Suggestions for good school toilet design
- Pupils should feel comfortable and safe when using the toilet.
- Well designed and aesthetically pleasing toilets lift the spirits.
- When planning pupils' toilets, pupils should be involved as much as possible to encourage ownership and pride and improve behaviour. This could be as simple as choosing colours and fixtures and designing decorations such as a mural.
- Younger pupils favour vivid colours and designs but we have also seen more sophisticated, muted colours used to great effect.
- Privacy is important. Consider sight lines from outside the facilities through an open door or what can be seen via mirrors. Ensure cubicle partitions and doors allow sufficient privacy
- Integrated plumbing systems hide away ugly piping that is also a dirt-trap. Many school toilets and washrooms are disfigured by pipe work.
- Toilets need to be sufficiently heated to be comfortable in winter. Toilets that rely on open windows for ventilation will be too cold in winter. Mechanical ventilation is a building requirement.
- Consider ease of cleaning when designing toilets. Most pupils' toilets need cleaning at least twice a day. An extended day may increase this to three or more times. Soap dispensers that leak, awkward corners, cracked surfaces and exposed piping all contribute to a dirty environment and make cleaning more time-consuming, adding to costs.
- Music systems could be wired in; this not only creates a more relaxed and calmer environment, but also helps conceal embarrassing noises. Classical music can deter lingering.
- Special attention needs to be paid to the specification of false ceilings. These need to be robust and easy to clean and maintain. Access panels should be visible and lockable and not able to be opened by pupils.
Investing in good design and high quality products, best suited to withstanding the rigours of school life, may initially cost more but in the longer term usually saves money.
Current thinking favours:
- positioning smaller sets of toilets within the heart of a school near staff areas, such as opposite offices or staff work rooms.
- positioning at least one of the sets to allow easy access from outdoor spaces used during lunch and break times.
- an open plan approach incorporating clear sight lines.
- eliminating hidden corners.
- the adoption of hand-washing areas open to circulation areas or separated by a glass wall and so easily visible to staff and pupils â€“ which allows for passive supervision of the toilets
eliminating entrance and exit doors.
- ensuring there are no views directly into cubicles, urinals or sanitary disposal/vending machines.
- the provision of a number of all-in-one toilet cubicles with their own washing facilities within floor to ceiling cubicles and doors, accessible to those with disabilities. These offer enhanced privacy. They can be sited directly off circulation areas. Provision for obtaining sanitary products should be provided, ideally within more than one toilet.
- attaching toilets to each classroom or pair/cluster of classrooms, offering easy accessibility and surveillance, reducing the institutional feel of the toilets while encouraging feelings of ownership.
- where possible, allowing access from within classrooms and also from recreation areas.
positioning additional toilets next to changing rooms, dining halls, playgrounds etc.
- avoiding toilets at the outer reaches of the school where few adults venture.
A review by the University of Newcastle on colour in the school environment found that colour was a high priority for pupils. Our findings on what pupils want from school toilets echo this.
. The review confirmed that there were differences in preference between girls and boys and between ages. Younger children prefer bright colours and patterns while adolescents prefer more sophisticated, subdued colours. Pupils should be consulted on colour choices, ideally with colour samples. They may need to be guided to think about the effect colours can have on our mood and behaviour. It is wise to consult pupils on other aspects as well as colour; pupils can rightly feel marginalised when their only input into the toilets is the choice of colour.
- Floor surface should be easy to clean with readily available products and as smooth as possible while still meeting slip-resistance requirements.
- The material should be impervious to water, with watertight joints to enable it to be washed down without water passing through to the sub floor.
- The floor finish should have an integral 100mm high coved skirting in matching material and finish so that the floor can be washed without risk of damage to the wall finish. Avoid sharp angles that make cleaning more difficult.
- Consider integral gullies (effectively sealed to the floor finish) to allow for the entire area to be sluiced regularly.
- Materials should be as smooth as possible and easily cleaned with readily available products.
- The material should be impervious to water, with watertight joints to enable it to be washed down without water passing through to the wall/partition behind. The joint between the wall finish and the integral skirting should be sealed against water and dirt.
- Toilets should be adequately lit. This increases feelings of safety and makes toilets look cleaner.
- Ensure adequate lighting within individual cubicles.
- Strip lighting can spoil an otherwise nicely designed toilet.
- Try and incorporate natural lighting; consider light wells.
- Occupancy sensing lighting could be used â€“ care should be taken to avoid a blackout while a pupil is the toilets and sensors must cover movement within individual cubicles.
