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Schools ‘breaking law by not providing single-sex toilets for pupils’

27 Jan 2024 5 minute read
Photo by Marcel Gnauk from Pixabay

Martin Shipton

Around 15% of secondary schools in Wales are breaking the law by not providing single sex toilet facilities for children, according to new research.

In response to a report from the women’s group Merched Cymru, the Welsh Government has confirmed that local authorities have a duty to ensure the law is complied with.

The report says: “New and refurbished school buildings across Wales are imposing mixed sex toilet facilities on children. These toilets are not compliant with the law, and present considerable problems, particularly for girls.

“Merched Cymru’s research shows that 15% of Welsh secondary schools surveyed have only mixed sex toilet provision, with many more having some or most of their provision in mixed sex blocks with shared handwashing facilities, which are not compliant with the regulations.

“Mixed sex facilities are being installed as default in government-funded school building projects, without an evidence base for any benefits. Consultation on this issue has been missing or compromised, and concerns ignored.

“There is plenty of evidence about the problems of mixed sex facilities. In terms of hygiene, fully enclosed toilet cubicles are harder to clean and ventilate. Without urinals, boys make more mess. Girls need access to sanitary bins.

“From a safety point of view, fully enclosed cubicles pose a safety risk. A child who faints or harms themselves is harder to help, while violence or bullying can take place in a fully enclosed space. In an environment where sexual harassment and even assault are sadly commonplace in schools, sharing toilets with boys exposes girls to unacceptable levels of risk.

“And so far as privacy and dignity are concerned, both boys and girls have a right to privacy and dignity in a single sex space when using the toilet.”

Challenge

The report includes testimony from teachers who were interviewed as part of the research. One said: “Toilets are a challenge in any school, but there were massive issues, definitely made worse by the layout [fully enclosed unisex cubicles with shared handwashing] and being mixed sex. There was drug dealing in cubicles – you had no idea how many kids were in there at any time. Kids would go in there to have sex, to drink alcohol. They’d push other kids in and lock themselves in with them. They’d block the drains and flood the corridor.”

Another teacher said: “The toilets were really smelly and unpleasant. Because they were fully enclosed spaces they weren’t properly ventilated, and harder to clean.”

Another said: “The CCTV in the corridor was only any good retrospectively. The toilets had turn locks, so you could open them from the outside if you needed to. But you couldn’t hear through the door, couldn’t see whether there was one or two people in there, or if someone had collapsed. You had to check CCTV before opening. So you would have a paralytic drunk student, or one who had overdosed on prescription drugs, collapsed and you’d have to go and check the CCTV before opening the door on them.”

A fourth teacher said: “Kids would push up the ceiling tiles and hide stuff up there – drugs or whatever. Because the cubicle was fully enclosed they could do so without anyone being able to see it.”

Protests

The report states: “In a few cases parents have been able to push back, and single-sex facilities have been reinstated. In others there have been well publicised protests where legitimate concerns raised by children, like period dignity and privacy for girls, have been dismissed due to wider misbehaviour in the protests.”

One teacher said: “There are single sex toilets – the school was designed to have gender neutral toilets but parents objected.”

Another said: “Yes [we have single sex toilets] although that was not initially the plan, due to concerns from parents. There are however some toilets that are gender neutral.”

The report says: “The School Premises Regulations 1999 apply in Wales. They state that children over the age of eight must be provided with single-sex toilet facilities. Cubicles with shared handwashing arrangements do not meet legal requirements, even if the cubicles themselves are designated male and female, and even if the cubicle is fully enclosed, with a floor-to-ceiling door. Any change to the regulations would require a full public consultation and an examination of the evidence for any proposed change – something that is completely lacking so far.

“Many schools offer additional, fully self-contained unisex/gender-neutral toilets with handwashing facilities. These are fully compliant with the law, and a good alternative option for children who don’t feel comfortable using the toilets available for their sex.

“Local authorities, who hold ultimate responsibility for legal compliance, need to ensure that all school buildings provide toilet facilities which are safe and compliant with the law, and make sure that all current and future building projects also do so. The Welsh Government, through its school building programme, Sustainable Communities for Learning (formerly 21st Century Schools) must ensure that public money is spent legally and responsibly, by ensuring that all school building projects are compliant with the law.

“Parents and children deserve better – they shouldn’t need to push their local schools and councils to ensure that their voices are heard and children get the facilities to which they are legally entitled.”

Provision

A Welsh Government spokeswoman said: “The provision and design of toilets, changing rooms and washing facilities for pupils is a matter for the school and local authority. The Education (School Premises) Regulations 1999 specify separate washrooms for male and female pupils aged eight and above. In addition, the Welsh Government provides advice for governing bodies and head teachers on the facilities required.

