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Highland pupils force council into unisex toilet rethink

Unisex toilets were installed at Culloden Academy over the summer.
Unisex toilets were installed at Culloden Academy over the summer.

Highland Council have made a U-turn over plans to have unisex toilets at a secondary school.

Pupils started the new school year by having to share loos after changes to the traditional boys and girls set-up were made at Culloden Academy.

But parents raised fears over privacy and children’s health after the introduction of unisex toilets.

It meant there were no separate male and female facilities for youngsters at the Keppoch Road school. Instead, the loos were separated into ones for first and second years and ones for third and fourth years.

Parents were outraged that their children did not have an opportunity to choose whether or not they would use them.

The facilities were brought into tackle vandalism with full height toilet cubicles and open plan handwashing areas which can seen from the corridor.

But Highland Council have been forced to abandon the idea after holding talks with pupils.

From Monday the traditional boys and girls loos will return with a third toilet area being designated as unisex.

Parents at Culloden Academy hit out at the new unisex toilets.

Parents welcome council’s change of heart

Cecilia Grigor, whose son has just started his first year at Culloden Academy, said he is not comfortable with unisex toilets.

But she has welcomed the council’s U-turn and feels it is a “good” move for any pupils who were worried.

Cecilia said: “It is a shame it had to come to this but the end result is good.

“A lot of the kids were getting more and more anxious about the toilets and this means they can go to school without worrying about it.”

The unisex toilets – the same idea as the above – were installed to deter vandals.

Priya Arun’s 12-year-old daughter started Culloden Academy this year and was worried about the use of a single toilet for boys and girls.

She has also welcomed Highland Council’s move and said her own daughter and other pupils will be “happy” about the switch.

Priya said: “I’m happy they won’t have to use the same toilets.  The kids will be very happy and comfortable about going to school now.

“My daughter will be delighted about this.

“I thought it would take a while for it to change but I’m glad we managed to get this issue in the spotlight.

“All of the kids will be really happy with this decision.”

Councillor Ken Gowans said the decision to revert to a traditional toilet set-up at the school was “pragmatic.”

Speaking of the local authority’s U-turn, he said: “It is a very pragmatic solution.  I’m pleased they have been able to resolve this and hopefully this will be reassuring for parents.

“We need to look into how we handle these situations in the future.”

Highland Council changed their plans after speaking to pupils.

Highland Council’s response

A Highland Council spokesman said both parents and pupils were told about the changes by letter at the end of last term.

He also said that unisex toilets are used at Alness Academy, Wick High School, Inverness Royal Academy and Charleston Academy and can help reduce vandalism.

The spokesman confirmed the council was changing the toilets back into boys and girls from the start of next week.

He said: “An interim arrangement was put in place at the start of the new session until the S5/S6 toilets are completed, with the new toilet areas being unisex.

“Following feedback from pupils during the first week, this has been reviewed and the S1/S2 toilets are to be redesignated as boys’ toilets and the S3/S4 toilets as girls’ toilets with effect from Monday morning.

“The plan is that these arrangements will continue after all the toilet improvements are complete, and the third new toilet area will be designated as unisex. However, there will be ongoing dialogue with pupils in the coming weeks.

“If pupils have any particular concerns about the toilet facilities, they are encouraged to speak to their guidance teacher regarding this.”

Unisex toilets an issue at other schools across the country

It is becoming increasingly common to build single-sex toilets in schools across the UK.

One of the first schools in the UK to adopt unisex toilets was a secondary school in Stockport in 2000 and hundreds have since followed suit.

In March 2019, pupils at Lochside Academy in Aberdeen were asked whether they would like segregated toilets after concerns were raised about the unisex amenity.

Parents were worried about the impact of the arrangement on their children with questionnaires being issued to youngsters.

Lochside Academy headteacher Neil Hendry said the unisex toilets were “unsuccessful” according to the survey put out to pupils.

Pupils at Lochside Academy in Aberdeen were asked about its unisex toilets.

Also in 2019, the parent council at School Park School in Fraserburgh backed plans to install unisex toilets at the primary

Work on the £65,000 project at South Park school is due to start in the summer and Aberdeenshire Council has issued a tender for the project.

Aberdeenshire Council completely stripped out the lavatories and replaced with four brand new cubicles.

But in 2012, the local authority was forced into a U-turn over a similar plan for the new £25m Mearns Academy in Laurencekirk following complaints from parents.

Mums and dads welcomed the move for the new school in the town but hit out at proposals for toilets which could be used by both boys and girls.

Councillors on Kincardine and Mearns area committee subsequently dropped the idea completely.

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