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Parents’ relief over unisex toilet decision at Ness Castle Primary

Parents were concerned about unisex loos at the new school
Parents were concerned about unisex loos at the new school

Officials at a new north primary school are reconsidering plans for unisex toilets, it has emerged.

Parents voiced concerns when they discovered the much-needed Ness Castle school in Inverness would have shared loos.

But after an online meet-and-greet with new head teacher Craig Connon on Tuesday evening, they were pleased to hear their concerns are being taken into account.

Although the council itself has not confirmed any final designs, parents at Tuesday night’s meeting were reassured that new plans would include separate toilets for boys and girls.

‘I am relieved’

Parents had voiced their concerns when they learned about the intention for unisex toilets.

In the school’s design plans, the toilets were only labelled “Pupil WC”. There was no indication which students would use which facilities.

After the meeting, one parent said: “I am relieved that the Highland Council has taken on board our concerns around safeguarding and agreed to revise the design.”

Unisex toilet sign. Recently-scrapped plans for unisex toilets at Ness Castle primary had parents concerned.
Unisex toilets in local schools have caused concern and confusion among parents this year

Another added that council officials promised parents they would be consulted on the final plans.

“Parents were assured that the school would provide separate blocks for girls, separate blocks for boys and toilets for neutral gender.

“The current school plans do not reflect these and so we were promised updated school plans after the stakeholders meeting (on Wednesday).”

Why were the Ness Castle toilets designed as unisex?

In an email to a parent on Monday, a council official said that the council generally uses open-plan toilets in new builds to give schools more flexibility.

This involves a communal wash area and individual, fully-enclosed stalls. The whole room is open to the hallway so that staff can supervise.

The open-plan concept is meant to deter bad behaviours and reduce vandalism and bullying.

But some parents greeted the news with concern. One said she worried sharing toilets with boys might even keep her daughter from using the loo during the day.

Unisex loos: What’s the problem?

This isn’t the first time unisex toilets have caused controversy – but why?

It is believed unisex and open plan facilities can help stop bullying – and they also mean gender-neutral students can use them freely.

But concerns include whether they give students, particularly teenage girls, a safe and private space.

There are even questions about whether unisex toilets comply with Scottish law.

Read our guide to unisex loos and decide for yourself.

Unisex toilets at a secondary school in Scotland with a similar design to those proposed at Ness Castle.

Pupils at Culloden Academy, also in Inverness, started the new school year by having to share loos after unisex toilets were implemented over the summer.

The council quickly scrapped the unisex setup at Culloden after conferring with pupils.

But Culloden grandmother Judith Reid heard about the plans at Ness Castle and they reminded her about the difficulties her granddaughter had at Culloden.

She said the changes were originally billed as an upgrade to facilities. But students and parents didn’t know it meant no more separate facilities for boys and girls.

“We can still have open (plan) but let’s still make it girls and boys. We can also have a unisex. If they want to do this, they can add on.

“They don’t need to take away, because what they’re doing is taking away a safe space for girls.”

Her granddaughter told her how she had been in the cubicle, and boys came in and banged on the doors.

Were parents consulted?

The designs and details for the Ness Castle Primary School did not identify the toilets as unisex only.

Throughout the planning and design process, council officials have regularly met with a stakeholder group. The chairman of the schools’ stakeholder group, councillor Alasdair Christie, said that the issue of toilets hadn’t come to them.

Ness Castle Primary school. Photo shows an artist's rendition of the finished product and a current view of the construction site, with the outer structure partially complete.

“The designation of toilets is an operational matter, so it’s solely down to the head teacher.

“It’s not really been discussed at the stakeholder group. Those groups are more about reports about how things are going ahead.”

He added that schools are designed to allow the head teacher flexibility where necessary.

The stakeholder group meets again on Wednesday night, and parents expect an update on the new plans.

A Highland Council spokesperson said that parents will be involved in the final decision.

“The Council is reviewing plans to allow for further flexibility and options for the toilets at the new primary school at Ness Castle and Ness-side.

“There has been no decision made yet on the designation of the toilets, but the decision will be for the Head Teacher to agree along with the school’s parents, carers, and pupils.”

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