Parents and governors ‘must have final say’ on unisex toilets in NI schools

UTU General Secretary Avril Hall-Callaghan
UTU General Secretary Avril Hall-Callaghan

The introduction of unisex toilets in Northern Ireland’s school should only go ahead if parents and school governors are in full agreement, a teachers’ union has said.

Glasgow City Council is the latest body to stipulate that all new-build primary schools must have unisex toilet facilities – following similar decisions in some US states and a number of European countries.

Avril Hall Callaghan of the Ulster Teachers’ Union (UTU) said the Glasgow decision was a “highly contentious” one as it “raises questions of equality and child protection”.

Ms Hall Callaghan said: “Glasgow City Council has said its decision to opt for gender neutral toilets is to help children struggling with gender identification issues. However, as schools grapple with ever-shrinking budgets it is one which also has financial ramifications and which we too will probably have to face sooner rather than later.

“Indeed, only last year the [NI] school [Education and Training] Inspectorate raised the issue when teachers were asked why they were lining up children as girls and boys and why there were boys’ and girls’ toilets.”

The union’s general secretary said the fiscal saving in having a single toilet block meant it was necessary to consider the financial benefits, but said her members have concerns.

“Those in favour of the unisex toilets argue that they will help combat bullying and antisocial behaviour, as well as being more cost-effective and saving space in a school.

“On one level unisex toilets teach kids it doesn’t matter what their gender is, but at primary school age girls especially mature more quickly than boys and they start to develop towards the end of primary school so need their privacy,” she said.