“Grants awarded are subject to compliance with all relevant laws and regulations as stipulated in the terms and conditions of such grants. It is the local authority’s responsibility to ensure that all applicable regulations to schools are adhered to.”


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KP Mor
KP Mor
30 days ago

All this dangerous (and sometimes, as here, unlawful) ideological nonsense has to stop. Its proponents – like Welsh minister Jeremy Miles – call it ”being kind” but where is the kindness towards girls and women?

Mr Williams
Mr Williams
30 days ago
Reply to  KP Mor

I completely agree. 11 year old children in some schools are being taught that there is a ‘spectrum of gender’ and that they can choose where they are on the spectrum. This is causing confusion, anxiety and depression in several young people, particularly girls. I see this harm every day. Those who objects to the pushing of this ideology are often shot down and sometimes labelled as’transphobic’ (even if they, like me empathise with genuinely transsexual people but don’t agree with this ‘gender theory’ ideology and the culture of labelling of children). I wrote to the Education Minister asking him… Read more »

Last edited 30 days ago by Mr Williams
Llyn
Llyn
29 days ago
Reply to  Mr Williams

You say that “11 year old children in some schools are being taught that there is a ‘spectrum of gender’ and that they can choose where they are on the spectrum”. Very easy question for you. Please can you name 3 schools where this is happening.

Mr Williams
Mr Williams
29 days ago
Reply to  Llyn

It is happening (some are also being told that gender is ‘fluid’), but I will not name schools on a public website as this would be in breach of EWC standards. Parents are entitled to see the teaching resources that schools are using to teach their children RSE. If you get in touch with your child’s school they will forward these to you and you can see if your child’s school is teaching this.

Last edited 29 days ago by Mr Williams
Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
29 days ago
Reply to  Mr Williams

Good man…

Brenda
Brenda
30 days ago

This is outrageous, this Welsh Government thinks they can do whatever they want irrespective of the law or due process. Where is safeguarding – its girls who will suffer most having to share toilets with pubescent gangs of boys. Where is dignity and safety? It’s a well known fact that girls are reporting increased sexual abuse, harassment and even sexual assault in schools carried out by boys high on porn. This is all to do with the Welsh Governments drive to impose gender ideology onto everyone whether we want it or not. They are so wedded to Stonewall they are… Read more »

Mr Williams
Mr Williams
30 days ago
Reply to  Brenda

You are absolutely correct. As somebody who works in a high school, I fear for the safety of girls particularly, and I am so frustrated that it is becoming increasingly difficult to raise concerns without being shot down. I think that if more parents objected to these trends, they could be reversed.

Ali Morris
Ali Morris
30 days ago

Our children are not gineau pigs in WG’s gender ideology experiment. It is shameful and downright dangerous that our children, girls in particular, are put in this position. Is WG going to remind all LAs to comply with the law after this damning report?

Mr Williams
Mr Williams
30 days ago

I would like to add that the poor state of some school toilets is also a serious concern. A culture of vandalism (sometimes encouraged by social media like TikTok!), lack of investment, age of buildings and lack of resources to repair is causing danger to children’s health, safety and wellbeing. Another aspect of concern is that in communal toilets, children cannot be supervised by adults due to safeguarding reasons. Therefore, gangs of children hanging around in toilets sometimes leads to antisocial behaviour, drug taking, bullying (particularly cyber) and even sexual misconduct. I have often seen young, innocent children terrified to… Read more »

Genette
Genette
30 days ago

Children should have safe, sex- segregated toilets. It’s the law, and common sense. ‘Inclusion’ of everyone everywhere is not the answer. I’m very pleased that my kids’ school has separate toilets for boys and girls, and additional ‘gender neutral’ standalone, fully enclosed, toilets which anyone can use. This seems like the best solution.

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
30 days ago

Another madcap drive from the Senedd. Women and girls are losing their rights to safe places on a daily basis. Very scary

Why vote
Why vote
29 days ago

If it is against the law then take legal action against all concerned in the sennedd education minister and leader. Take them to court and make them conform to the law.

Llyn
Llyn
29 days ago
Reply to  Why vote

Read the article. The Welsh Government is not responsible for the design and build of toilets in schools.

Sue P
Sue P
29 days ago

This is an excellent article. What a travesty by the authorities we rely on to know the law and take proper care of our kids ! I would be VERY interested to see a copy of the written guidance Welsh Gov sent out to schools & LAs. And well done Merched.

