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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 April 2007, 11:46 GMT 12:46 UK
Unisex toilets to tackle bullies
Urinals should go, it is recommended
Unisex lavatories - with blurred glass walls - could help in the battle against school bullies, government guidelines for England suggest.

The recommendations for new secondary schools also include putting toilet blocks close to staffrooms or offices for subtle supervision.

If the ideas are taken up, urinals would be a thing of the past and privacy would be protected.

Campaigners say crumbling facilities damage pupils' health and well-being.

They say school toilets are recognised as being a trouble-spot for bullying, with some children avoiding going, possibly leading to continence problems.

I don't want my head dunked down the toilet
Pupil's complaint to campaign group
The recommendations cover schools being rebuilt or refurbished under the government's 45bn Building Schools for the Future programme.

Tim Byles, chief executive of the Partnerships for Schools, the agency responsible for the programme, said behaviour could be improved by good design.

"Toilets are recognised as a hotspot for bullies to threaten and intimidate others," he said.

"This is clearly unacceptable. The new standard specifications for toilets in schools means that cramped, dirty and vandalised toilets can become a thing of the past.

Central sink troughs
Locking toilets
No urinals
Locking doors
Glass walls
Must be kept clean

"Toilets in BSF schools will no longer provide bullies with places that lend themselves all too readily to anti-social behaviour."

It is suggested that making toilets unisex would discourage pupils from congregating in the area.

The guidelines received a warm welcome from the charity Education and Resources for Improving Childhood Continence (Eric).

The charity's Bog Standard website - which campaigns for better facilities - includes complaints from many children about dirty, threatening environments.

school toilets
Central wash basins cut flooding risk, experts say

JJ, aged 13, from Swansea, wrote: "I dont like using my toilets. There are always people in there smoking, and they are bullies. I don't want my head dunked down the toilet. When there aren't bullies or smoking in there, they smell, they are dirty, and have no locks".

Jessca, aged 13, from Warwickshire, wrote: "The toilets at my school are terrible they smell there are no seats and no loo roll and no locks on the doors and even no chains because the school cannot be bothered to fix them they have been fixed before but not in the last 6 months and the loo's have not been open for over 4 months ther is over 1300 students at our school and 1 toilet open".

Simon, 13, from South Yorkshire said: "My school toilets stink and are never properly cleaned. People block up the sinks with toilet paper and because the taps are broken they stay on and flood the toilets.

"They also wet toilet paper and throw it everywhere. The locks on the doors don't work and people can open them from the outside so there is no privacy".

Legal requirement

Beverley Leeson from Eric said: "We are very glad that the guidelines have been produced.

"It's a huge issue for pupils and if they are holding on because they don't want to use the toilets or because they aren't allowed to go, it can cause health and well-being problems.

"Some adults think it's not a big issue and say 'we always had terrible loos at school too' but that's no reason for things to stay the same".

There is no legal requirement about the standard of toilets at school beyond a certain ratio of lavatories and wash basins to pupils.

Employers, however, have a legal obligation to provide clean toilets with privacy plus sinks with hot and cold running water.

Have you been affected by this story? Have you been the victim of bullying?

Your comments:

My son avoids going to the toilet at his school because of the smell and older pupils smoking. This worries me because of dangers to health with holding a full bladder.
Carol Deakin, Birmingham, UK

My daughter has been at secondary school for nearly two years and has never used the toilets there as they are the hangout of gangs who smoke, bully and taunt. She never drinks anything for breakfast or for lunch so that she won't need to use the toilet while at school. During hot weather this has caused her to become dehydrated. Complaints to the school staff do not resolve the issue. The obvious solution would be to have a member of staff on duty inside the toilets during breaktimes but I am sure that this would be impractical.
Mary-Anne Danek, Marlborough UK

I'm sorry, but firstly they don't think this is actually going to stop bullies do they? If they do then they are being foolish.

Secondly, I can say that most bullying doesn't happen in the toilets anyway - having experienced bullying first hand.
James, Sheffield, England, UK

How does a unisex toilet with blurred glass help? If anyone could see me in sillouette sitting on a loo is enough to discourage me going to the toilet. I went to visit a French school with a Unisex loo that didn't have an exterior door it was just open top and bottom cubicals within a cloakroom area and I just couldn't go. What does ERIC think about that? My school had a great idea. The loo's were open during break and lunch time only and were supervised by teaching staff. If you needed to go during class you got a note by the teacher and went to get a key from the school secretary. No flooding, no smoking, no bullying, no problem.
Janet , Preston

the toilets in our school are always covered in graffiti and there is always a weird smell flaoating about. with unisex toilets people will feel free from the bullying environment that i have seen the year 11s go through from the older 6th formers im pleased to hear this is being put in place
steven, whitley bay

My Daughter avoids using the toilets at all costs at her secondary school, as they are dirty, no loo rolls, locks broken, people smoking, taps don't work, no soap, smell of smoke, bullies, in other words discusting. For a public place, I think something needs doing about it. How many health related problems have kids got because they avoid the loos I want to know? How about all us Mum's & Dad's get together to give them a good clean out, mend the taps & locks, show the authorities how it's meant to be done (& I pay for what from my taxes??)
Carole, Bisley, Surrey

I left school over 20 years ago and even now the feeling of terror I felt at the prospect of using school lavatories haunts me. Our school lavatories were a notorious hang-out for girls who smoked, bunked-off and had a reputation for bullying. You used the lavatories at your peril. I was so terrified after a couple of nasty incidents that I took to holding myself until lunchtime and using a nearby public block. Anything that helps children feel safe in school is surely a good thing.
Donna, Birmingham, UK

When I was at school (which was only a few years ago) I fell victim to the school bullies, and I did find that the toilets were the worst place for me to be. I used to always have to ask a teacher to go to the toilet in the middle of a lesson, but could never explain why I hadn't gone during breaks. Even when I eventually told teachers what was going on nothing was done about this. Some teachers even refused to let me go to the toilet in the end during their lessons. To this day I cannot stand using a public toilet. But I do if I get desperate enough. Unisex toilets aren't that great of an idea as bullying will still go on. Even more so I think. It's just absurd to think that this will in some way help combat the vast problem of bullying in schools.

I suffered at the hands of bullies nearly thirty years ago and have just felt a shiver run down my spine reading some of these comments - I thought I had got past the fear I had of using the school toilets - fear of being kicked by boys with wet shoes, having my head rammed down a toilet and books thrown over the wet smelly floor (and the to be criticised and belittled by teachers when they saw the state of my text and work books) - but obviously it has had a deeper effect than even I realised. ANYTHING that can be done to stop bullies is a small step in the right direction but it needs BIG steps.
Chris, Bristol

Once more the DFES are behind the game. At my school (Hove Park School) we worked with students and architects designing new five-star hotel quality toilets for students. (modelled on the toilets at the commonwealth club in London) These have now been open for over 18 months and are loved and respected by our students. We have a student services manager who has a reception near them and the student lockers. Since the improvements we have had no incidents of smoking, bullying etc in the area- in a school of over 1800 students
Tim Barclay, Hove, UK

Can unisex toilets in schools tackle bullying problems?
Not sure
2066 Votes Cast
Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

Websites urged to act on bullies
10 Apr 07 |  Education
Pupils 'should penalise bullies'
28 Mar 07 |  Education
Parents urging action on bullying
22 Nov 04 |  Education
Makeover plan for school toilets
27 Nov 06 |  Scotland

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