School toilet matters

First in a regular series of articles

Are school toilets still bog standard? School Councils Foundation and ERIC survey schools. Your chance to take part!

Back in 1997, Ofsted was not forthcoming on the topic of school toilets. "I don't think I've ever seen a comment about the toilets in a report," said a spokesman. "Unless there is something really frightful I don't suppose we would mention them."

Ofsted may not have believed it, but toilets are increasingly seen as an indicator of the quality of a school. In 2003 the Chief Inspector for Welsh Schools, Susan Lewis said that toilets "say an awful lot about a school." That is why when she inspected schools she always checked the pupils' toilets.

In 2004, the then Minister for Schools and now contender for the leadership of the Labour party, David Miliband said, "If you get the toilets right, you get the teaching right."

By 2010, adding to the voice of numerous articles in the press, the Good School Guide officially advises parents to check out the toilets when choosing a school.

For the pupils, school toilets most certainly do matter. While school toilets may not always be seen as a priority for staff, when they fail to meet the needs of the pupils they are often top of the agenda at school council meetings.

Some of the problems pupils report make harrowing reading:

"I've been on the student council for three years at H......School and we've had the same issues and complaints about the school toilets for three years. The toilets are pants, there are not enough toilets for a big school, and the most pathetic of all is the fact that although we have lots of toilets we can only use one set - the smallest one. The small set of toilets that is open are mostly broken down and only one can be locked. Please help us to solve this matter." Ella, aged 18, 2008.

"As much as I love my school, the toilets are a complete and utter disgrace. You can't go to the toilet when you want to unless you have a medical pass. The toilets are open during lunch, however we can't get in because the prefects don't let us. We then get into trouble if we are late for class and we go when the bell ends for the end of lunch. There is no soap, paper towels and sometimes no toilet roll available – basic necessities you need in the toilets. If we want toilet paper, we have to go and ask the caretaker for toilet paper." Jessica, age 14, 2008

"Our toilets are ok, but we are only allowed to use them at break or lunch, none of the teachers ever let us go in lessons, I was stopped from using the toilets when I was desperate for a poo and I eventually pooed my pants in front of my whole class. It was so embarrassing." Jack, aged 9, 2008

"I wet my pants in class because the teacher wouldn't let me go, I made a puddle in my seat, it was so embarrassing as everyone in my class saw what happened. I asked about 3 or 4 times and I wasn't allowed to go, I just had to sit there and wait for it to happen as I knew I couldn't hold on, I just held it for as long as I could hoping I could make it to the end of the lesson. I have been given detention for what happened and I think it's really unfair because it wasn't my fault." Leon, age 14, 2010.

In 2002, the national children's health charity ERIC (Education and Resources for Improving Childhood Continence) and the charity School Councils UK came together to plan what could be done to raise awareness of the need for better toilets for pupils, to raise the standard of provision and access to toilet facilities in all schools nationally, and to ensure that legislation for pupils' toilets at least matched existing legislation for adults in the workplace. The charities were joined by two other organisations concerned about school toilets, the Community Practitioners' and Health Visitors' Association (CPHVA) which represents around half of school nurses in the UK, and the British Toilet Association, a campaigning body to raise the standard of all public 'away from home' toilets wherever located – including schools. The humorously named but very serious Bog Standard campaign was launched in 2004 at the Houses of Parliament with cross-party support. The campaign is supported by a large group of education, medical and public health experts and its major sponsors Armitage Shanks, Albany Healthy Schools and Quebicle themed washrooms.

In 2003, on behalf of the campaign, school nurses carried out a survey of 928 school toilets with results analysed by Newcastle University:

There was clearly much for the campaign to work on.

Today ERIC and Schools Councils Foundation (the charitable arm of the new School Councils UK) are as committed as ever to raising the standard of school toilets in the UK. After several years of active campaigning to raise awareness and to guide and support schools, we need to know just how much progress has been made.

New survey on school toilets in 2010

We need to ascertain the view of schools in 2010 on the state of toilet facilities for pupils across the country. An integral part of this survey is to find out how aware school staff are of the impact on pupils of inadequate facilities. School Councils Foundation sent out questionnaires to 5,000 schools across the UK in March this year, as part of a wider research project. In May surveys were sent to a further 5,000 schools in different areas. The survey is anonymous and has 18 'tick the box' questions which take less than 5 minutes to complete. The deadline for the return of questionnaires has been extended to Monday 5th July. If your school has received the questionnaire (sent on 20th March and 11th May respectively), School Councils UK and ERIC would appreciate you completing and returning the survey. In order to get a balanced picture, we want to hear from as many schools as possible, schools that are proud of their toilets as well as those schools where improvements could be made. Answers to the survey will give us much-needed fresh data with which to find out what areas we should now be focusing on as well as help us in our renewed talks with government departments. Every questionnaire will help!

If you didn't receive a questionnaire or have lost your original copy but would like to take part in the survey, you can download a copy of the questionnaire from the Latest News section of the Bog Standard website

Or in case of difficultly simply email Nickie Brander from ERIC and she will email you a copy of the questionnaire by return.

You can either complete and return the questionnaire by email to Nickie Brander or by fax [0117 960 0401 or 0117 301 2106]. The deadline for replies is Monday 5th July.

We will be publishing the results in a future newsletter.

For further information on the Bog Standard campaign visit the Bog Standard website

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