Rise in children starting school in nappies

More children are starting school without being toilet trained, according to a survey by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) and ERIC, The Children’s Bowel & Bladder Charity.

700 education staff working with children between the ages of three to seven (the foundation stage and key stage 1) responded to the survey with 70% saying more children are now starting school without being toilet trained, compared to five years ago. This increased to 100% of staff working with children aged three to five.

Anecdotally, members generally felt this was due to children not being trained at home, before starting school, as well as the reliance on pull-up nappies.

A foundation stage and key stage 1 (KS1) teacher in a community school said: “There are an increased number of children with developmental needs. A lack of parental engagement in toilet training is also not helped by disposable training pants so children don’t make the link between being wet and the toilet.”

93% said that if a child has a toileting accident in class the teaching assistant (TA) is responsible for dealing with the child; 64% said it was the teacher, and 30% said it was another member of support staff who deals with the child.

Many members said they were concerned that the amount of time staff are having to spend dealing with a pupil who has a toileting incident means they have less time to spend with the rest of the class.

A foundation stage teacher at a maintained school said: “Toileting issues take me away from teaching for a greater amount of time. With only two adults in the class it can be difficult to ensure two adults are present when changing a child.”

A reception teacher in a faith school said: “Our policy is that two members of staff must be present but this just isn’t feasible when there are only two of you in the classroom and the toilets are not in, or next to, the classrooms. School toilets are not designed for changing children. I end up supplying wipes, gloves, bags and even spare underwear from my own pocket. Accidents do happen but the expectation that I am part of the toilet training process is a step too far, I believe.”

Although schools cannot refuse to admit a child on the basis they are not fully toilet trained, as this is deemed discriminatory, many members feel their schools are having to provide this training. And, unfortunately, almost a third (31%) said their school does not provide any written information to parents about ensuring their child is toilet trained before starting school.

A foundation teacher in a community faith school said: “I have two children in my class of 30 with continence problems and about three with regular toileting problems.”

A KS1 teacher in a maintained school said: “More needs to be done to support parents. I don’t mind changing children when they have accidents, but potty training several children and teaching is not possible.”

A foundation teacher said: “I teach in a nursery unit, so toilet training is part of our early curriculum. We remind children to go to the toilet and work alongside parents to train their children, if they are not already in process. We ensure that the child is changed by their key person to enable the secure bond to establish.”

A member of management/leadership group in KS2 said: “My school tries to train children to use the toilet at appropriate times to save interruptions to lessons. Children with known medical conditions can always visit the toilet when they need to. Parents are sometimes called into nursery to clean or change their children where staffing ratios do not allow school staff to do this.”

60% said they have never received information about how to deal with children who have continence problems. And a further 75% said their job description does not specify that they deal with children with continence problems.

Although 77% of education staff said they feel confident they could identify a child with ongoing continence problems, as opposed to occasional toileting accidents, 29% said they do not think they have a good enough understanding of the reasons, either medical, physical or psychological, that might cause continence problems in children.

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of ATL, said: “The majority of education staff have excessive workloads and are at breaking point, without the added pressure of having to deal with children who have had a toileting incident and having to take time out of the class to deal with them.

“Schools should work collaboratively with parents to address and support any child that may need toilet training so that less disruption is caused during the school day. Schools also need to ensure that they provide staff with clear guidance on how to deal with both toileting incidents and the rising number of continence problems so that they know what is expected of them.”

Juliette Randall, Chief Executive of ERIC, said: “Supplying parents with information about potty training as part of their child’s two year development reviews, and at nursery, should give them ample time to train their child and to inform the school if they won’t be trained in time, or if they develop a problem like constipation and soiling.

“A crucial step to managing the rise in toileting issues is to combat the myth that two members of staff need to be present when changing a child. When a member of staff takes care of a child’s personal hygiene, another member must be informed of their intentions, must be in the vicinity and must be visible or audible, but they do not need to be physically present in the same place where the child is being changed. So there is no need to call in a parent to change a child.

“Children who have continence conditions may need an individual health care plan. The plan details what support they will receive at school and who will be responsible for their care and helps schools manage regular wetting and soiling accidents.”

Notes to editors

  1. ATL surveyed 835 education staff in state-funded schools in England throughout August 2016.
  2. A child is considered to be toilet trained if they can remain clean and dry during the day and can use the toilet fairly independently. This means they know when they want to go and are able to react by using the toilet. Toileting accidents can occur if a child knows they need to go to the toilet but doesn’t get there in time e.g. because the child isn’t allowed or able to leave the classroom. Wetting and soiling accidents can also occur if a child has a continence problem (such as constipation which can cause soiling). The child cannot control these leakages.
  3. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) is an independent, registered trade union and professional association, representing approximately 170,000 teachers, headteachers, lecturers and support staff in maintained and independent nurseries, schools, sixth form, further and higher education colleges and universities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  4. ERIC is a national charity dedicated to helping children and teenagers with bowel and bladder conditions, and their families, live free from the shame, fear, embarrassment and isolation associated with these conditions
  5. ERIC’s Guide to Potty Training is a great starting point for parents and carers encountering toilet training difficulties.
  6. Schools struggling to deal with toileting incidents should read our Help at school guidance for further information.
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