One of our Women’s Rights Network members found out by accident that her daughter’s school had mixed sex toilets. This is an account of how she successfully challenged that policy.
“A fellow WRN member told me that she was put off applying to my daughter’s secondary school for her child because of mixed toilets. I had no idea this was the case and asked my daughter and her friends. Every one of them told me how uncomfortable they felt, that boys questioned why they took a bag into the toilet, and the stigma of going into the cubicles with a sign indicating that it had a sanitary bin. One girl told me she was avoiding drinking before or at school so as to try not to use the toilets.
I made a commitment to them that I would challenge this.
I sent this email to the Headteacher, Chair of Governors and to the diocese which has oversight of the school:
My daughter recently started in Year 7 at [school]. Because of lockdown we did not have an opportunity to visit the school in Year 6, so I was shocked to learn that all toilet facilities in the school are mixed sex.
I consider that this does not meet the needs of girls in the school. Single sex toilet facilities are recognised as being important for girls, who require privacy, sanitary disposal facilities, an opportunity to wash hands in privacy, and spaces where they can feel safe.
The DfE document ‘Gender separation in mixed schools’ 2018 clearly states: “separate toilet and washing facilities must be provided for boys and girls aged 8 and over pursuant to Regulation 4 of the School Premises (England) Regulations 2012, which falls within the exemption provided for in Schedule 22 of the Equality Act 2010”. This document can be found here: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/719398/Gender-separation-guidance.pdf?fbclid=IwAR39IL5UlLxmNI2v1s9l8FaljK4QFSQy9AdzBBqozW4UrHycESrfSWtd5rc; I quote from paragraph 13.
Please can you let me know how soon the school will be able to change toilet facilities to bring them in line with this, and to ensure that my daughter’s legal rights, and those of other girls in the school, are protected.
I received a reply from the Head sending me photographs of the facilities, stating that this layout is common in schools and offering me a visit, which I took up.
The Head met me and walked me round the toilet facilities. These were mixed blocks, with male and female signs on some individual cubicle doors. In conversation the Head told me that the guidance I had linked is non-statutory, and the design was signed off by the local authority.
“You have to understand”, he told me, “that we have children identifying as a many genders here”.
“Maybe, but they ALL have a SEX” I replied.
He told me that no child has reported any concern about the facilities; I asked him whether he thought a 13-year-old girl would feel comfortable coming to her male headteacher to say she was embarrassed about washing menstrual blood from her hands in public. His embarrassment with this thought was palpable.
The Head referred me to the local authority, who responded saying it was a matter for the school; the diocese emailed to say I needed to take it up with the Head. Fed up of being given the run around, I wrote to all of the local authority councillors for the ward in which I live, the ward in which the school sits, and the Education lead member. I also attended a surgery where again I gave graphic descriptions of menstrual accidents to men.
At this point I struck very lucky, as one of the ward councillors, Gareth, responded very sympathetically – I suspect he has a teenage daughter as I did not need to explain why toilet dignity is important for girls.
Gareth is also the deputy leader of the council, and since then has become the prospective parliamentary candidate. Gareth weighed in supporting my viewpoint with both the school and the local authority.
Initially Gareth was also given a brush off, being told initially by the local authority that the set up was in line with guidance and the responsibility of the school. I replied that:
“whilst the DfE guidance is indeed non-statutory, and the extracts she quotes are accurate, I do not consider that the facilities comply with the statement in that same document that “separate toilet and washing facilities must be provided for boys and girls aged 8 years and over pursuant to Regulation 4 of the School Premises (England) Regulations 2012”. “
I also linked to a newspaper article which had come out fortuitously that week: The problem with gender-neutral loos (telegraph.co.uk).
Gareth was then told that the next option would be to knock each cubicle through to create a larger one with a sink inside, halving the amount of toilets and at a cost of £10k per unit. As a civil servant and longstanding Yes Minister fan I recognised this tactic; I replied:
“that does sound expensive, and not the best option. A much more practical option seems to me to label some of the sets of toilets with shared sinks as girls only, and some boys only (and some mixed, if that meets pupil needs)? This would incur minimal cost and not reduce the facilities available.”
In the end, this is what happened.
There are now blocks of cubicles for boys only, blocks for girls and some mixed blocks. It took me most of my daughter’s first year at secondary school, but they were in place by the start of Year 8. My daughter and her friends choose to use the girls’ block.
This wasn’t quite the end of it, as at one stage the girls were told that they were not allowed to walk to the girls’ toilet block in break and had to use the nearer mixed facilities. This time an email headed Formal Complaint to the new Head resolved the matter within a month without recourse to Gareth!”