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Friday, 8 September, 2000, 10:05 GMT 11:05 UK
Head defends unisex toilets
The school wants the facilities to be "pleasant and safe"
A head teacher has defended his decision to introduce unisex toilets at his secondary school.

John Peckham is having the facilities installed at Bramhall High School in Stockport, in an attempt to help prevent bullying, vandalism and smoking.

At present, some of our students feel so frightened of the toilets they simply do not go - all day

John Peckham

Some critics have responded to the idea by saying that teenagers will feel uncomfortable using mixed toilets, and that the toilets might facilitate sexual activity between pupils.

But Mr Peckham says his students believe that feeling slightly uncomfortable is better than worrying about being bullied.

In an e-mail to BBC News Online, he said the toilets were being designed so they would be easy for one member of staff to supervise to minimise any risk of unwelcome behaviour.

And he added: "Unfortunately today, should two young people wish to engage in sexual activity, they will probably do so in far more comfortable surroundings than these."

Some of the school's old toilet facilities are currently being refurbished to create the new unisex facilities, which should be ready to use in a fortnight.

John Peckham
John Peckham: "No one will be forced to use the new toilets"

The toilets will consist of a row of 19 individual cubicles on one side, a row of washbasins on the other, and an open doorway at either end.

Pupils will not be forced to use the new facilities, as four sets of single-sex toilets will still be available elsewhere in the school.

Mr Peckham said: "At present, some of our students feel so frightened of the toilets they simply do not go - all day. A slight discomfort is probably preferable to this."

'No hanging about'

He said the pupils believed that making the toilets unisex would help them "to become places where you slip in and out to 'do your business' without hanging about".

"Students may feel slightly uncomfortable about the joint facility and therefore not want to hang around.

"Their view is that this is much better than the fear and anxiety felt by some students going into single-sex toilets where older students can do what they like without staff supervision."

Mr Peckham also pointed out that two single-sex toilets - one for boys and one for girls - would need one man and one woman to supervise them, whereas the unisex facilities would only need supervision by one member of staff of either gender.

Unisex toilets were common in schools in France, and Bramhall High's partner school in Venice operated a similar system, he said. A colleague had also seen the idea tried in a United States school.

Mr Peckham believes that if the unisex toilets are a success, they could catch on in other schools.

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See also:

07 Sep 00 | Education
School installs unisex toilets
26 Apr 00 | UK
Sex and the single can
05 Nov 99 | Education
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