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Primary School Students Forced to Visit Toilet at Same Time

By Yvette Vignando - 12th August 2011

This morning I read an article in an Australian newspaper The Age about a primary school in Melbourne that had recently trialled an approach to students visiting the toilet during class time. According to the article, principal Dr Kim Dray explained the trial was part of signalling "a new level of respect for the toilets in the school." Quoting an email, the article confirmed that the policy was aimed at a "long term and persistent problem of deliberate toilet vandalism". The principal was also quoted as sayig that there had been an added benefit of "decrease in disruption" to "senior and specialist classes".

Parents reported that their children started wetting themselves as they didn't want to force the entire class to go to the toilet with them during a lesson  - so they held on, with obvious consequences. After parents conplained to the school, the Education Minister and the Education Department's regional director, parents were later informed that a new option is now to be trialled where children go to the toilet in threes.

I was outraged when I read this - to me it seems like a solution from the early 20th century - where the whole class is punished for the toileting requirements of one child. I don't wish to downplay the importance of trying to keep school toilets clean for all students - this also has to be a focus for a school - but above that, the dignity and health of the majority of students has to be given priority.

Constipation is a common problem among school students - I know this from personal experience in our family - and often this is caused by children not wanting to interrupt what they are doing to go to the toilet. A school that makes going to the toilet a major dramatic exercise during class, is potentially harming children who already, at this early stage in their development, have some challenges with their toilet habits. Many parents work very hard on teaching their children to 'listen to their body' - this approach would quickly undo all that effort

The toilet trial at this primary school also seems to be a trial of shaming students. Whilst the motivation of the school may be to reduce vandalism to their toilets, the effect on many young children I think, would be to make them feel ashamed about needing to use the toilet during class. The ineffectiveness of shaming as a disciplinary technique has been written about extensively - and I feel sure that most teachers would be aware of this literature.

I have left a message for the principal of the primary school to invite her to make a further comment on this approach or the new system now being used. This post will be updated as soon as I receive a response.

I wonder what you think and what other approaches a primary school could take to reducing vandalism in their toilets? Many schools have this problem, and there is no simple solution but some ideas could include:

- working on students' pride in their school

- involving senior students in generating solutions to the problem and perhaps asking prefects to help the teachers monitor toilet use

- keeping a record of students using toilets during class time and inspecting toilets before lunch and recess breaks.

Any others?

Update 26 August 2011 Update

I did not hear back from the school so I was unable to report further on this story. However, in today's Age it is reported that the Principal is currently working in another area of the Education Department and controversy continues. So keeping it positive, I would still be very interested to read suggestions about how schools who face issues of vandalism in toilets should manage the challenge.

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