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Thanks to our friend at the Medway Youth Parliament for giving us this.
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Introduction

The standard of toilet facilities in our schools has been a cause for concern for pupils for as long as we can remember. Various issues around school toilets are frequently raised at school council meetings in schools across Medway and we know that a number of school councils have been trying to make changes in their schools. Some have made a little progress but many feel that they are banging their heads on brick walls.

The Medway Youth Parliament exists to get the voices of young people heard and we felt that this was one area where we could make a difference by uniting the voices of pupils in our schools.

We decided to do some formal and informal research across Medway through the ?Young People Investigate? project run by Medway Youth Service. This project runs training for young people in research methods and involves them in a piece of research on a current issue.

The research team put the questionnaires together and spent the summer speaking to a wide range of young people in a wide variety of places ?including schools, youth groups, play parks and young people?s events. We also spoke to members of school staff.

In the meantime the team also investigated into issues around school toilets nationally. We were delighted to find that a national campaign, Bog Standard, was to be launched later in the year which would be campaigning for the very same things that we were working on. We contacted the campaign organisers and told them what we were working on and they invited us to join their campaign and present our findings at the national launch in Westminster.

Our aim was to produce this report with results and a few key recommendations which we felt were reasonable and achievable. The report would then be distributed to head teachers, chairs of governors, appropriate council officers and council members and of course school councils themselves.

Results

The tables and graphs that follow show the detailed results. We do not think it is appropriate to name and shame individual schools so this information is not shown. We have produced total numbers from across all schools, split into female, male and staff. If individual head teachers would like results from their own school we are happy to provide their school?s results for them.

We gathered information from pupils from 11 schools out of the 19 in Medway. A total of 244 pupils and 17 staff completed questionnaires. A large number of young people spoke to us about the problems they have faced and we have included some case studies from these conversations to give examples of some of the problems faced by pupils which staff are probably unaware of.

Staff awareness of problems is an issue that has been highlighted by our research. 76% of the staff surveyed say they have never heard of a pupils taking time off school because of problems around the school toilets but in fact around 13% of pupils surveyed had actually taken time off school. Almost a quarter of pupils stated that they had experienced a health problem caused by not being able to use the loo when they need to but 88% of staff said they had never heard of that. Again, when pupils were asked if they had ever avoided using the loo and waited til they got home nearly half said they had done that often while almost the same proportion of staff said they had never heard of that.

The facilities were broken down into cleanliness and adequacy of the facility in terms of enough toilet paper, doors that lock etc. These were rated on a scale of 1 (poor) ? 4 (excellent). 30% of pupils rated the cleanliness as poor although none of the staff gave that rating. Half the pupils rated them as poor for being a suitable facility, with more than half saying that they often found doors that don?t lock properly and over quarter of the girls and half of the boys saying that they often experience a lack of privacy ? door and partitions being flimsy and not high/low enough was a problem that was highlighted particularly by the boys. The boys also highlighted a problem where there are no partitions between urinals. The girls highlighted having a problem with not having a discreet way of disposing of sanitary towels and many asked for bins in each cubicle.

Problems caused by some pupils include graffiti and vandalism highlighted by the staff surveyed as happening sometimes/often. Smoking was also highlighted, along with pupils using needing the toilet as an excuse for bunking lessons which seems to be a big problem. For the pupils, fear of behaviour of other pupils in the toilets was a problem for 40%, while staff did not recognise this as a particular problem.

Access to school toilets is a big problem for many pupils. 50% of pupils reported a problem with toilet being locked at certain times of the day and a massive 96% of girls and 76% of boys said that teachers not allowing them to use the loo when they need to caused them problems.

We asked pupils and staff for suggestions which would change the school loos for the better. The pupils asked for better provision of toilet rolls, air fresheners and to have the toilets regularly checked and cleaned more than once a day. The staff suggested educating the students on the importance of good hygiene and to involve students in decorating the toilets.

