Banning toilet breaks during lessons or restricting access to the toilets can aggravate or even create continence problems.
Consequences can include:
- Soiling and wetting accidents in the classroom
- Urinary tract infections
- Withholding which can lead to constipation
- Children reducing they amount they either eat or drink in the mistaken belief that this will stop them needing to use the toilet
- De-hydration and lack of concentration which affects their school work
- General anxiety around using the toilet outside of the home
Individual Health Care Plan for pupils with continence conditions
An Individual Health Care Plan (IHCP) is essential to ensure a child’s needs are sensitively and effectively met in education settings and that all people responsible for the child understand their needs.
ERIC has produced a template IHCP with input from Dr Eve Fleming, a community paediatrician and Brenda Cheer, a Paediatric Continence Specialist Nurse. The plan was reviewed by a school nurse, a paediatrician, and two families of school-age children with continence problems.
Download the template Individual Health Care Plan.
Some children struggle with a bladder condition which means they need to wee urgently and frequently, others may have a bowel condition such as constipation.
When these children need to wee or poo, they have to go and shouldn't be told to 'hold on'. If they’re afraid to ask to go to the toilet or the toilets aren't a pleasant place to be, this can make their continence problem worse and reduce their ability to manage or overcome it.
For small children it may negatively affect their ability to learn to use the loo.
Access to toilets in primary school
Find out what the arrangements are for children to get permission to use toilets during class time.
Children, especially younger ones cannot be relied upon to need the toilet only at set times like playtime and lunchtime and so there needs to be a certain amount of flexibility for them to go outside these set times.
Unfortunately we know some schools may take a fairly inflexible approach to this, and in reception in particular, this isn’t appropriate for this age group.
Children will usually need to ask permission to leave the classroom, but can be nervous about asking out loud or worry about interrupting the teacher. If this is the case, speak to the teacher about a more discreet system for your child to alert the class teacher that they are leaving the room such as placing a magnet on the whiteboard or a codeword or hand-signal they can use.
Improving school toilets
The condition of toilets at school can be a key factor in how willing children and teenagers are to use them.
Unfortunately there are very few legal minimum requirements governing children’s toilets in schools in the same way that there are for the staff that work in the school.
But it’s really important that children should be able to use toilet facilities that are clean and that feel safe to use.
Here are our suggestions for what to look out for:
- Are the toilets clean?
- Is there sufficient toilet paper in each cubicle and soap at the sinks.
- Do the taps work OK? Very splashy taps can be alarming for some children.
- Are there hand-dryers that are very loud that might be making your child anxious?
- What are the locks on the toilet doors like? Are they easy to use – some children can worry about getting locked in if the locks are a bit stiff or afraid of the doors swinging open if they are broken.
- What are the flushes like – difficult to use, a bit broken?
With the right design, layout and choices of finishes and fixtures, school toilets can be attractive, safe, durable and low maintenance. Open, bright and attractive toilets will encourage pupils to value themselves and their facilities.
The 'Toilets in Schools' guidelines, published by the Department of Education in 2007, show how toilet design can be improved to address a number of common failings in school toilet provision and includes strategies for effective maintenance and operation of toilets.
The legislation that covers school toilets and washing facilities is the Schools Premises and Regulations (SPRs) 2012.
How do you get a toilet pass at school?
Since the passing of the Children and Families Act in 2014, education settings have a statutory duty to support children with health conditions, including bowel and bladder problems.
If a pupil has an identified continence issue that the school is aware of, they should be given a 'toilet card' or similar that allows them to go to the toilet when they need to.
The school may ask for a signed letter from a health professional requesting that a child has a condition which means they need a 'toilet pass'.
Download our sample toilet pass (PDF)
Can schools lock toilets?
Many schools around the UK have a policy of locking school toilets during lesson times, with some even keeping them shut during breaks between classes. In schools where the toilets are locked, pupils sometimes have to request a key before they can use them.
Unfortunately, there's no law stopping schools from locking toilets during lessons, but that doesn't mean they should do it! Banning toilet breaks shows a lack of understanding of pupils' health needs and a lack of respect for children.
For a child with urgency problems, this is not a feasible solution.
This policy also singles out pupils with bowel and bladder conditions – when they may want to keep their condition private - as they are the only pupils allowed to use the toilet during lessons.
What can your child do if their school locks the toilets?
- Request a meeting with your teachers so they can tell them the reasons why not being allowed to go isn’t good for anyone. Explain the effect it can have on children's health and ability to concentrate in class. Let them know it’s important for children who’ve got an invisible bowel or bladder problem and may feel too nervous to ask for a toilet pass.
- Explain to school that bladders and bowels work to their own timetable and not the schools! It’s not a rule that we ask grownups to stick to when they’re at work so why should children be treated differently?
- Encourage pupils at the school to sign a pledge not to abuse their right to go to the toilet during lessons and promise to keep the toilets clean and tidy. Make the toilets a place that everyone needs to value and respect. Try to get into the habit of using the toilet at break and lunch time.
- Ask if the school has a toilet policy (all schools should do) and suggest that the views of pupils are included in the policy and making sure everyone sticks to it. ERIC has a School Toilet Charter which your child could ask their school to adopt. All teachers should then know what the policy says so everyone follows the same rules.
- Talk to the school council, they can raise the issue with the school governing body.
- Set up a petition to get the school to reverse the policy and get backing from students and parents. Find out from friends what’s stopping them from going to the toilet at break or lunch time. Are there enough toilets for everyone to use? Have students got enough time to go during breaks?
Sample school toilet policy
A written school toilet policy:
- indicates to pupils and parents/carers that the school values and respects the welfare of its students by fulfilling their right to go when they need to,
- shows that all school staff follow the same approach to school toilets and their access,
- means pupils know when they can use the toilet and aren't left worrying whether they'll be told off if they ask to go during a lesson,
- encourages schools to audit the toilets properly so they don't deteriorate over time; and
- ensures pupils' needs are fully taken into account.
Pupils should be actively involved in creating and implementing the policy. It should be approved by pupils and governors, communicated to the whole school and reviewed each year.
Not sure how to start writing a policy? We've done the hard work and produced a template school toilet policy for you.
Download the template school toilet policy.
School toilet charter
Download our School toilet charter