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The school toilet challenge

Published 17th August, 2023 by Neil Nixon

The school toilet challenge

School washrooms have become a battleground as issues such as vandalism, drug-taking and non-binary requirements cause friction between students and staff. Liam Mynes from Tork manufacturer Essity looks at some easy 'wins' that can help to improve the school washroom experience.

A BBC Newsround investigation in July highlighted some of the growing problems associated with school washrooms. After extensive interviews with students and teachers it emerged that many children are now being banned from using the toilets during lessons and that washrooms are routinely being locked between break periods.

This has resulted in long queues to use the loos during lunch and break times, with some pupils admitting to reducing their water intake to avoid having to use the facilities. And this is causing anxiety, tension and discomfort.

School washrooms are being locked during class for a variety of reasons. Some staff members claim it can be disruptive when students are constantly leaving lessons to use the toilets. Others are keen to restrict practices such as drug-taking and vaping – both activities that tend to occur in the private washroom space.

Bullying is also a problem in some school toilets. And vandalism can be another issue – as demonstrated by a TikTok craze that swept the world in autumn 2021. The 'Devious Licks' challenge originated in the US and prompted students worldwide to vandalise their school washrooms. They would rip off dispensers, break mirrors and smash sinks and urinals, and then post evidence of this destruction on to social media. The craze lasted for several months and led to millions of pounds’ worth of damage being carried out in washrooms worldwide.

So, perhaps it is no surprise that educational establishments are choosing to lock student toilets between breaks to curb vandalism, bullying, drug-taking, vaping and disrupted lessons. Some are going even further and installing cameras to oversee what goes on in the washroom, along with heat sensors to curb vaping. And in some cases, outer washroom doors are being removed altogether to render the facilities more visible. But these moves have led to complaints among pupils and parents who regard them as an invasion of privacy.

However, most schools have the best interest of students at heart and are merely striving to create an environment where pupils feel safe and valued. Some are making the washrooms gender-neutral to ensure that non-binary students feel comfortable. But even this has sparked a backlash, with some pupils and parents objecting to their 11-year-old girls having to share toilets with sixth-form male students.

So in other words, there is a clear division between students and teachers regarding how school toilets should be managed and configured. But what can be done to alter the situation to everyone’s advantage?

It is entirely understandable that pupils feel uncomfortable when cameras are installed in their washrooms and when the facilities become “open plan” with minimal privacy. So it makes sense to ensure instead that activities such as vandalism and drug-taking become more problematical for students.

The provision of robust, sturdy, lockable dispensers such as Tork Elevation units will help to frustrate the more destructive tendencies of pupils. Drug use in the washrooms requires a flat surface plus a few nooks and crannies where drug paraphernalia can be stored. The toilets should therefore be designed and equipped to eliminate these features. For example, the Tork SmartOne toilet tissue system works well in schools because the dispenser contains no flat surfaces or crevices where drug paraphernalia may be used or stored. The dispenser is also designed to give out only one sheet at a time, reducing consumption and helping to prevent run-outs.

In schools where the washrooms are locked during lessons, every effort should be made to speed up toilet throughput so that all pupils can use the washrooms at break time. Queues will inevitably build up when the soap and paper supplies have been depleted, so all dispensers should have a high capacity and be kept topped up on a continual basis. And they should be designed to prevent over-consumption so that run-outs during busy periods are avoided.

Tork Foam Soaps work well in schools because each long-lasting cartridge serves up to 1650 visitors to ensure a long-lasting supply. The sealed cartridge can be replaced in seconds by the cleaner, and a particularly low push-force is required to operate the dispenser which makes it easy to use for younger pupils while also speeding up access to the soap.

Hand dryers can lead to long queues since they require washroom visitors to stand and wait for their hands to be thoroughly dried. However, a high-capacity hand towel dispenser will allow visitors to take a towel and move on, drying their hands as they go while freeing up the unit for the next user. The Tork PeakServe Continuous Hand Towel Dispenser caters for more than 1000 pupils between refills and delivers each towel in just three seconds, reducing the user’s waiting time. The towels are divided into bundles and a new bundle may be inserted into the unit at any time. And the dispenser has been designed to give out sheets of paper singly to avoid excess use and run-outs.

Dispenser refill levels can be managed more efficiently with the aid of technology. For example, Tork Vision Cleaning allows cleaners to check on refill requirements and cleaning needs via a smartphone or tablet. Data on dispenser levels and frequency of washroom use are logged via a network of sensors and this data is uploaded to the internet. Cleaners are then able to target those washrooms that need extra attention.

Various other steps can be taken to improve the washroom experience for pupils. Clean, fresh paint and good lighting will make the facilities appear more sanitary and welcoming, while air fresheners will help to eliminate bad smells. And children should be educated on hand hygiene and its role in controlling infections. The Tork Max Education Toolkit includes workbooks, activity cards and posters to help promote hand washing in schools, for example.

Everyone expects to have round-the-clock access to clean, comfortable washrooms and our young people are no exception. It therefore makes sense to equip school toilets with systems that ensure a long-lasting supply of soap and paper and that discourage bad practices so that everyone can use them with confidence.

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