Weekly Column from the Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta
When I was at school, the toilets were often seen as either a place of refuge or of mischief – depending on whether you were trying to avoid being bullied or busted by a teacher. In the past, it is fair to say that not much thought went into how or where student toilets were built. Fortunately, that’s changing.
The factory-like design of schools meant that toilet blocks were often located well away from other buildings like classrooms. Toilet blocks were also often poorly ventilated and poorly lit. Because of their distance from learning spaces, students literally have to ‘take a trip’ to the toilet, which resulted either in permission being sought, time-limits or interruption to learning. For lots of reasons, this often proved a source of embarrassment, even distress, for some students.
It is often the toilets that are the last to be updated and upgraded in schools. Old-style cubicles offer little privacy with gaps in doors often wide enough to peer through. And as we know, they often become a playground for poor behaviour and bullying.
We now know that many students, even today, avoid using the factory-style toilet blocks during lessons. This has significant implications for both their physical as well as their emotional wellbeing. It can also impact seriously on their learning.
The good news is that in newly designed schools, and where refurbishments are happening, toilets are getting an overhaul. Many Australian schools for example have toilets located within or close to the learning space itself. This not only provides easier access for students/teachers but the fully enclosed cubicles offer greater privacy and safety. More importantly, students can use them whenever they need to. They make the decision not the teacher.
Every student deserves a safe, clean and respectful environment whether that’s inside or outside the learning space.
Greg Whitby AM
Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta