Where did ‘Gender Neutral Toilets in Schools’ come from?

The Scottish Government opened a consultation between 17 July 2017 and 9 October 2017 with proposed amendments to these regulations, including the introduction of Unisex facilities.

Currently, Regulations 15/16 of The School Premises (General Requirements and Standards) (Scotland) Regulations 1967 state that the Sanitary Accommodations for pupils are to be split half for boys and half for girls. This applies both for WC and wash area. The Regulations make no reference to unisex facilities.

It was widely reported at that time, articles detailing these proposals featured within The Scotsman and The Times. There were many critics of these proposals, presumably mostly from parents worrying about an increase of bullying and sexual harassment and the obvious fact that girls and boys like to have privacy from one another. However, we learned that these ‘Gender Neutral toilets’ were already common place across Scotland and had been for some time. If that was the case then why the need to amend the Regulations now, surely this established practice already met with the standard requirements. Campaigners for the proposals welcomed the announcement, reminding us that we have already have gender neutral toilets in our homes …. this type of response isn’t helpful nor does it address any of the valid concerns that parents had expressed.

The Scotsman

On 10 January 2018 the Scottish Government reported their analysis of the responses to the public consultation exercise. Many individuals and organisations had responded but support for it wasn’t clear. Only 40% of the total respondents agreed with the Governments proposals (although just as many respondents chose not to answer this particular point). With organisations being less in favour of them than individuals. Many concerns were raised by those organisations and individuals who opposed it and the Government analysis acknowledged the particular vulnerability of girls, in respect of their greater need for privacy and safety from sexual assaults.

The Government’s analysis continued by saying that the gathering of children’s view was utmost important in any decision making process.

Since this analysis of the consultation process was published in January the Scottish Government have taken no further action and the existing Regulations remain.

Meanwhile councils across the country have been introducing ‘Gender Neutral Toilets’ both to their newly built schools and also within any significant building alterations to existing schools.

So what exactly are these ‘Gender Neutral Toilets’? Many articles within the media describe them as ‘fully enclosed cubicles’, floor to ceiling, which open out into a mixed sex wash area. Describing them as fully enclosed gives us the impression that they are private, and they would appear to be a better design from the traditional old school toilets, which had large gaps both below and above the door. Are ‘Gender Neutral Toilets’ just mixed sex toilets but with better doors on them? Also, don’t most public toilets nowadays have floor to ceiling doors in them?

Rather than naming them mixed sex toilets though they are given the name ‘Gender Neutral Toilets’. ‘Gender Neutral’ sounds like a new way of saying Unisex, doesn’t it? We already have Unisex toilets up and down the country, so is introducing them into schools that big a problem? If they were introducing Unisex toilets there would probably be no problem, but those aren’t Unisex toilets either.

Unisex Toilets have to be ‘fully enclosed’, a big door isn’t enough to call them that. They have to include their own sink and sanitary bin. But anyone who’s ever used this type of toilet knows this already, it’s a standard requirement. Building regulations are strict on these matters and details can be found within The Technical Handbook which accompanies The Building (Scotland) Act 2003.

Section 3.12.1: Sanitary facilities states

Separate male and female sanitary accommodation is usually provided. This should be based upon the proportion of males and females that will use a building, where this is known, or provide accommodation for equal numbers of each sex otherwise.

Unisex sanitary accommodation may be provided where each sanitary facility, or a WC and wash hand basin, is located within a separate space, for use by only one person at a time, with a door that can be secured from within for privacy

Section 3.12.6: General Provisions required in all Sanitary Accommodation states

every toilet should:

• for personal hygiene, have a wash hand basin within either the toilet itself or in an adjacent space providing the sole means of access to the toilet

These are the building requirements for ALL non-domestic buildings, including schools, public libraries, supermarkets, entertainment venues etc. They must ALL provide both male and female toilets, and if any Unisex toilets are provided then they must be self contained, for the use by only one person at a time and have a wash hand basin either within the toilet itself or in an adjacent space with the sole means of access to the toilet. A communal mixed sex wash area does not meet this requirement.

Now, correct me if I’m wrong with my interpretation of the rule books, but why were there big announcements in the press about the proposals to change the regulations around school toilets, especially as it was apparently already a common practice. Why have the councils only recently been changing their designs, especially before any amendments were made to the Regulations? Who exactly is responsible for driving these changes?

The thing to ask ourselves is this, if the councils could have been building big long rows of toilets without the need to separate them into boys & girls all this time, why haven’t they always be doing this? It would have been way more cost effective for them.

The answer is because it is against the regulations.

Write to your councils now if you have any concerns about this. Draft template letter can be found here.

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