Washrooms are a veritable benchmark for schools

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Washrooms are a veritable benchmark for schools

June 2016

According to a year-long study, undertaken by the University of Salford and UK architects Nightingale Associates in 2013, school layouts can influence pupils’ development by as much as 25 percent. While the study focuses on the design of the classrooms, less attention was paid to the design of areas such as washrooms. But their importance should not be neglected as David Miliband so poignantly pointed out during a school visit in 2004 when he was still minister for the Cabinet Official: “If you get the toilets right, you get the teaching right”. His statement still rings true and Charities such as Education and Resources for Improving Childhood Continence (ERIC) support the sentiment by continuously highlighting the necessity of quality school toilets, which have an undeniable impact on pupils’ health, education and happiness.


The Bog Standard, an ERIC campaign launched in 2004 to address a serious gap in legislation, found out that a quarter of children in England’s schools avoid using the toilets because they are ‘dirty, old and smelly’.  The campaign initially came to life as school children did not have the right by law to decent toilet facilities, while adults’ facilities were sufficiently protected. But as so-called toilet avoidance caused by unsanitary washrooms can result in chronic constipation, incontinence and urinary infections, a clean and appropriate washroom should be high on a school’s agenda.

But are standards upheld to avoid any negative consequences caused by inadequate toilet facilities? According to the newest RIBA report, too many school buildings are poorly built. The Education Funding Agency (EFA) has adopted a rigid one-size-fits all approach, leading to millions of pounds being wasted on expensive and unnecessary equipment. After being newly built, schools are left with having to adapt to their pupils needs, including the enlargement of washroom facilities, which local authorities are paying for. Furthermore, funding for refurbishments tend to be calculated according to standardised dimensions rather than a school’s actual size. And it could get worse if all schools become academies by 2022, as there is a real ‘danger that central control would drown out individual circumstances in the debate about school environments’.

With the UK facing an unprecedented school building crisis, long-term value and high-quality, durable products are at the top of the agenda to help deliver more for less. These products need to be able to cater for age specific requirements in terms of aesthetics and functionality, and help towards low running and maintenance costs.

Primary Schools

The HEAD Project (Holistic Evidence and Design) brought to life by the University of Salford, Manchester found clear evidence that well-designed primary schools boost children’s academic performance. While the report did not extend to the school washrooms, it is not too far-fetched to assume that a fun, safe and hygienic washroom environment supports early development. A notion supported by the RIBA report, stating that poor environments affect children’s behaviour and ability to learn.

The washrooms needs to strike a balance between privacy and adult supervision. A variety of cubicle door heights is advised, as well as appealing, colourful designs and customised images encapsulated in laminate. Bespoke furniture, feature wall coverings, cubicles, door skins, signage and much more can be designed age-appropriate. Generally, bold designs and colours are more likely to encourage the respect and well-being of the users. Very often schools would chose the colours of the school logo for the cubicles.


Secondary Schools

In secondary schools, more privacy is required, which can encourage anti-social behaviour to occur as pupils are left unsupervised. Phil Wise, European Category Manager - Commercial Products at Formica Group explains: “Older pupils can feel vulnerable inside school washrooms. We have noticed that specifiers and fabricators have increasingly taken to installing floor to ceiling cubicles. While this is not the standard in open plan washrooms yet, it certainly has gathered pace, especially as it also helps to avoid pupils passing objects such as mobile phones with a camera under or over the door or partition.” However, other areas of the washroom should be as open as possible to facilitate unobtrusive adult supervision to further help to reduce any form of bullying.

Furthermore, according to the RIBA research, Post-Occupancy Evaluations of the schools in the UK revealed that ‘toilets with more visible washing facilities or fully enclosed toilets with sinks in the cubicle reduced misbehaviour within the toilets’. 

DDA Compliance

Another important aspect for washroom design is its compliance with the Discrimination Disability Act (DDA). The regulations provide an opportunity to avoid children suffering indignities inside the washrooms. A 2014 report by Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People which surveyed parents of children and young people with a disability and/or long-term health condition about their experiences of school toilets, found that there is room for improvement. A lack of privacy and too little room were only two of several parents’ concerns. To adhere to the DDA, a 450mm gap between an in-swinging door and the toilet pan is required. To create spacious, longer cubicles, large sheets of laminate can be installed, with the added bonus of increased privacy.

Furthermore, the selection of colour and finish in terms of the LRV (light reflectance value) for sufficient visual contrast is another aspect to take into consideration for special needs facilities. This ensures visually impaired people can easily distinguish between different areas of the washroom, such as door frames to walls and sanitary fittings to walls, by virtue of the difference in light reflecting from the surface.


To reduce the frequency with which school washrooms need to be refurbished, the Priority School Building Programme’s Services Output Specification 2013 recommends the specification of compact grade laminate (CGL) for cubicles and wall panels systems. CGL is a versatile, robust and practical material that provides creative design options and stands up to humidity. A good alternative to CGL is High Pressure Laminate (HPL) as it is equally durable, impact, staining and scratching resistant, as well as possessing dimensional stability at elevated temperatures.

As required in a washroom environment, both materials are water-resistant and extremely hygienic because of their ability to withstand high temperatures when for example steam cleaning or using detergents to get rid of any bacteria.  The durability of laminate offers a long-term solution, making it a sustainable and cost-effective option for schools.

Discover the new Formica® Washroom range of laminates, perfect for washroom applications such as cubicles, lockers, vanity units and wall panelling.

Formica® Washroom Collection

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