Schools MUST comply with the School Premises (General Requirements and Standards) (Scotland) Regulations 1967 which states that every school which is not designed exclusively for girls, half the toilet accommodation should be for boys.

I have written to several Local Authorities raising concerns that I do not believe that their schools have complied with the School Premises (General Requirements and Standards) (Scotland) Regulations 1967 during their school building extensions and/or new builds.   What then followed was the problem that authorities have been re-interpreting the meaning of these regulations, despite them being in force since 1967.   For 50 years every school across the country had split their sanitary facilities, toilets and wash areas, evenly between girls and boys, but in recent years for some inexplicable reason they are now providing sanitary facilities that are mixed sexed, yet authorities maintain this is in line with the law. 

My view is that if schools had been able to provide long banks of mixed sex toilets with communal wash areas for the last half century, then surely this is exactly what would have been happening, especially as it would be the more cost effective method.  Yet we are expected to believe that this mixed sex option was always a permitted option within the regulations and Local Authorities have only recently, en masse across the whole country, began taking the decision to implement these into their new building designs.

For example, here is an extract of my letter to Dundee City 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 WCs 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.

The authority has responded to a Freedom of Information request regarding school sanitary facilities confirming that both Harris Academy and Sidlaw View Primary School have mixed sex pupil sanitary facilities. 

Sidlaw View Primary School The authority confirmed that in order to comply with building standards it was calculated that the number of sanitary provisions required are 28 WCs and 28 wash hand basins, of these at least half should be for girls and half for boys. The school premises do not meet these minimum requirements as no single sex facilities have been provided for the pupils. A total of 29 mixed sex facilities have instead been provided, of which only three comply with the standards required for Unisex sanitary facilities. 

Harris Academy All schools in Scotland are required to provide sanitary accommodation, namely WCs and wash hand basins, of which half should be for girls and half for boys. Wash hand basins are to be situated near to lockable WCs and have a partition sufficient to secure privacy. The school premises do not meet these minimum requirements as separate WCs and mixed sex wash hand areas, with no partitions to secure privacy have been provided. As such there have been no single sex sanitary facilities provided for the pupils. Despite the design of these sanitary facilities failing to meet the minimum standards required as per the regulations, the authority granted building warrants for both schools.”

And this is an extract of the reply I later received from the authority:

“(The Technical Handbook guidance) does not include provisions for school premises and directs designers to the School Premises (General Requirements and Standards) (Scotland) Regulations 1967 and BS 6465-1: 2006.

Dundee City Council

This is accurate and it clearly demonstrates that the Local Authority is well aware that that designers need to refer to the School Premises Regulations as this (Technical Handbook) guidance is not relevant to schools.

Here is the exact quote from the Technical Handbook:

“Schools – the numbers of sanitary facilities in schools should be provided in accordance with the tables in the School Premises (General Requirements and Standards) (Scotland) Regulations 1967, as amended. The recommendations within BS 6465-1: 2006 may also be helpful.

(The tables are at the top of this post)

However, Dundee City Council immediately ignores their own acknowledgement of this requirement by then quoting a passage from the guidance that has no relevance to school premises.

“With regard to the male / female split, the (Technical Handbook) guidance suggests that, although separate male and female sanitary accommodation is usually provided (based upon the proportion of males and females that will use a building), unisex sanitary accommodation may be provided.”

Dundee City Council

Further to that, the full passage has not been quoted, in fact it bizarrely cuts off mid sentence. Had it been quoted in full then it would have inconveniently drew attention to the Council’s non-compliance of another section of these regulations i.e. Unisex toilets. Here is the full quote:

“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.”

Suprisingly, the Council also revealed what appears to be their justification (defence?) for providing a combination of mixed sex facilities:

I would also note only Regulation 15 of the Schools Premises (General Requirements and Standards)(Scotland) Regulations 1967 (amended 1970) makes reference to splitting WC provision.”

Dundee City Council

So, what I think they are trying to infer here is, if you look again at Regulation 15, it has the line that ‘half the toilet accommodation shall be for boys’ with a table indicating the number of WC’s and Urinals required – and as Regulation 16 does not include this line regarding the number of wash basins, then they are not also required to be split evenly for girls and boys?!

But in order for that to make sense then we would need to also ignore Regulation 15 parts (3) and (4);

And also, Section 3.12.6 of the Technical Handbook that specifies

“every toilet should … have a wash hand basin within either the toilet itself or in an adjacent space providing the sole means of access to the toilet

Every single one of us recognises this layout as it is in place in every shopping centre, cinema, restaurant and up until recently, every school. We all know that this adjacent space is not an open access area for any passer-by of either sex. We all recognise that entry to this area, containing the wash hand basins and providing the sole means of access to the toilet is therefore automatically restricted to the same group of people who would be permitted access to the single-sex toilet.

