Page last updated at 05:39 GMT, Thursday, 26 June 2008 06:39 UK

Action over dirty school toilets

Cleaner in school toilets (generic)
There will be an audit of all schools' toilet facilities in Wales

A review into school toilets across Wales has been ordered amid concerns about health, hygiene and safety.

Education Minister Jane Hutt wants to know what facilities are available to pupils and what improvements are needed by councils.

It follows findings by inspectors which estimated that toilets in more than half of primary schools were dirty or unacceptable.

Headteachers welcomed the move but said investment was also needed.

The move follows a critical report from the assembly's enterprise and learning committee, which was told by the school inspectorate Estyn that 54% of primary schools they have inspected had dirty or unacceptable toilets

The Welsh Assembly Government will oversee the survey and ensure councils make necessary changes.

The report also pointed out the importance of addressing the issues highlighted by the then children's commissioner for Wales in the 2004 report Lifting the Lid.

Peter Clarke highlighted concerns that many schools did not provide pupils with soap or toilet paper.

It recommended an audit of all school toilets within 12 months, and called on the assembly government to assist and consult with Local Education Authorities (LEAs).

We want schools to be a pleasant environment but I know of schools that still have outdoor access to their toilets
John Bibby, headteacher

But the recent Pennington E.coli inquiry into the 2005 outbreak in the south Wales valleys heard that these recommendations were not followed, as the assembly government didn't think they were worthwhile.

Ms Hutt said those inspections will now take place with the assembly government "providing leaderships" on the issue and monitoring LEAs, who have responsibility for toilet facilities.

For headteachers, the issue is an important one.

John Bibby, the headteacher of Goetre Junior School in Merthyr Tydfil, said his school toilets were "pristine" after Merthyr Council spent around 100,000 on refurbishing their four toilet blocks.

School toilet (generic)
A school toilet in need of refurbishment

"They were awful before the refurbishment. We had bids in [to the LEA] when the money became available. If we hadn't we wouldn't have been able to afford it. You're looking at 25,000 per toilet block. What school can afford that?

"But Merthyr LEA has been superb allocating the money it received from the Welsh Assembly Government.

'So many germs'

"Now we have all new metal urinals for boys who find aiming a problem and they're far cleaner. We also have new hand bowls and hand basins and drying facilities, waterproof floors and tiles.

"So many germs can be passed between children so we're very vigilant. I think the review is a good idea. We want schools to be a pleasant environment but I know of schools that still have outdoor access to their toilets. But I think investment will be needed."

Goronwy Jones, headteacher at Baden Powell Primary School in Tremorfa, Cardiff, and NUT national executive member for Wales, said his school's new toilets were more "hygienic and friendly" for children.

"We have done a lot of work on them over the last three years. They're very good indeed," he said.

"The infants toilet has a mural and the juniors through design and technology classes made splash back tiles for their toilets. We also had the facilities modernised. It makes them attractive to go in and not a place to shun.

"There are two main issues - you want it to be a friendly place that's obviously hygienic. They have to be a place you would be happy for your own child to go in.

"This review is a good thing, but it's easy for the assembly government to say things... are they going to give more money towards it?"

Conservative education spokesman Andrew Davies said: "Simply conducting an audit is not enough in itself.

"The assembly government must be prepared to act on its findings and ensure children are able to use hygienic, modern, facilities in every school in Wales."

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