- Or switches could be placed out of reach of pranksters â€“ only practical for the very young.
- Smells can be a problem. Consider ways of addressing this, such as air purification units, mechanical ventilation and automatically flushing toilets. Mechanical ventilation systems are required by building regulations.
- An open window is not always adequate or practical (especially in winter but also on still warm, days) and may jeopardise privacy or safety,
- If windows need to be opened for ventilation, they should not be placed in view of urinals or the inside of a cubicle.
- Individual rooms encompassing toilet and wash basin need their own ventilation systems.
- Toilet cubicles with floor to ceiling partitions and doors to enhance pupil privacy, may also need ventilation systems within each cubicle.
Toilets should be designed to facilitate cleaning and minimise places where dirt and germs can build up. This includes:
- Concealing pipes and plumbing
- Choosing floors and materials which are easy to clean and with continuous surfaces
- Avoiding sharp corners and sharp edges between floor and walls
- Minimising joints and trims
Hygiene is also important on the way out of a toilet area so that hands are not re-contaminated after washing. Washrooms can be designed without outer doors which eliminates the need for handling doors and avoids pupils feeling shut in and cut off in a washroom.
Sensor operated touch-free fixtures (such as taps, soap dispensers, hand dryers and toilet flushes) that activate on demand offer several benefits:
- Reduction in wear and tear and less opportunity for damage through handling
- More control over energy and water consumption in schools than manual units. For example, instead of water continuously running from the tap during hand washing or when the tap is accidentally left on, these units activate only when a user’s hands are under the spout. Unlike taps that have to be manually depressed, sensor-operated taps are hands-free, easy to use and do not cut off at an arbitrary time.
- Hygiene and safety benefits include less exposure to germs, ensuring cleaner and more hygienic toilets with greatly reduced opportunities for cross-contamination.
Integrated plumbing system (IPS)
- Integrated Plumbing System (IPS), where panels conceal cisterns and pipes, should be used.
- IPS greatly improves aesthetics and avoids the dirt trap and cleaning problems of exposed piping.
- Access panels should be lockable and not able to be opened by pupils.
Cubicles and cubicle doors
- Ceiling hung systems are preferable to floor-mounted systems as they avoid dirt and germs building up and make effective cleaning far easier. They do, however, add to costs.
- The gap between the ceiling and cubicles/doors should be minimised to increase privacy and at secondary school level preferably omitted to maximise privacy.
- Where easy cleaning is a priority over privacy, cubicles and doors should be spaced no more than 100mm off the floor finish level to allow access for cleaning. The spacing distance should not be greater than 100mm as this may jeopardise users’ privacy.
- At secondary school level privacy is particularly important. In any self-contained toilet rooms opening directly off a corridor or circulation area, or mixed sex toilets, or shared cubicles, privacy is paramount and outweighs easy cleaning. ‘Self-contained’ means an individual room with toilet and washbasin within.
- There should not be gaps where the hinges are [American manufacturers and fitters please take note!].
- In boys’ toilets, the number of cubicles should be at least equal to the number of urinals.
- Doors need to be securely fixed to the walls or partitions, so that a door cannot be lifted off its hinges. Door closures should be robust and close gently against the frame to avoid trapped fingers.
- Cubicles need to be robust enough to withstand normal wear and tear (which can mean wilful or accidental damage).
- Toilets and fittings should be the right size for the pupils expected to use them.
- All doors (with the exception of cubicles for those under the age of five) need locks which are easy to operate from inside the cubicle. Pupils should not be able to easily unlock doors from the outside. However, a special tool or key must be available to open doors from the outside, for teachers and/or prefects to use in an emergency. Schools need to consider the storage location of the key if the toilets are not located close to where staff are sited.
- The school should hold spare replacement locks.
Separation between cubicles and hand wash areas
- From the hand wash area there should be a clear view of the area outside the toilet cubicles to help deter bad behaviour and vandalism.
- A glass door (or a solid door with clear vision panels) would provide an acoustic separation and a barrier against drifting smells.
- If, however, cleaning is of a high standard and ventilation systems are properly maintained, there may be no need for a door here, eliminating the potential for the cross-contamination of infections that arise from using the door handle.
- Alternatively the glass door may be installed with an automatic opening device.
Toilet pans, lids and cisterns
- The toilets should preferably be wall hung to avoid dirt and germ build-up around the floor junction. Lifting the pan off the floor makes for easier and far more effective cleaning.
- All toilets should have seats fitted with robust fittings.
