Children being prevented from using the toilet when needed
Some schools across England, both primary and secondary, are restricting access to the toilets. Toilets are regularly locked during lesson time, with special permission from a school nurse or from a doctor needed to get a ‘pass’. Reasons given for the policy include disruption of lessons, children using the ‘excuse’ to go to the toilet to deliberately miss lessons, and vandalism of facilities.
It is legal in the UK for schools to do this but a number of charities campaign against this practice.
The charity ERIC (Education and Resources for Improving Childhood Continence) campaigns generally around improving access and toilet facilities. 1 in 12 5-19-year olds suffer with continence problem. Issues such as daytime bladder problems, bedwetting, constipation and soiling can have a devastating impact on a child’s learning, development and well-being, and school policy is exacerbating the problem. The charity points out that policies such as limiting access not only make it worse for children already experiencing problems but also cause problems for all students. ERIC spokeswoman said: ‘What schools often don’t realise is that this kind of policy can affect children’s school performance as well because of the impact that holding on or not drinking enough water can have on concentration and energy levels. Children who do not drink enough water at school because they want to avoid using the toilet can also suffer from headaches.”
Plan International UK also campaigns against the policy because of the stigma caused around menstruation, their research showing that experiences at school were adding to a culture of shame. Girl’s having to put their hands up in class and explain in front of classmates that they were menstruating, and even then, sometimes not being given permission is unacceptable.
Restricting the right to carry out the most basic of bodily functions seems entirely incompatible with respect for children and young people. And again, we must ask. If children are so desperately disengaged and bored that going to the toilet is more fulfilling than class, in what way can this be considered a suitable education?