out of the question. As for the bullying issue, I did always try to aviod the toilets as much as possible when I was younger as I was bullied a lot during my compulsory education, the toilets being one of the most popular places for bullies to be found.
The proposal of having unisex toilets to stop bullying and improve cleanliness is ridiculous. Has anyone considered that it could make it even more dangerous for victims of bullying; the issue of rape, for instance has been completely overlooked. I cannot see how this would do anything to improve the situation at all. Perhaps instead, the toilets should be monitored by staff, much like how teaching staff used to monitor the playground.
FG, Toronto, Ontario
When I was teaching in schools in Thailand, the toilets for the younger students had no doors or even cubicles at all! Just a row of squat toilets in a room. And that was an expensive private school in Bangkok. They managed.
I finished school three years ago. I went to a very good school in Liverpool with a great rep. The toilets however were a horrible. So bad that the school resulted in locking the toilets and the students would have to go to the secretary and ask for the key and then return it immediately. I think the solution would be to creat a new job in school. A person that looks after the toilets. Sits in the toilet all day and hands out toilet paper rather than leaving it in the cubicle for students to play with. And the same person will be in charge of cleaning the toilets and assuring there is always liquid soap.
Melonee , Liverpool
My eldest son often comes home from senior school deperate for the toilet as he is affraid to use most of the school toilets as older kids congregate in them smoking. This really isn't healthy for kids to hang on like this. I dont understand why the school can not get on top of this!
B, Southampton, Hants
I work at a grammar school for boys and every time I go to the loo at work I think of an old Ben Elton sketch: "Wade across through the ripples of the p*ss lake... then you have to decide which cubicle you want to use; the one with the door broken off, the one with the bangers and mash in the bowl or whirly splat." While some may laugh, this is the same in the STAFF toilets!! There is even a sign in the staff loos about part of them being a health and safety hazard. How are we to expect the kids to respect the toilets (rather than vandalise them) if the staff don't. I will also wager that the majority of the toilets complained about are male. Rotten places attract rotten people.
I used to be terrified of being bullied in the toilets at school and I would not go if there were other people in there. As a result I would not drink much and so would be dehydrated, and desperate for the loo by the time I got home.
Some things never change. I went to school 20 years ago and the toilets were disgusting. In fact I can't seem to remember using them very much they were so bad. Toilet paper didn't exist and they stank.
Steve, Teesside, UK
My daughter tries to drink as little as possible during a school day as she says the toilets are so disgusting that she does her best to avoid having to use them.
Paul, Bishops Cleeve
I think my old primary school toilets were alright but my secondary school left a lot to be desired. All I knew about the boys' toilets was that you could smell them from a few metres away. In the girls', locks were broken, the floor was often wet (from cleaning, we hoped), sinks would be blocked by paper towels or girls putting their fags out, doors ripped off, grafitti was everywhere, and as for bullying, well. It was an enclosed space where you couldn't be seen, you could be blocked in and teachers were hardly near it. I remember one incident where I was in a cubicle and some girls were trying to look over the top to antagonise me. Another time, someone tried to steal my bag from under the cubicle door. Also, some girls thought it would be funny to try to ram open the door. Other than that - as if it weren't enough - it could be an intimidating place; girls would often smoke in there and the smell hit you as soon as you walked in. If you were a prefect they'd threaten you in case you told on them. Usually this was one against many so even though they were younger it could be frightening. I think toilets should be more open and cleaned far more regularly but I'm not sure if unisex toilets will solve more problems than they create. Apart from having enough trouble with boys trying to look under doors, the concensus would be that since the boys' toilet reeks, they would do this to a unisex facility too (I don't mean to be sexist, it's merely my experience).
Lucy, Glasgow, Scotland
I have revisited my old shool house recently, and the state of the bathrooms are disgusting. I don't know how a normal human being can live and use the toilets in such a mess. You can even see the brown stains on the wall right next to the toilets. I really hope that they will sort themselves out as soon as possible.
Louise Davies, Hampshire
My son and daughter attend a high school. I am quite worried because my daughter will not use the school toilets, she says they are disgusting. My son is on the school council. He said this was the first thing raised at the school meeting. £2000 was put by to refurb the toilets and now the school has used the money for something else. Surely the school should be made to inspect the toilets and make sure they are clean.
Our toilets are OK, but everyone hangs out there. I hardly go because i'm scared that I will get bullied one day in there. and who knows what they might do to you
My children are reluctant to eat or drink anything at school so that they do not have to use the toilets. The toilets are dirty smelly lack privacy and proper washing facilities. Gangs dominate the toilets with the rule that it is their time to use them at certain breaks. The toilets are not locked during lessons but children are not let out of lessons even when desperate to use the loo. They try to go in the middle of lessons to afford some privacy. If they use the cubicles everyone gets to know that they had to do number 2 and they find this embarrassing and degrading. If the facilities were more conducive to the behaviour that promotes good social conduct this could be avoided.
Frances, St Albans Herts
At my high school the toilets in the main school block had no locks on. Only a few of the dozen or so cubicles in the girls toilets had sanitary bins, which is embarrassing to have to wait for the "right one" to become free. As with most schools, there was also a problem with intimidating girls hanging around and smoking. Plus they were closed for part of the day to prevent pupils loitering there when they should be in lessons. As for the boys toilets... you could smell them from the other end of the corridor. Disgusting!