- Ones with an opening at the front may be most hygienic but may not be the most aesthetic.
- Toilet lids should be fitted to toilet pans to avoid the contents being sprayed around the cubicle and pupil during flushing.
- Top fitting toilet pan seats and lids should be top fitted as these are considered more durable.
- Try and avoid the institutional black toilet seat and lid; colourful seats and lids are much more attractive.
- The cistern and associated pipe work should be concealed for aesthetic reasons and to avoid dirt and germ build up - and associated extra cleaning.
- The flushing mechanism should ideally be automatic sensor operated to avoid the germ transfer that occurs with traditional touch operated flushing mechanisms and to avoid the contents being left behind when a pupil fails to flush.
- Although some schools choose stainless steel toilet pans, it is worth noting that keeping it clean and free of stains is problematic and will involve extra cleaning. It also feels prison-like and may encourage anti-social behaviour.
- The flush needs to be easy to use.
- Urinals can be problematic, especially for adolescent boys who may need more privacy, and also for boys at infant school age that may not be able to cope with the design or height of urinals.
- In boys’ toilets, the number of sit-down toilets in cubicles should be at least equal to the number of urinals.
- Urinals should be positioned so they can’t be seen from outside the toilets when the door is open.
- Mirrors should be positioned so they don't enable people to see urinals or cubicles from the outer door.
- People at washbasins should not be facing those at urinals, or facing a mirror which shows urinals.
- All windows should have frosted glass if urinals or the inside of a cubicle can be seen from them.
- Urinals should be individually screened.
- Urinals can be sited in a cubicle with or without doors (the cubicle walls act as screening)
- Trough (communal) urinals should be avoided.
- Avoid exposed pipework which looks unsightly and is a dirt-trap - with associated extra cleaning.
Normally we are not fans of urinals. Our sponsor Armitage Shanks, however, has revolutionised the design of urinals to create the ‘HygeniQ Urinal’. Their new design has virtually eliminated the staining, corrosive and unhygienic splash-back of urine on surrounding floors, walls, fixtures and clothing. It is ideal for use in schools either as a retro-fit or in new installations and is quick and simple to install. The result is cleaner and more hygienic toilet areas as well as increased aesthetics. Telephone Armitage Shanks' Information Service for Schools: 01543 413387 or visit www.hygeniq.co.uk
Toilet paper dispensers
- Controlled feed dispensers (allowing just one piece of toilet paper per pull) is preferable to sheet type dispensers which often clump and come out in batches of several sheets.
- Whatever type is chosen, the dispenser should be a closed dispenser (fitted with a lock to prevent pupil interference) as regular open roll domestic dispensers are unsuitable and unhygienic for use in schools.
- Toilet paper dispensers should be sturdy. If they are bolted back to back between cubicles, they are more durable.
- Toilet roll dispensers should be big enough to hold commercial size rolls, unless the school checks and replace toilet paper several times during the day.
- The dispenser should always be fitted with soft absorbent paper. Shiny transparent paper is ineffective and can result in urine or faeces transferred to hands as well as contribute to sore skin and urinary infections.
- A lockable cupboard for spare toilet paper should ideally be sited close by.
Sanitary product disposal and dispensers for girls
- Sanitary disposal facilities should be provided for all girls aged eight and over. It is recommended that these are provided in each cubicle to provide privacy and protect the modesty of girls menstruating at a sensitive age.
- Ordinary bins are not sufficient
- There needs to be sufficient space beside the toilet pan to comfortably locate a disposal bin.
- Sanitary disposal units should be emptied and cleaned sufficiently often by a registered company to stop them becoming over-full or odorous
Girls from the age of eight and over need access to emergency sanitary products at any time during the school day. At secondary school level the schools should provide sanitary dispensers in each set of female toilets. For maximum privacy, a vending machine should be situated so that a pupil can use it without being witnessed by a boy or from circulation areas outside the toilets. A private location within a common area used by females only, rather than an individual cubicle, is preferable. Alternative supplies should also be provided in case a pupil does not have money with her.
At primary level girls may not carry money with them so alternative arrangements may be necessary. To minimise embarrassment, a cupboard supply within appropriate toilet blocks is preferable to supplies held at a school office.
- Wash basins must be sited adjacent or close to toilets and urinals.
- Government guidance ‘Toilets for Schools’ recommends a more aesthetic multi-tap wash trough as opposed to the traditional and institutional-look, long row of washbasins which can take up a lot of space and are time-consuming to clean. For more details see page 22 of the guidance.