Bethan
Bethan
29 days ago

I don’t want to get into a gender debate. Bottom line is I support LGBT+ rights and I support the rights of women and girls. Legally speaking these children haven’t chosen to use these premises. It is a requirement that they stay in school and if they need the facilities they use what the school provides. These aren’t cafes or bars. They’re public buildings. It sounds like a lot of schools are getting ideas above their stations and inserting their own personalities into the design of these *mandatory places of learning*. Girls need safe spaces. Without these spaces if something… Read more »

Why vote
Why vote
29 days ago

Whoever had any input that allowed this to happen should be put before a judge. Wrexham Council planning Court case is a good example. Rules and laws should not be ignored or twisted for any reason.

Tessa Marshall
Tessa Marshall
29 days ago

Seems like the issue is fully enclosed cubicles rather than the mixed sex aspect? Literally no data was presented about prevalence of sexual assaults or whether there’s a correlation in increase of these with provision of mixed sex toilets. Just someone’s opinion these might increase in a mixed sex space which doesn’t seem very evidence based.

In my school we had new mixed sex toilets from 6th form, these were much nicer than the older single sex spaces which were old and cold.

This seems like making a fuss about ‘sex’ when the issue is bad design/ventilation/planning.

Brenda
Brenda
29 days ago
Reply to  Tessa Marshall

I think you have missed the point. It is not just about smell and ventilation, but the safeguarding of children, especially girls. Children need a safe space away from potential bullying and sexual assault. Mixed sex facilities even with enclosed cubicles are not the answer. As the article stated no-one knows what goes on behind closed doors. Have another read of the last bit of the article

Isabel Jones
Isabel Jones
29 days ago
Reply to  Tessa Marshall

Nonsense, Tessa. There are issues of children self-harming, drinking, taking drugs and having sex in fully enclosed cubicles. This has gone on in my children’s ‘nice’ school in a ‘nice’ area. As for the idea that any space shared with teenage boys is pleasant to use, have you ever smelled a men’s public loo? My son tells me that boys like using the girls’ loos because they smell so much nicer than the boys’. When men pee in a loo and even in a urinal, they produce a fine spray that rebounds and gets everywhere within a metre of the… Read more »

Tessa Marshall
Tessa Marshall
29 days ago
Reply to  Isabel Jones

Again, it sounds like the issue is fully self enclosed toilets, not the mixed gender situation? I know men’s toilets are nasty – I’ve used them myself when the queue for the ladies is too long. Maybe parents should teach their sons to lift the lid and how to behave in a respectful/hygienic way? Also I remember the girls toilet in school wasn’t the nicest place in the world, and girls can be bullies too. Saying mixed gender is unsafe implies that boys are inherently violent/unhygienic and girls are hygienic angels. Issues of drug taking self harm etc – prevalent… Read more »

Bethan
Bethan
29 days ago
Reply to  Tessa Marshall

Tessa what exactly do you mean there’s no data? There’s no data that shows that men assault women in secluded areas when the women are vulnerable rather than in a busy locations? There are certain areas where you don’t give wrongdoers opportunity. That’s the point. Tube stations, multistorey car parks, underpasses etc. They’re all monitored with surveillance and everyone knows they’re monitored. Public toilets can’t be monitored inside but we have always been able to rest assured that at the very least women have a bathroom that are legally off limits to any potential predators. Women are assaulted or killed… Read more »

Tessa Marshall
Tessa Marshall
29 days ago
Reply to  Bethan

I’m asking about this particular issue? No data is quoted in this article? I’ve been sexually assaulted, I’ve been raped, and so have many of my women, LGBTQ+, and trans friends. We’re well aware of the danger of public spaces AND school toilets thanks. This article – implying there’s sexual assaults and violence in mixed school toilets, and not in single gender ones, and only impacts girls (and not LGBTQ+, trans, disabled, ethnic minority kids who are often bullied at higher rates) – doesn’t include data. So I’m asking for the hard evidence please. What you’ve raised Bethan – unsafe… Read more »

Richard Davies
Richard Davies
29 days ago

A lot of the issues complained about in this article would occur in the facilities, whether they are mixed-sex or single-sex: smoking, drug taking, drinking alcohol and bullying. Schools are meant to be a safe place for all children and that should be the number one priority.

Richard Edwards
Richard Edwards
29 days ago

Single Sex toilets are fine but we also need Accessable Toilets asp. These are not a “ woke “ sop but essential for those with aditional needs or support from a third party or with mobility concerns or imdeed any folk or for personal reaons. Most areas offer radar keys but this might be widened to increase open access.

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