Erica Turner, Cardiff
School toilets have always been a issue for cleanliness and bullying. I note that at my children's school, Hodgson High School in Poulton-le-Fylde Lancashire where I am a governor, the school has made a major investment in improving the facilities and decor in the toilets. This has improved the atmosphere and the children respect the facilities, vandalism and smoking have reduced, even been eliminated. The boys toilets where completed first and there was significant protest from the girls until the work was complete in their toilets.
Chris McConnachie, Thornton Lancashire
I've had a family member bullied in the toilets. The doors have large gaps above them and people where able to peer over to make them feel uncomfortable to the point they would no longer go. This lead to problems later- with stomach trouble and further bulling cuz of this.
From the other side of the fence, I am afraid that some children are simply not taught how to use a toilet in the first place and show no respect for the amenities. There is a huge cost factor when anything is done to improve toilets regardless of any money the government claims that it has allocated, that amount has to cover everything from computers to painting and renovation projects. To stop bullying in toilets new designs are now available - CCTV for example.
David Jones, Pontefract
I think teachers and assistants have a large hand to play in bullying in the toilets. Regular monitoring at break times should be enforced. Caretakers and cleaners do a good job at the local school my children attend to keep it clean, although on times my children have said there has been no toilet paper and complained about the height of the doors.
Ruth, Accrington, Lancashire
When I was at school, I hated to use the toilets, which were filthy. I didn't drink all day so that I could avoid using them. No-one had ever told me that dehydration was bad for you. The result was a childhood plagued by headaches and constipation. As an adult I am left with piles and irritable bowel syndrome. I add my voice to those supporting decent standards for all toilets. Especially in schools.
At my children's primary school, the girls' toilet is a focal point for bullying and appalling behaviour. Dirty toilet paper stuck to the ceiling, deliberate flooding and vandalism, bullying, taunting over doors, lack of locks / soap / water / hand towels. The smell is horrible. My children try to drink as little as possible to avoid having to go. Frankly, I'd be doing exactly the same if I were them - it's not just an eyesore, it's personal and social torment.
Elspeth, Ealing, London
Surely the answer to this is NOT to have separate toilets for staff and students? That way staff are constantly aware of the state of the facilities, and students are afforded supervision. Can't imagine it would be a popular approach with teachers though...
Unisex toilets will just give more opportunities for unisex bullying. My main memory of school toilets is, in my first year of secondary school, of having to run the gauntlet of the second year's smokers club in order to access the facilities. Meanwhile the 'supervising teacher' was hiding behind a door from where he could see the girls' pen and nothing else.
Tony, Watford, UK
I am a School Governor and I have to ask why none of you complain to the proper authority. You, as parents of pupils at the school concerned, should address your concerns to the Governing Body. The details are readily available at the school office and on the school website. If you have a problem the governors should be made aware so please do. We are seen by many parents as unapproachable, but we are not! If we can help, we will.
The best school toilets policy I experienced was at a British School abroad. The staff had to use the same toilets as the students, so they had to be well maintained. It also meant that no one did anything untoward as there was always the possibility that your teacher would walk out of one of the cubicles.
My high school loo's are actually okay.. apart from that at dinner you alway's get a large amount of older girls squabbling over the mirrors to re-adjust their make up.
MightyBooshLover, north lincolnshire
The school I used to go to finallay decided to make a toilet separate from younger pupils in year 7 and 8. But before then the only usable toilets were full of smokers with 4 out of 10 toilets which had lockable doors and weren't occupied by the bullies. We were also denied access to toilet paper because certain people would plug up the basins and toilets with it. Or they'd mix it with soap and throw it at the ceiling so it would stick (Meaning we can't have soap either) Lately they've been getting younger pupils in hospital with bladder and bowel problems, simply because they refused to use the toilets.
As a secondary school student I totally agree! The toilets which are barely open seem to be gloomy, with a revolting smell, also with wet floors, lack of sanitary products, mirrors, and highly maintained equipment. The fact that there is no available cubicle for the lack of locks or the state they are in is thoroughly shocking! I aim not to go during the school day because quite frankly the standards are filthy and I don't even feel entitled to my privacy.
I absolutely agree that something most be done about the toilet facilities within schools. When I was at school, you had to ask the teacher for a key to unlock the toilets if you needed to go. Not every teacher had a key which meant that you rarely got to go to the toilet when you asked and had to hold it in until you found a teacher with a key in between lessons which could take hours. You sometimes had to hold it in ALL day. Also some teachers seen it as a form of punishment not to allow you to go to the bathroom during class. They just said no, you cant go. No one would ever tell an adult that they can't go to the toilet. Disgraceful!
I am a atudent and I study in Challney. When you are in the toilet, boys kick the door and the person that is inside the toilet gets embarrassed. Locks are broken, no soap and no toilet tissues.
Zakar Hussain, Luton
The toilet facilities at my old primary school were awful. They were in a grotty building outside. Looking back I don't know why or how I put up with it!!!!