The importance of school washrooms in your anti-bullying strategy
December 2018

School washrooms have been portrayed for some time as a bully's playground and this can unfortunately be the case. A survey by the Children's Parliament claimed that up to 40% of pupils feared the behaviours of others in school toilets, and though it is not breaking news, bullying can have lifelong effects and severely disrupt academic performance. Whilst schools cannot monitor the individual behaviour of each student at all hours of the day, at weekends and more critically now on social media, there are measures that schools can consider to improve the situation, particularly in school washrooms.

So why do washrooms have such a notorious reputation for bullying, and how can schools do more to prevent it? The NSPCC ‘What are children telling us about bullying report 2015/16’ recommends identifying “hot spot areas in schools where bullying is known to happen and introduce ways of patrolling or monitoring these areas - physical bullying usually takes place somewhere out of sight of adults (school toilets were often mentioned)”.

Interviews with students also show that bad hygiene and maintenance of school washrooms poses a negative environment, which hosts the perfect setting for anti-social behaviour to manifest itself in. At Venesta we have worked with many educational facilities, to create aesthetically pleasing spaces which maintain the practicality of being easy to clean, extremely durable and resistant to vandalism, factors all covered in our dedicated education range.

Layout and design

To tackle the root of bullying in washrooms, schools could look at the surroundings that cause it to be a place where children feel the need to display negative behaviour, including acts of vandalism. Creating a washroom environment where vandalism doesn’t fit it in, could result in the mind-set of its users being altered and in turn actually teach them respect. A government guidance document ‘Toilets in Schools’ reports that involving pupils in the design process, increases their sense of pride and ownership of their school buildings, helping to reduce vandalism and bad behaviour. To protect washrooms against decline in appearance, schools can use hardwearing materials such as those used throughout our education range including Solid Grade Laminate (SGL), to form the shell of the washroom; it is water proof, impact and scratch resistant, giving it the best chance of staying intact and like SGL, High Pressure Laminate is also a surface that can be cleaned with ease, especially for graffiti which can substitute as another form of bullying.

The installation of full height cubicles is a popular solution amongst our customers, for obvious reasons, as this will give students peace of mind when using the rest room, by removing the opportunity for others to peep over or under. This may lead to worries about students not being accessible in the case of an emergency, as figures released in 2015, suggested that in London alone there were 1,499 incidents of under eighteens being stuck or trapped. To resolve these concerns there are discreet locking technologies that will allow an adult access to the cubicle in less than 30 seconds, like our one of a kind System M, or rapid release indicator bolts featured as standard on all Venesta cubicles.

Urinals in male washrooms may also be considered a bullying opportunity. Some schools have abolished urinals altogether and instead only use toilet cubicles, or alternatively install sufficient privacy partitions.

The impact of colour is also often overlooked, but is an inseparable part of our everyday lives. It’s inherent in everything we see and do, playing a major role in our emotion, productivity, communication and learning. While the research is varied it is conclusive; the use of colour can have a significant impact on emotion, which can ultimately influence an individual’s behaviour. Choosing a Venesta washroom will give you the flexibility to choose from 36 inviting colours that can breathe positivity into your environment, even in a low natural light setting, where you can make use of colours that have a high Light Reflective Value (LRV). For secondary school students research points towards the cooler side of a colour palette, which have been shown to help create a peaceful environment that can improve focus and reduce stress, to help overcome negative feelings of irritability, premature fatigue, lack of interest and behavioural problems - we recommend staying away from grey or alternatively pairing it with brighter colours, as it has been known to promote boredom.

Unisex washrooms

A report published by Stonewall in 2017 revealed that 58 per cent of almost 600 transgender students surveyed, are not allowed to use the toilets they feel comfortable in. In recent years more and more schools have taken to installing unisex washrooms in their facilities, which could help ease making the basic decision of using washrooms at school, or the feelings that they are dealing with by the pressure of not having to choose which one.

While the idea of unisex washrooms has been seen as controversial by parents, research has indicated an overall positive message, by reducing bullying in general through easier supervision of communal areas and perhaps even making all students feel on more level ground when using a washroom. The Department for Education and Skills issued guidance in 2015 encouraging all new schools to fit unisex toilets, with the main driver being that it cut down on bullying.

We have continually seen a rise in installations of unisex washrooms since their first introduction in a UK school in 2000, and there are many options schools can consider in terms of layout if parents do express concerns; these include separate labelled cubicles for male and female, or segregated sides of the room with open plan, communal hand washing areas for ease of supervision.

Sadly with 37% of children in the UK suffering from bullying too afraid to speak out about it, those caring for them can take proactive steps to intervene, by making practical improvements to the environment where this action is occurring in the first place. Not every solution mentioned is guaranteed to work for your school, however, by making adjustments to design and layout of these problem areas, you can help to create a safer, fairer and more manageable environment that could form an integral component of your school anti-bullying strategy.

As a global washroom manufacturer and supplier, we have been specifying education washrooms since 1976. Our budget friendly, bespoke, end to end service can offer your school endless possibilities and advice, when designing a perfectly balanced washroom area for specific student needs. To learn more about us, call us on 01474353 333 or visit our website where you can download or order our education range or colour selector brochure and free laminate colour samples, to get the ball rolling.