Facilities advice: Toilets and washrooms

Written by: Ged Hirst | Published:
Photo: iStock

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

Secondary school toilets can often have a bad reputation – they smell, are covered in graffiti and are where the smokers hang out. Hopefully this is not actually the case at your school, but even a poorly maintained washroom can damage your school’s reputation.

Washrooms often get overlooked. This is understandable as there are so many demands of the budget each year. However, below are some problems that can result from worn-out toilets in your school – along with some ideas and possible solutions.

Pupils avoid toilets

Imagine year 8 student Simon. He is a quiet boy achieving above average grades. He goes to the school toilets at lunchtime where a group of older pupils are hanging out. He feels intimidated. To avoid the risk of bullying he decides to avoid using the washrooms.

In the afternoon lesson, he can’t focus because he needs to go. Not only can this strain be bad for his bladder, he is too distracted to learn anything.

The next day he wants to avoid a repeat of yesterday. So at lunch he decides not to drink anything. The afternoon lessons are again tough because he is now feeling dehydrated. Not ideal for learning.

Suggestions: Discourage the older pupils from congregating by having smaller washrooms around the school. Have these positioned near classrooms or staff offices to increase passive observation. Try not to lock the toilets during break times so there are a choice of which ones to use. Have a policy in place where pupils are allowed to use the washrooms during lesson times (a pass system or signing sheet).

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 permission for others to vandalise, thinking they will get away with it. Graffiti can then escalate to broken doors, flooded sinks and expensive repairs.

Suggestions: If possible have the cubicles made of anti-vandal panels. CGL (Compact Grade Laminate) panels are almost impossible to break. They are also scratch-resistant 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. 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.

Suggestions: 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 students about hand-washing could also be beneficial.

Your reputation

A dirty washroom sends a message to the pupils – the school does not care. The pupils will also 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.

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.

Suggestions: 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. This will hand them ownership of their facilities. The pupils are more likely to respect and maintain something they feel proud of. Read the guidance and make sure your washrooms meet the criteria. For example, for every 20 pupils aged 11-plus you should provide one toilet and two washbasins for every three toilets.

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 student council how the facilities can be improved. Follow the official recommendations for school washrooms.

  • Ged Hirst is from the Cubicle Centre.

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