Bog Standard

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John Dabell

I trained as a primary school teacher 25 years ago, starting my career in London and then I taught in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs, I worked as an Ofsted inspector (no hate mail please!), national in-service provider, project...
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Should children be allowed to visit the toilet during lessons?

There must be thousands of teachers who have said something like,

“You’ll just have to hang on and wait until it’s break time. You should have gone before!”

Having children leave your lesson to visit the toilet can be disruptive and when one goes, they all want to go. But ‘hanging on’ is bad for our health. When nature calls, focus and concentration soon disappear because the only thing on your mind is relieving yourself. Delaying going to the toilet is immensely uncomfortable.

But what happens when a teacher says no? All hell can break loose if you are not careful.

No Go Areas

It’s a tough call to make because disappearing off to the toilet can sometimes be an excuse for some children to get out of class. You’ve got to ‘know the child’ and your experience and instincts can normally tell you who’s for real and who isn’t. Children jumping up and down with their hands sandwiched whilst making peculiar noises doesn’t always mean they need to go – it’s a tactic children use.

Not always though. Obviously there are many children who just need to go when they need to go and if that’s right at the start of the lesson or half-way through one of your wow lessons or during an inspection, then they need to go.

The problem is, not everyone visits the loo according to the break time schedule and when you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go, haven’t you? Not quite, some children actually ‘hang-on’ during break because they don’t get the privacy they need during a busy break time. A comfort break can be quite the opposite when bullies are around and the toilets are a ‘no go’ area.

Needing the loo is one of the basics of life and no one should be told they can’t go…should they?

Spend A Penny

Some schools have a no toilet break policy during lessons. Archbishop Sentamu Academy in Hull recently announced that its 1,400 students would not be allowed to leave lessons for a toilet break.

The school have said that students with a medical reason wouldn’t be refused permission but by denying children the opportunity to go when they naturally need to can actually lead to medical problems.

Many parents have expressed concern because they don’t want their children to be in pain and have bladder problems as these can lead to infections. Some children may suffer severe problems such as constipation lasting for several weeks.

It is very easy to see why schools make a no toilet during lessons rule because lesson time is learning time and it can be hugely disruptive having students coming and going every five minutes.

However, the negative impact on pupils must be recognised physically, psychologically and socially. What happens if a teacher says no and then that child ends up ‘going in class’. The embarrassment alone would destroy the confidence of many children. Imagine sitting in the staffroom and this happening to you?

Just Go

Children have to be allowed to visit the toilet and no one should be told to “hold it in”, quite simply, it’s better out than in. ‘Hanging on’ puts the body and mind under stress and so threatens the health and wellbeing of children. A ‘no toilet’ policy is counter-productive and risky and the effects of not being able to go can be traumatic and trigger long term phobias.

ERIC, the Education and Resources for Improving Childhood continence, is the only charity dedicated to the bowel and bladder health of all children and teenagers in the UK. They say,

“In many schools the fear that pupils will take advantage of their freedom to mess around in the toilets overrides the importance of bowel and bladder health. At ERIC, we think this is unacceptable.”

“Some children will have bladder conditions which mean they need to wee urgently and frequently, others will have bowel conditions like constipation. When these children need to have a bowel or bladder movement, they have to go and shouldn’t be told to ‘hold on’. If they’re afraid to ask to go to the toilet, this may make their continence problem worse and reduce their ability to manage or overcome it. For small children it may negatively affect their ability to learn to use the loo. Banning toilet breaks during lessons can also create continence problems when children are forced to hold on or stop drinking and/or eating to avoid the urge to use the toilet.”

The Right to Go campaign aims to uphold children’s right to visit the loo, especially for children and teenagers with bowel and bladder problems.

The ERIC website is well worth a visit and contains plenty of advice and guidance including  ‘The Right to Go School Toilet Charter’ which states that children should be allowed “access to decent toilets whenever the need arises is a fundamental human right and necessary for good health and wellbeing.”

If a school wants to soil its reputation and place unnecessary extra pressures on their teachers to enforce ridiculous toilet bans then they need to STOP. Not being allowed to empty the bladder and bowels when needed can lead to serious health problems. Health and wellbeing come first. Everyone has the right to go.

6 thoughts on “Bog Standard

  1. A colleague of mine recently suggested an interesting solution. If a student goes to the toilet in your lesson, they have to stay behind during break/lunchtime for the amount of time they are out of the classroom. Students who are genuinely desperate are happy to sacrifice 3 minutes of their break time. Students who are asking to go to the toilet so that they can send text messages are less likely to go if they have to sacrifice some of their break time.

  2. I don’t understand. You make a valid point, explain the difficulties that it poses, but offer no experience/methods/advice in how to manage the problem effectively. I don’t understand the point of this other than to raise the issue but that could have been done in one question, unless you do actually have any strategies teachers or schools as a whole can use?

  3. I read a child’s body language and let them go if they look desperate, why not,
    Sometimes they don’t visit toilets during playtime and/or lunch time because they want to play and have fun, they don’t want to queue up in toilet,
    Also, I make sure one child goes at one time, so that they don’t spend lesson time in chatting with peers around toilets,
    Other than this, I remind them am watching their time, but surely don’t and can’t say ‘no’ for a desperate need,
    But this article has made me think, why can’t kids have 5 minutes before lesson in morning to visit toilet, and 5 minutes before second lesson in morning,
    they need to be reminded, though, honestly speaking, so, there will be less disruption, kids can visit before morning register, then before second morning lesson, not everybody visits loo but those who want to can have an alloated time,

  4. The big issue that is missing from this article is the one faced by teenage girls with irregular, heavy and unpredictable periods. Forcing a girl to explain that she needs to go to the toilet because this is all new to her and she’s constantly worried that she’s going get up from her seat with an unsightly stain on her clothes just seems cruel and unnecessary. Let her go and check without having to justify herself.

  5. Being a Supply Teacher, this can be a tricky one. If it’s the first time I have been to a school, I always check the ‘toilet protocol’ along with behaviour management, mobile phones etc. Obviously I always try to implement the school’s choice. However, there has been occasions when girls have had that knowing look of “Oh no! It’s arrived and I have nothing.”, in which case I have written a note to cover them in case they get questioned. In other instances, pupils have given me cards which excuse them and I ensure that only one pupil is on the toilet run at any given time. But sometimes if you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go – in which case I can usually determine the urgency.

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