Case study: Toilet design in the learning environment

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‘Never forget the importance of school toilets’.
Dr Emma Kell, January 2019

This article by author and teacher Dr Kell is an introduction to some informal research gathering she has carried out and is very apposite since in 2019 the issue of school toilet provision and management has never been more prominent, with articles in the press on a regular basis.

The Scottish Government, mindful of the limitations of existing school design legislation, aware of the societal changes since this legislation was first introduced in 1967, and conscious of the fact that more campuses now have pupils from more than one stage of education in the same building, sent out a consultation document in 2017.

The Scottish Government was keen to look at opportunities for changing (amongst other aspects of school buildings) the regulations with respect to the provision of accessible toilets and ‘unisex toilets that could address gender issues’. Responses to the consultation document were received from a range of groups and individuals, all with specific areas of interest and/or professional expertise.

Toilet Design issues

With respect to the number of toilets provided in schools, due to the peaks in demand falling at very specific times (break times), the existing legislation was found to be appropriate for modern school environments. In terms of the provision of gender-neutral facilities, responses were somewhat conflicting, but all agreed that the existing regulations were outdated. Some respondents stated that unisex facilities raised issues of potential vulnerability, while others stated that gender-neutral toilets reduced the risk of bullying and eased concerns over safety for all pupils. The analysis of the responses also indicated that there was no clear picture of where the requirements should be set out – separate legislation or building regulations. The drafting and consideration by the Scottish Parliament of new regulations is ongoing.

Discussion is not solely restricted to central government however, with local authorities playing a vital role in dialogue with schools. Glasgow City Council has stated that all new build schools will have gender-neutral toilets while the City of Edinburgh Council will offer the option of unisex WCs and full height toilets in their Authority Requirements for all school new builds and refurbishments going forward.

With regard to appropriate toilet provision for all pupils, the number of new-builds and refurbishment projects within schools in Scotland over the past decade, present a wide array of design solutions, often approaching the issues surrounding toilet provision from different angles, but ultimately attempting to respond to the same challenges. This document is intended to help stakeholders understand the issues and opportunities regarding toilet provision in schools and also to present a range of potential solutions.

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Our case studies series shows the benefits of good design in Scotland’s built environment. We highlight the processes behind our built environment as well as the finished result, to grow our collective understanding of good design practice. More of our case studies are available here. We want to grow this resource as much as we can. So if you have a question or comment about our Case Studies series, email us at

This case study was written by haa Design on behalf of Architecture and Design Scotland (2019)

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