Toilets and washrooms in your school

Written by: Ged Hirst | Published:
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this is very good article thanks@!

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What state are your school’s toilet and washroom facilities in? Ged Hirst looks at some common problems and offers some solutions

Honest answer – what state are your school toilets in? You might think they are fine, but when did you last check? Perhaps you never venture into the pupils’ washrooms and honestly do not know.

A below par-washroom is understandable. A primary school has many areas and facilities that are in need of improving and renovating each year. School budgets are tighter than ever and the governors will have some clear ideas of their priorities for spending – classrooms, playground, sports equipment and computers/ICT are all vital considerations (plus the staff will still want those tea bags!).

Last on the list is revamping the old washrooms. Yes, they look a bit tatty, but they will last another school year. Or will they? What repercussions do grubby washrooms have for the pupils and the school?
Below are some problems that can result from worn-out toilets in your school – along with some ideas and possible solutions.

Pupils avoid the toilets

Imagine year 5 student Jimmy. He is a kind boy and he enjoys school. At lunchtime he visits the school toilet. They are not in a good state. The washroom smells, is dirty and the toilet paper has run out. He decides it is best to avoid using the school washrooms from now on.

One afternoon lesson, he can’t focus because he needs to go. Not only can this strain be bad for his health, he is too distracted to learn anything. Can you imagine his trauma if the worst was to happen and he had an accident in class?
The next day Jimmy wants to avoid a repeat of the day before. So at lunch he decides not to have a drink. The afternoon lessons are tough because he is dehydrated. Dehydration can result in headaches, loss of concentration, lethargy and cognitive impairment. Not ideal for learning.

Solution: Have a regular and detailed cleaning schedule. Design the washrooms to be colourful and bright. Ensure toilet rolls are always stocked. Educate pupils on the importance of drinking throughout the day.

The ‘Broken Windows’ theory

I am sure you have seen a vandalised toilet cubicle. Writing on the cubicle doors, scratched walls and broken locks are all common. Have you ever wondered who would do such a thing?

The “Broken Windows” theory (put forward in America in the 1980s by Professor James Wilson and George Kelling) states that if a broken window is not repaired the other windows will eventually be broken as well. This happens because a broken window sends out a message that no-one cares – that there is no consequence to committing the vandalism.
This theory applies to the washrooms in your school. It only takes one pupil to scribble graffiti on a cubicle wall. This gives the permission for others to vandalise, thinking there will get away with it. Graffiti can then escalate to broken doors, flooded sinks and expensive repairs.

Solution: If possible have the cubicles made of anti-vandal panels. CGL (Compact Grade Laminate) panels are almost impossible to break. They are also scratch resistance and waterproof so cleaning off writing is easy. Remove any graffiti as soon as possible to stop it spreading. Consider lockable toilet roll holders, durable locks and push button taps to help minimise vandalism.

Infection spreading

The pupils don’t have a choice. They have to use the facilities you provide at school. Even the grubbiest of toilets will get used. If the washrooms are not cleaned properly there is an increased risk of poor hygiene. Poor hygiene means that infections can spread.

For example, do you provide a bar of soap in your washrooms? Lots of schools do. Where is the harm in an innocent bar of soap? However, a bar of soap is easily dropped on the floor. It picks up dirt and changes colour. It ends up as a disgusting blob that no-one wants to use. The children could then decide to not use the soap, avoiding washing their hands at all.

Solution: The government document Guidance on Infection Control in Schools and Other Childcare Settings recommends the use of liquid soap, warm water and paper towels. If possible, make sure these are all stocked and available in each washroom. It is also important to educate the children on the importance of hygiene. This should involve the correct way to wash their hands. Posters to remind the children about hand-washing could also be beneficial.

The pupils feel let down

A dirty washroom sends a message to the pupils: the school does not care. You want pupils to be proud of their school and its facilities, just as they are proud of their uniform, sports teams and achievements.

Solution: Maintain the washrooms to an excellent standard. Show the pupils they matter and get them involved. Ask the students what they think of the washrooms and how they would improve them. Consult them on any planned refurbishments. Let them decide on the design and colours of the cubicles. This will hand them ownership of their facilities. The pupils are more likely to respect and maintain something they feel proud of.

Reputational damage?

The pupils will talk to their parents about the facilities (if the are bad). Visiting school teams will compare your washrooms to theirs. Families may see or use the toilets when visiting for assemblies or sports day. If you are providing poor facilities, people will know and it can tarnish the school’s reputation. Then there is Ofsted – did you know they usually check the washrooms during their inspection? They are checking that the school washrooms meet regulations. The Department for Education’s Standards for School Premises offers guidance.

Solution: Read the documentation and make sure your washrooms meet the criteria. For example, you should provide one toilet and washbasin for every 20 pupils aged five to 11.

Grubby to gleaming

A lot of the problems can be avoided by keeping the washrooms clean and stocked. Have the cleaning staff create detailed schedules to ensure the toilets stay in good condition throughout the day. Ask the students how the facilities can be improved. Follow the Department for Education’s recommendations for primary school washrooms. Your pupils deserve and clean and safe environment at school. 

  • Ged Hirst is a designer at Cubicle Centre.

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