Top 10 tips for... Brightening up your toilets

Written by: Suzanne O’Connell | Published:
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We must never neglect our school toilets and it is important that pupils feel comfortable and safe when using them. Suzanne O’Connell considers 10 tips for making your toilets a nice place to be.

1, Ask for views

It might cause some hilarity, but you want to know how your pupils feel about visiting the school toilets. There may be some who avoid it at all costs and wait until they get home. Then again, there will be others who spend far too much time visiting them – some for justifiable reasons, others not. Explore their reasons, discretely in some cases, and take suggestions from the people who use them.

2, Toilet policy

Be clear as a school how you handle requests for toilet visits during lessons. Are they allowed at all or only for younger children or in special circumstances? For some pupils, visiting the toilet is an escape from class and exploring underlying reasons for this can address the behaviour and make others more comfortable visiting them too.

For other pupils there is a need to be able to access the toilets when it is required. Good practice suggests that toilets are open and accessible to all learners throughout the hours of school opening. There is a balance here that needs exploring with pupils and staff. Limiting the times to go can genuinely cause some pupils problems while others may actively make toilet requests during lesson times because they are anxious about going when they are busier.

Consider having a written, formal school toilet policy document that pupils contribute to and are consulted about. This might include reference to how the use of the toilets is included in the curriculum. Take time to talk toilet matters and encourage pupils to see the link with their own health and wellbeing.

You can find a sample school policy, survey document, questionnaire, and inspection sheet within the 2012 guidance School toilets: Good practice guidance for schools in Wales (see further information).

3, Toilet budget

Allocate a toilet budget for repairs and regular cleaning and make sure that everyone, staff, and pupils, know who to inform if there is a problem. Make discussion about the toilets, their management and finance, part of governors’ and staff meetings. Take them in to have a look. Would they like to use them, and if not, what can be done?

4, Regular checks

It need not be on an hourly basis, but you can encourage staff to do a quick check of the toilets while they are passing. Your presence and that of your staff is more likely than anything else to redirect unwanted behaviour.

5, Treat them well

If you have surveyed your pupils, then it is likely that they have already indicated pet hates such as broken locks on toilet doors. Keep them in good repair and that will encourage pupils to look after them too. Pay attention to details such as lighting and ventilation and make the restoration or removal of out-of-order toilet equipment a priority.

6, Bright and beautiful

Even better, you can perhaps use your pupils’ artistic skills to design and paint murals on the walls or find ways of brightening up signs and making them more child friendly. Well-lit, bright, colourful toilets that are warm enough for comfort should be your aim. Even a regular lick of paint can make all the difference.

ERIC – a children’s bowel and bladder charity – encourages child-led designs to be installed on the wall of the toilets and the involvement of children to help manage the space, for example by ensuring the soap is topped up or checking that hand towels are present. ERIC has produced guidance for school toilets and these issues are discussed further in a recent Headteacher Update article (2022).

7, Equipment

Pay attention to the quality and accessibility of soap and the provision of air fresheners. Shatterproof mirrors should be accessible but not so that they enable people to see inside the cubicles.

Give thought to soap dispensers. They should be cleaned between refills and not just topped up. Invest in dispensers that are firmly fixed and are non-drop. Paper towels should be available for hand-drying and regularly refilled. There should be a lidded waste bin available for used hand towels.

Many primary school girls have started menstruating and this can be a particularly difficult time for them. A sanitary dispenser should be available in toilets for girls aged eight and over and girls should know where they can obtain sanitary products if needed. Sanitary disposal units should be placed within all individual cubicles.

The government provides funding for free sanitary products in schools (DfE, 2020) and Headteacher Update has previously published an article offering advice on how these can be distributed effectively (2020).

8, The tricky issue of toilet rolls

Toilet rolls can easily become the weapon of choice for internal toilet disruption. Whether it is being stuffed down the toilet itself, blocking the handbasins or those little wet bits on the ceiling, they can provide an interesting distraction. However, whatever your solution, avoid measures such as distributing toilet roll from the classroom. There is nothing more humiliating for the majority who use the toilets correctly and your culprits will probably enjoy the attention and disruption this causes.

9, The comfort of the majority

Beware of punitory measures to address toilet problems. These send a message through your pupil population that no one can be trusted and that everyone must suffer for the misdemeanors of a few. Talk to pupils about this and emphasise the importance of everyone working together to ensure that the toilet remains a comfortable place to be. Your school values can just as easily be applied here – make use of them.

10, And don’t forget the staff

The suggestions here are focused on your pupils’ toilets but take time to think about the level of comfort offered in the staff facilities too. It doesn’t necessarily mean a makeover. Improving the brand of hand soap, making sure there are adequate and discrete bins and perhaps even a shelf by a mirror can make all the difference.

  • Suzanne O’Connell is a freelance education writer and a former primary school headteacher.

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