The regulations are really not that difficult to interpret, well they certainly hadn’t been for decades, but now all common sense along with their knowledge of both existing and historical practice is somehow lacking in our policy makers.

Anyway … Dundee City Council continues, declaring that:

Demonstrating compliance with the Building Regulations and associated Functional Standards in relation to the design and configuration of the sanitary accommodation within buildings, including schools, is the responsibility of the applicant and a Building Warrant will only be granted when the Local Authority is satisfied the Building Regulations have been met.

Dundee City Council

So wait, the responsibility of demonstrating compliance with the Building Regulations lies with the applicant ( i.e. the school, which in reality means the Local Authority as they have full responsibility for the schools in the authority area). And then the decision of whether or not the applicant (Local Authority) has demonstrated this compliance also lies with the same Local Authority!!

Rather unsurprisingly then, Dundee City Council concludes:

“In this case the design of sanitary provision within the two schools in question meets the requirements of the appropriate Regulations.”

Dundee City Council

Oh dear …

What we then have is the real possibility that, without any independent external scrutiny, any decision made by a Council on whether or not their own schools’ redesigned mixed sex pupil toilets are compliant with the current regulations, they could easily be questioned on lacking impartiality with an added suggestion of an inherent bias towards supporting their own design.

Could this really be the current situation?

Unfortunately yes, our building legislation and guidance states:

A verifier is not entitled to verify any application in relation to which they have an interest, unless specifically permitted to do so by direction.

At present, Scottish Ministers have directed each local authority that it may act as verifier for projects in which the authority has an interest subject to certain conditions. Having an interest in a building is taken to be where the verifier is the owner, tenant or occupier of a building, including any prospective building, or is acting as the developer, or has taken a substantial share in the equity/ownership.’

I wrote to the Scottish Government’s Building Standard Division sharing my concerns, they replied:

“Local authorities are autonomous bodies whose powers are set in statute and are entirely separate from Scottish Government. As long as they act lawfully, it is the responsibility of each local authority to manage its day to day business appropriately. Scottish Ministers do not have general powers that would enable them to call a local authority to account for its actions in a matter such as this.” 

I wondered what would the Scottish Government’s Building Standard Division consider to be sufficient enough grounds for them to perhaps question the possibility that a local authority may NOT be acting lawfully?

So I wrote to them again and asked.

Would they clarify that even in situations like this where it had been categorically shown that a local authority had not provided sanitary accommodation as per the regulations:

  • by not providing half the toilet accommodation for girls and half the toilet accommodation for boys;
  • that their alternative provision of what they claim to be Unisex facilities are not in fact compliant with the Technical Handbook’s definition i.e. a separate secure and private space, including WC and wash basin, for the use by only one person; and
  • that every toilet should have a wash hand basin within either the toilet itself or in an adjacent space providing the sole means of access to the toilet,

Would they still hold the view that the Local Authority was acting lawfully?

Would consideration of this level of evidence raise a serious enough concern that would warrant further investigation or scrutiny at all by the division?

Do they have any powers or procedures available to them that would enable further investigation and therefore enable them to hold local authorities to account?

If not, would they inform me which government department does have the power or responsibility to ensure that local authorities are upholding their lawful requirements?

Alternatively, could they inform me of any national regulator, one that does have the power to oversee and ensure that local authorities are acting lawfully?

A system where the local authorities are verifying their own school builds and renovations as meeting regulations, despite evidence to the contrary, and with no official government body regulating their actions is a system open to corruption.

The Building Standards Division unfortunately did not address any of my points and merely repeated their previous statement:

“As previously stated, local authorities are autonomous bodies whose powers are set out in statute and are entirely separate from Scottish Government. As long as they act lawfully, it is the responsibility of each local authority to manage its day to day business appropriately. Scottish Ministers do not have general powers that would enable them to call on a local authority to account for its actions in a matter such as this.”

What options are available when there is no authority able to assist the thousands of pupils, and their parents, across the country who are already negatively affected by these decisions?

This is a serious flaw in the design and building regulation process for school builds but it also raises the question that when no one is responsible for ensuring that Local Authorities are complying with the regulations, then without that accountability, what exactly is the point of producing more empty guidance stating schools MUST comply with these regulations?


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