- If a row of washbasins, it is preferable for them to be fitted under a countertop (or a built-in vanity unit with lockable storage space to conceal pipe work). This improves aesthetics and reduces cleaning. It also provides cupboard space for sanitary supplies for girls.
- Splash backs should be impervious to water and have as few joins and grouting as possible; ideally one unbroken surface to avoid the dirt, germ and mould build up typical of grouting between tiles. The joint between the wash basin and the splash back should be sealed against water and dirt.
- To avoid dirt and germ build up around taps that are deck-mounted, taps should be wall mounted.
- The taps should be sensor operated and turn off automatically with less than one litre of use. This will avoid the germ transfer that happens with traditional touch operated mechanisms. It will also save water and minimise the risk of potential flooding.
- If push taps are used, they need to stay on long enough for pupils to wash their hands properly.
- For safety, the water supply to the taps should be at a pre-mixed temperature of a maximum of 41oC as set out by the Thermostatic Mixing Valve Association.
- Cold water is a good way for pupils to cool down in summer, but warm water should also be available.
- Washrooms taps should be labelled as non-drinking water. For aesthetic reasons, a small general notice in the washroom area will suffice.
- Cartridge type dispensers should be used for soap, as liquid soap that can be ‘topped up’ can become contaminated. Liquid soap in replaceable cartridges avoids this potential health risk.
- A minimum of one soap dispenser should be provided per two wash basins.
- Foam is considered less messy than liquid soap.
- Drip-free soap dispensers make less mess.
- Communal bars of soap are unappealing and are a source of infection.
- To encourage use and avoid water drips, soap dispensers should be adjacent to wash basins. Ease of use is paramount. Having to walk to or having to stretch to use soap, discourages hand washing.
- Hand-drying provision needs to enable large numbers of users to dry their hands in a limited time frame.
- Adequate numbers of hand drying facilities, sited as close to basins as possible, encourage hand hygiene. Where wall space is limited consider dispensers mounted on full- or half-height hollow central pillars (wiring could be within pillars). Few washroom facilities provide a sufficient number of dryers.
- The new design high efficiency, high velocity, unheated, air sheet hand dryers (with NSF hygiene certification) are recommended and will reduce paper cost and wastage, the mess of paper towels, as well as the potential for washbasin blockage and flooding.
- Conventional dryers are not recommended (these work by heating up the air – warming moist bacteria is the perfect way of increasing their reproduction rate so you may end up with more bacteria on your hands than you started with).
- Paper towels in holders are recommended from a hygiene point of view.
- Roller towels are not recommended but, if used, should be part of daily inspection/monitoring and should be changed if visibly dirty, wet, have been pulled off the wall, are hanging down or have come to the end of the roll.
Pupils with disabilities or with special needs
- Pupils with disabilities must have fully accessible toilets, which can be accessed quickly and easily from wherever they are in the school. This is not restricted to special schools, as there are pupils with disabilities in mainstream schools.
- Access to toilets for those with disabilities can be with an electronic key, to prevent other pupils using the toilets.
- BS8300 and Part M of the Building Regulations refer to toilets for the disabled, and require any toilet room with more than 4 cubicles to have an accessible cubicle.
- There must be no steps or other obstacles that would cause difficulties for a wheelchair user or person with limited mobility. Provision should also be made for users with hearing, sight or other sensory impairment.
- Cubicles must be big enough to manoeuvre a wheelchair. They need to have handrails fitted at appropriate heights. They must also be able to accommodate a hoist and a member of staff (as some users will need assistance).
- Some users will have poor grip, co-ordination problems and/or limited mobility. Taps and soap dispensers need to take account of this.
- The requirements of pupils with other special needs should also be considered e.g. those with health conditions such as Crohn’s disease, Ulcerative Colitis, IBS and cystic fibrosis, as well as girls during periods of menstruation and any pupil with temporary or long-term continence problems. All require easy access to private toilets with their own washing facilities and appropriate disposal facilities. Some pupils with learning difficulties may find it hard to locate toilets that are far from classrooms.
- Further information is available in our factsheet Building regulations on toilets for pupils with disabilities
Location of school toilets
Modern design favours an open plan approach incorporating clear sight lines, eliminating hidden corners and the adoption of hand-washing areas (that may be mixed sex, if appropriate), easily visible outside the washroom area and open to circulation areas – which allows staff to passively supervise the toilets. Toilets should be sited within the heart of a school rather than at its far reaches.
- Toilets should ideally be sited adjacent to or opposite adult areas e.g. an office.
