Women’s toilet needs should not be ignored by schools

Why is it that teaching – an overwhelmingly female profession – does not allow for regular toilet breaks, asks Ann Mroz
1st November 2019, 12:04am
Women's Toilet Needs Shouldn't Be Ignored

Share

Women’s toilet needs should not be ignored by schools

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/womens-toilet-needs-should-not-be-ignored-schools

It’s at the theatre that I find myself envying teachers most. While I spend almost the entire interval queuing for the ladies’, any teacher attending will be enjoying themselves in the bar, knocking back a second gin and tonic before I’ve even got a sniff of my first.

The time I spend queuing is down to the unfairness of the design and allocation of women’s versus men’s toilets. Do the sums and you can quickly work out that women need far longer in the loo than men and so an equal number is simply thoughtless and stupid. It’s a huge injustice and one that women have on the whole rarely questioned let alone protested.

That sense of an injustice going unquestioned is why while I marvel at teachers’ amazing bladder control, I also despair: it’s an ability they develop not because they want to but because they have to. Most people, when they feel the urge, can take themselves off to the toilet. A teacher, however, cannot just leave their class. Even if desperate, finding someone who is free to step in and keep an eye on them is not easy. They might be able to set an older group a task and nip out quickly (a challenge in old Victorian buildings where the loos are miles away). But there’s always that risk of being caught out by a learning walk or, worse still, a safeguarding breach.

So most just learn to hold on. And on. A full timetable can often mean a full bladder, too.

This enviable bladder control doesn’t come without its downsides, though. If the bladder isn’t emptied on a regular basis, bacteria are more likely to sit and multiply there, increasing the risk of a urinary tract infection. Limiting fluid intake doesn’t help much either, because this can also raise the risk for a UTI.

Toilet breaks at school

It’s a problem that affects women far more than men. It’s purely a question of biology - they have a shorter urethra, meaning bacteria have a shorter distance to travel. So that, in effect, means more illness, more antibiotics.

When nearly three-quarters of the teaching profession is female, this is absurdly an issue that’s not given nearly enough attention. There’s plenty spoken and written about whether children should be able to have bathroom breaks during lessons, but there’s little devoted to teachers who, let’s face it, have the same needs, if not increasingly greater as they get older. And I haven’t even touched upon pregnancy and how that exacerbates the whole problem.

Whether the reason we don’t talk about it is down to embarrassment - urination and toilets are not easy subjects for some people - or just plain thoughtlessness, I don’t know. But what I do know is that it should be discussed openly.

Some new schools have even been built without staff toilets. How disrespectful is that to those working in them (as well as being a safeguarding issue)? And if you think that’s OK, you need to go and educate yourself about menstruation, miscarriage and menopause. If senior leaders can’t even give their teachers privacy when using the toilet, then I’m betting they’re not too hot on other staff-related issues either.

We know workload has increased, we know there is a teacher recruitment and retention crisis, so we know that free time in the working day is a thing of the past for many. But at no point have we stopped and considered what that means for people’s basic needs.

Like the design and allocation of women’s toilets, it doesn’t have to be this way. Women shouldn’t have to just accept it meekly and quietly. There needs to be some serious thought and discussion devoted to solving this problem. To pee or not to pee should never have to be the question.

@AnnMroz

This article originally appeared in the 1 November 2019 issue under the headline “Urine for a treat - this is a wee rant about women’s toilet needs”

You’ve reached your limit of free articles this month

Register for free to read more

You can read two more articles on Tes for free this month if you register using the button below.

Alternatively, you can subscribe for just £1 per month for the next three months and get:

  • Unlimited access to all Tes magazine content
  • Exclusive subscriber-only articles 
  • Email newsletters

Already registered? Log in

You’ve reached your limit of free articles this month

Subscribe to read more

You can subscribe for just £1 per month for the next three months and get:

  • Unlimited access to all Tes magazine content
  • Exclusive subscriber-only articles 
  • Email newsletters