New twist in school toilets row

Andrew Jordon pictured at Dyke House school.
Andrew Jordon pictured at Dyke House school.

A HEADTEACHER has agreed to meet with a council committee to discuss the furore over controversial unisex toilet areas inside a new multi-million pound school.

The new open-plan toilet blocks at Dyke House Sports and Technology College, which are used by both boys and girls, have caused a stink among parents.

But now Andrew Jordon, headteacher at the 1,050-pupil school, has agreed to meet with councillors to publicly discuss concerns.

It comes after Conservative group leader Ray Wells referred the matter to Hartlepool Borough Council’s children’s services scrutiny forum.

Coun Wells said “common sense has flown out of the window” and has called on Mr Jordon to explain the thinking behind the controversial idea.

The Mapleton Road school reopened on Tuesday after a £12.4m Building Schools for the Future (BSF) revamp.

The toilet areas have three floor-to-ceiling cubicles each for males and females, with boys’ toilets just inches away from the girls’.

The new design sees both sexes walk out from the cubicles to the same room and use communal sinks.

But some parents have panned the idea, and say the toilets are “asking for trouble”.

Mr Jordon has said the design is “the way forward in 21st Century schools”, insists they are always monitored by a staff member and added it will combat “smokers’ corners”.

But Coun Wells wants the scrutiny forum, chaired by Labour councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher, to look into it.

He has made a verbal request and is due to submit a formal request to scrutiny co-ordinating committee, which oversees the forums, in writing on Monday.

Mr Jordon said: “I would be more than happy to meet with councillors to explain that there has been widespread consultation on the Dyke House re-building programme and that the design is a tried and tested model which works very effectively in other schools.

“Coun Wells is also very welcome to come and view the facilities himself.

“This type of toilet design is very prevalent in new schools.

“The toilets are used by students and staff, and the feedback from them has been extremely positive.

“Clearly, we worked very closely with the council on the re-modelling programme and the same toilet design exists at many schools including the town’s Space to Learn facility.

“A small number of parents have contacted us, but as soon as we showed them the facilities their concerns were allayed.”

Coun Wells has hit out at the unisex toilet areas and said discussing it at a scrutiny forum will give parents the opportunity to ask questions.

He said: “It seems to me that common sense has flown out of the window. I will be asking that the head of Dyke House, along with anybody else concerned in the decision-making process, is called before the children’s services scrutiny forum to account for their actions as a matter of urgency.”

The school has spent 18 months working on the design with contractors Balfour Beatty and Mr Jordon said the open-plan format was a “stock-design” for the national construction firm.

The toilets are supervised by a member of staff , either by a progress leader during lessons, whose office is beside the toilets, or by a member of supervisory staff during breaks and lunchtimes.

Mr Jordon said the issue of girls’ periods had come up in a lengthy consultation involving the school, architects and pupils and it was felt the floor-to-ceiling design addressed this matter.

Coun Wells added: “Apart from the basic moral issue of a unisex toilet at a comprehensive school, there is an inappropriate use of staff time supervising a toilet.

“Children of secondary school age are going through massive physical and emotional changes, and to have this as an added pressure is unacceptable.”

Peter McIntosh, head of schools transformation at the council, has previously said the layout of the toilets is an increasingly accepted practice in modern schools.