- Currently many pupils have to travel some distance within the school to get to the toilet. This can make teachers reluctant to let pupils out of class to visit the toilet. Toilets located away from classrooms present particular difficulties for pupils with special needs.
- Toilets attached to each classroom or cluster of classrooms are a particularly good solution for younger pupils. These allow pupils easier access to toilets during lessons and enable teachers to keep a closer eye on pupils.
- In some schools, pupils are not allowed to go to the toilet at certain times because teachers do not want them inside the building during break. Toilets which can be accessed directly from outdoor recreation spaces, as well as from the inside of the building, could solve this problem.
- Toilets located throughout the school makes visiting them easier (particularly for pupils who have difficulty 'holding on'). It also means pupils will not be wandering around the corridors.
- If practical, toilets for specific year groups could be provided, in addition to general toilets. This would help diminish the fear of intimidation.
- Toilets need to be near playing fields and next to playgrounds. Purpose-built ‘pods’ (built off site) are one solution. Some are self-cleaning.
- Rooms where exams may be taken should also have toilets close by. These include assembly halls and sports halls.
- Drinking water facilities should not be sited in a toilet area. Pupils should not be expected to drink from wash basin taps.
Ideas for combating vandalism
Some of the architects and schools that we have spoken to argue that there is no point investing in toilets as pupils wreck them. Therefore, you might as well build as cheaply as possible, to minimise replacement costs. There are pupils who vandalise toilets, but ideally we should design for the majority of pupils who deserve decent toilets, not the minority.
High-quality toilets, odour-free with good décor, cleanliness, fixtures, fittings and supplies are all essential to ensure school facilities are valued.
The following is a list of ideas to help reduce vandalism:
- Solid plastic panels for partitions that are bolted together with tamper-proof fasteners.
- Cubicle doors with sturdy hinges and double bracing on both sides.
- Push-button or foot-operated flushes or sensor operated flushes.
- Concealed plumbing systems with tamper proof fastenings.
- Sensor operated taps that turn off automatically minimise the risk of flooding.
- Smoke alarms wired to the school office.
- Voice message anti-smoking systems. These detect smoke and deliver a message of your choice.
- Speech Pod Passive Voice Module. Messages can be recorded by pupil/staff and activated by motion sensor e.g. Have you flushed the toilet?; Please wash your hands!; There is a lunchtime meeting today for Bronze DofE participants.
- CCTV at the entrance to the toilet or in the washroom area (provided it does not see into the cubicles or urinals). Cameras must be fixed firmly enough so that pupils cannot turn or remove them. It is advisable to consult conspicuously with pupils and parents before their introduction as CCTV is a contentious issue. CCTV may only have a temporary effect.
- Classical music piped into the toilets has been found to be effective at deterring lingering and anti-social behaviour.
- Entry systems which take photos of pupils entering the toilets at the main entrance/exit when a button is pressed. It is advisable to consult with pupils on this issue.
- A mixed set of toilets (in addition to single-sex toilets) which has separate toilet areas for boys and girls, but unisex wash basin areas.
- A toilet attendant who doubles as cleaner giving security and high standards of cleanliness and hygiene. A mixed set of toilets allows an attendant to monitor one set of toilets this way.
- Compact, self-contained toilet and hand washing rooms discourage groups of pupils from hanging around in them. They also offer accessibility and extra privacy. They may, however, increase the chance of more than one pupil entering the toilet.
- Toilet pods which are manufactured in a seamless material.
- Although stainless steel toilet pans and sinks are one of the options, it is worth noting that some schools have found keeping them clean problematic – and in some schools they have attracted poor behaviour because of their prison-like feel.
- Provide attractive indoor social areas. If pupils have to spend breaks outside, even when it is cold, they will naturally want to escape and toilets provide a place to congregate.
- Involve the pupils in design ideas and choosing fixtures and fittings and colours.
- Have a rolling programme of refurbishments; make the best-maintained toilets the first to get refurbished.
- Involve the school council in budgets for the school toilets; better still, hand over part of the budget or the whole budget to them.
- Involve the pupils in upkeep and management. For example, after peak periods of use, a rota of pupils can check the toilets, flush the toilets, put rubbish in the bins, and report any deficiencies.
- Investigate the root causes. It is easy to blame the pupils, but misuse of toilets may be symptomatic of poor toilets and even of wider issues within a school.
The advantage of using CCTV, filmed entry systems and ‘unisex’ hand washing areas is that pupils’ toilets can remain open during the day. Some schools currently lock the toilets for part of the day, a practice which should be avoided.
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