Open letter to East Renfrewshire Council

Dear East Renfrewshire Council

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 for both WC’s and wash areas. The Regulations make no reference to unisex or ‘gender neutral’ facilities.  Additionally, the requirements for the building standards for new school builds and school extension buildings are detailed within the Technical Handbook which accompany 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

 

On 5/2/19 the authority responded to a Freedom of Information request regarding school sanitary facilities confirming that both Carolside Primary School and Braidbar Primary School have mixed sex pupil toilet facilities.  The authority confirmed that in order to comply with building standards it was calculated that the number of sanitary provisions required are as follows;

 

  • Carolside Primary School are required to provide 42 toilets and 42 wash hand basins, of these at least half should be for girls and half for boys.  The school premises do not meet this minimum requirement as only 14 single sex facilities are available for girls, and only 14 single sex facilities are available for boys.  A total of 29 mixed sex facilities have instead been provided, none of which comply with the standards required for Unisex sanitary facilities.

 

  • Braidbar Primary School are required to provide 26 toilets and 26 wash hand basins, of these at least half should be for girls and half for boys.   The school premises do not meet this minimum requirement as only 7 single sex facilities are available for girls, and only 7 single sex facilities are available for boys.  A total of 20 mixed sex facilities have instead been provided, none of which comply with the standards required for Unisex sanitary facilities.

 

Despite the design of these sanitary facilities failing to meet the minimum standards required as per the regulations, building warrants were granted for both schools, commenting that when ‘new regulations come on stream they will be taken into account as appropriate’.

The Scottish Government held a consultation in 2017 with proposed amendments to the School Premises regulations, including the possible introduction of Unisex facilities.  The Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland (CYPCS) replied to the consultation emphasising the importance that “school toilet facilities (be) compliant with human rights duties and informed by International standards ‘Wash In Schools’” with specific warnings where “infrastructure and management standards of school toilets are poor there is a risk of a breach of children’s rights under the UNCRC”.  ‘Wash In Schools’ stresses that lack of privacy and safety from sexual harassment are recognised worldwide to be of particularly high importance for girls, who suffer disproportionately when these requirements are not met.

The Scottish Government’s report of the consultation includes the following statements

  • “There was a question as to whether all toilets being gender neutral was appropriate, with the recognition that many young girls already feel vulnerable using current facilities at school. Female only toilets were considered more than just a sanitary facility but also a place where privacy can be gained, where a child can feel safe and where they can deal with developmental issues such as menstruation. “
  • “There was seen to be a direct conflict between the protective characteristic of gender reassignment and of sex. This area requires more in-depth investigation to complete a robust impact assessment that takes this into account”
  • “The additional consideration given to children and young people not identifying with their biological gender was broadly welcomed as was the potential provision of gender neutral toilet and washing facilities.”

 

This final statement is a confirmation that the current regulations do not have any provisions for gender neutral toilets and washing facilities. Since this report was published over a year ago there has been no further debate, statement or action taken by the Scottish Government to amendment the regulations.

The Public Sector Equality Duty requires public bodies to have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations between different people when carrying out their activities.  Equality impact assessments must be carried out to ensure decisions do not discriminate against people based on any protected characteristic (including Sex, Race, Sexual Orientation and Gender Reassignment).  East Renfrewshire Council’s Equality Impact Assessment did not consider Sex on an individual basis, instead it was assessed jointly with Sexual Orientation, and has therefore failed to apply due regard to those pupils who are protected because of their sex.  The Government’s report had emphasised that

“The Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010 contains a duty to consult pupils where there is a proposal to establish a new school. Consulting pupils to gain their views as to design plans and new facilities would represent good practice and positively impact on children’s rights and wellbeing”.

East Renfrewshire Council did not gather evidence or consult with its pupils when the decision was made to redesign pupil toilets.   There have been no amendments to the School Premises regulations and the Building Standard requirements remain, both of which do not include any definition or indeed any reference to ‘Gender Neutral’ sanitary facilities at all.   Since adopting this new pupil toilet design East Renfrewshire Council have

  • failed to comply with building standards as per the Building (Scotland) Act 2003,
  • failed to comply with Regulations 15 & 16 of the School Premises (General Requirements and Standards) (Scotland) Regulations 1967,
  • failed in its public sector duty to have due regard to all protected characteristics as per the Equality Act 2010 (Specific Duties) (Scotland) Regulations 2012,
  • failed in its duty to consult with pupils as per the Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010 and
  • failed in its statutory responsibility to manage and maintain their school estates to ensure the good health and safety of its pupils as per the Education (Scotland) Act 1980.

These failures have revealed a serious flaw within the authority’s safeguarding practices and are a violation of children’s rights.   Article 2 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in respect of the discrimination of girls within educational settings states

“gender discrimination can be reinforced by practices such as a curriculum which is inconsistent with the principles of gender equality, by arrangements which limit the benefits girls can obtain from the educational opportunities offered, and by unsafe or unfriendly environments which discourage girls’ participation.”

I request that the authority conducts an urgent investigation into these matters, in particular the Building Standards and Public Safety Department should query why a building warrant was granted for alterations to sanitary facilities not compliant with building regulations.  In addition to this the authority’s policies and practices for undertaking Equality Impact Assessments should be urgently reviewed as gross omissions appeared to have occurred in this instance.

I look forward to hearing from you in due course.

Yours sincerely

 

Susan Sinclair


I’ve sent similar letters to other Local Authorities, click on the links below to read them

City of Edinburgh Council

Dundee City Council

Angus Council

This blog about Scottish Futures Trust contains a table of over 100 schools from all across Scotland that are part of this roll-out programme. Many of which are either still under construction or works have not yet started. It’s worth checking if schools in your area are included.


I have 5 Campaign Aims and rectifying the legalities of policies is one of them.

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