On a very positive note, we asked to be told about any good initiatives already in place to overcome problems. We were told of schools where staff have to do a break and lunch duty to monitor toilets, toilets are regularly cleaned and maintained, a member of staff checks toilets each lesson and signs to say the toilets are clean, hygiene is actively encouraged, rewards are offered to pupils who catch smokers, vandals, etc, smoke detectors in the toilets, camera at corridor door to toilets to record who goes in and times and a number of schools have recently refurbished their toilets.

Conclusion

It is clear from our results that the general standard of school toilets is not acceptable. It is also clear that some pupils are abusing the facilities in terms of vandalism, their behaviour to other pupils and breaking school rules. This in turn is causing staff to restrict access to the toilets.

From our wider research we understand that these problems are common in schools across the UK. We also asked some pupils in a school in Germany to complete our questionnaires and found that they experience the same problems to around the same degree as we do here. However, we do not think this makes our campaign a lost cause. On the contrary, we think in Medway we can take the lead on providing acceptable toilet facilities for our young people and hope that through the Bog Standard Campaign the rest of the UK can follow. We can then hope to take the lead in Europe to improve facilities for young people throughout the EEC.

Our wider research has also informed us that there are many health implications associated with the problems we have highlighted in Medway.

Where pupils are not allowed to use the loo when they need to they can end up with bowel and bladder problems that can cause lasting damage. We also know that some pupils do not like using the loo during break and lunchtimes for a number of reasons. Some are afraid of bullying and some find there is not enough privacy for the various reasons we have mentioned earlier. When they avoid using the loo for these kind of reasons, often after some time they find they are actually physically unable to relieve themselves when other people are around. In some cases this can lead to a type of phobia which can remain with a person for many years or even the rest of their life. If a pupil is avoiding using the loo at break times for these reasons and are then not allowed to go during lessons, then we are back to the bowel and bladder problems.

We also know that quite a large number of pupils avoid drinking while at school so that they don?t have to use the loo. This can result in problems of a different kind, particularly in hot weather, which of course is exam time!

Our case studies have highlighted some other problems faced by young people. We are sure these are not isolated cases and they tell some worrying stories about pupils actually staying off school, bullying and health problems.

Although our results show that staff are unaware of the extent of problems faced by pupils, we feel that schools have shown that they are willing to listen and to learn from what pupils are saying. We hope this report will raise awareness of these problems so that staff and pupils can work together to make changes for the better.

We do appreciate that school staff have a real problem in trying to be reasonable with requests to use the toilet while trying to stop abuse by some pupils and seeming to be fair at the same time. However, we are sure most school staff will agree, that it is a basic human right to be able to use the toilet when you need to. Most would also agree that it is not reasonable for a teacher to ask a pupil why they need to go.

We also appreciate that, because of the behaviour of a few pupils, to have access to the toilets when we need we may have to have our movements around school monitored.

Recommendations

We would like to put forward the following key recommendations. We feel these recommendations are reasonable and achievable and would make a difference to the life in school for pupils in Medway.

Toilets to be checked and cleaned at least twice a day.

This is already done once, so the minimum we are suggesting is once more. This would bring school toilets in line with toilets in other busy places, shopping centres, large offices etc. Clean and well kept facilities are less likely to be abused.

Decorate toilets and maintain to a good standard.

We have reports from schools who have done this that vandalism and graffiti have been considerably reduced.

Sanitary bins should be in all cubicles

Partitions should be put between urinals

These changes would make life much less embarrassing for pupils who are already going through difficult years

Install cameras to monitor use of toilets during lessons

This would allow access to the toilets for pupils with a genuine need as monitoring users and regular checks would help identify pupils causing problems and should deter them

Staff training to deal with toilet requests in a discreet way

To prevent, for example, younger girls being afraid to ask a male teacher in case she is asked to give an explanation. Remember naughty girls have periods too!

Include toilet hygiene issues in PHSE lessons

To raise awareness of importance of hand washing, leaving toilets and basins clean, putting towels in bins etc

All schools to adopt the Bog Standard School Toilet Charter

The national campaign has produced the Charter. We support the Charter and recommend that all schools adopt it. A copy of the charter can be found here.