Schools and colleges need well thought-out and executed toilet designs to meet today’s standards and demands, argues Kelvin Grimes, hygiene rooms project manager at Clos-o-Mat.
Former Schools Minister David Miliband once said, “If you get the toilets right, you get the teaching right”. That opinion is supported by authoritative organisations, and applies as equally to a huge inner-city academy as to a primary school in rural Scotland.
More children are starting school still in nappies and using functional rooms – including the toilet – is the second-biggest problem faced in daily life for families with a severely disabled child. Alongside that, one in 12 children suffers from bladder or bowel incontinence and the numbers of children with special needs in schools is rising.
Clearly, toilet needs are now part of any school’s holistic approach to a child’s development and well-designed, appropriate toilets are proven to positively affect an educational establishment’s popularity.
Obviously, architects are aware of the legal requirements for toilet provision when designing an educational new-build or refurbishment under Department for Education Building Bulletins, Building Regulations Approved Document M, BS8300:2009. One element not fully appreciated, however, is that under the Equality Act, which replaced the Disability Discrimination Act, providers are now obliged to make reasonable changes to the built environment where a disabled person would otherwise be at a substantial disadvantage. Previously, changes were only needed if it would have been “impossible or unreasonably difficult…” and those adjustments should be taken before a disabled person has a difficulty.
Some educational establishments have been taken to court and found liable in their failure to provide appropriate toilet facilities. In contrast, Wakefield College has reported an upsurge in its popularity among local disabled students, because of its provision of good hygiene rooms in its Castleford Campus.
A further consideration that has evolved with the changing role of a school is the need to design, not just for the children, but adults, too, as many schools open their facilities to community use out-of-hours. Plus, with the increasing diversity of courses, toilet facilities can double-up as an educational resource – as demonstrated at South Birmingham College, where the hygiene room is also used as a training room for students of social care.
Much of good toilet design in schools is common sense. They should be positioned as a direct extension of the circulation space, enabling passive supervision and reducing likelihood of anti-social behaviour, but still offer physical and aural privacy. Each toilet cluster should include an accessible toilet, of the same quality and aesthetic standard as the standard male and female WCs.
Key design points include:
• Room for non-ambulant children to move around and for staff to help them if necessary, taking account of manual handling and transfer arrangements including the use of hoists.
• Fixtures and fittings should be robust and at an appropriate height.
• The layout, fixtures and fittings should reflect the age of the children and help them learn personal skills.
• Where a school has pupils with motor disabilities, particular attention needs to be paid to fittings… to encourage their use considering both dexterity and reach.
• Hygiene rooms need to provide a comfortable environment with room for assisted changing (12 to 20m2).
• Accessible changing rooms should have a peninsular toilet, wheelchair-accessible shower and/or a shower trolley, and height-adjustable changing bed.
So often practicality rules, but there is no major reason why the toilet and personal care facilities have to be grey, white and blue. Attractive sensory features have some justification beyond looking nice. Colour and texture can offer visual and tactile guidance for those with impaired vision, as well as enhancing the room’s appeal.
A little thought over the detail similarly makes a huge difference. Department for Education and Science Guidance Standard Specifications, Layouts and Dimensions 3 – Toilets in Schools, maintains: “high quality fittings promote respect”. This engenders pride and reduces the incidence of vandalism and ongoing repair and maintenance, thus helping deliver best value practice. and making the facility user-friendly. For example:
• Height-adjustable washbasins and toilets can accommodate the smallest to the tallest user.
• Concealed pipework is actually sensible where wheelchairs are being manoeuvred round.
• A hoist and height-adjustable changing bench enable care support staff to look after students with minimal risk of injuring themselves or the child during transfer.
• Longer hoses on showers optimise access.
In an ideal world, a height-adjustable automatic shower ‘wash and dry’ toilet meets the needs of small children through to adults. It eliminates the need to supply and use toilet tissue, ensures effective cleaning after any ‘little accidents’, improves hygiene by eliminating hand-to-body contact, saves paper and reduces the risk of the toilet becoming blocked. A height-adjustable basin similarly accommodates the needs of most, and means only one set of pipes, one product, and one installation against at least three basins set at diverse height and associated costs and labour.
Many of us have childhood memories of unpleasant school toilets: yet care and expertise at the design stage can lead to more positive experiences for today’s schoolchildren.