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How your school washroom could fail an Ofsted inspection

Are you preparing for an Ofsted inspection?

The school washroom is not always top of mind when preparing for an Ofsted inspection, but it is a crucial aspect of obtaining top marks from the inspector.

An outstanding Ofsted report is a milestone for any academic institution. It is a way of promoting the school to prospective parents and establishing its reputation. After all, a highly regarded school is a preferred school.

A clean washroom is a given. But cleanliness is not the only quality that an inspector will look out for. Some common but often overlooked mistakes include:

  • Not having enough signs to show the distinction between boys’ and girls’ washrooms;
  • Tap water temperature is too hot which can cause scalding;
  • Insufficient paper towels and hand soap in the washrooms;
  • Inadequate arrangements for sanitary towel disposal units in female cubicles;
  • Inadequate provisions to maintain pupil’s privacy; and
  • Insufficient facilities for students, including disabled toilets, staff and visitors.


There are quite a few guidelines when it comes to installing and managing a school washroom.

According to the British Standard, at the preschool level (ages three to five), there should be one toilet for every 10 pupils and there should be no fewer than four. There should be one handwash basin for every toilet and ideally, a large sink, shower or bath for every 40 pupils.

At the primary level (ages four to 11), the toilet and urinal ratio should be one per 10 pupils for under five years old and one per 15 pupils for over students over five years old. In addition, urinals should not go beyond two-thirds of the boys’ fixtures.

When it comes to the handwash basin, the ratio is still 1:1—one per toilet or urinal. Position-wise, it should be near the toilets and urinals.

At the secondary school level (ages 11 and up), the guidelines are pretty much the same, except for a few provisions. For the male toilet and urinal as well as the female toilet, there should be one for every 20 pupils. For the handwash basins, there should be one per toilet or urinal where there are three of fewer fixtures. If there are three or more fixtures, the ratio should be two per three toilets or urinals.

Staff toilets should be provided separately except for disabled toilets, which can be shared by staff and students.

In 2007, the then-Department for Education and Skills issued Toilets in Schools Guidance. It also provides valuable insights, especially when it comes to choosing between specific products.

For instance, washtroughs are more appropriate than individual basins for aesthetics and ease of maintenance. It also reduces the risk of intentional flooding. It also notes that washrooms should be located opposite staff rooms and offices to enable regular “passive supervision.”

The Department for Education (DfE), on a more recent note, has issued the Advice for Standards on School Premises. It is less prescriptive than the Toilets in School Guidance, allowing schools to have more flexibility in using and managing their premises.

General guidelines include:

  • Hand washing facilities should be in the immediate vicinity of every toilet.
  • Washrooms should be adequately lit and ventilated.
  • Toilet facilities should be easily accessible for pupils whilst allowing staff to informally supervise without compromising children’s privacy.
  • The general maximum temperature for hot water in baths, showers and wash basins should be 43º C to avoid risk of scalding.


When it comes to addressing the sanitary and hygiene needs of disabled school community members, ERIC provides valuable resources and support.

ERIC is a UK-based charity, a first of its kind, dedicated to the “bowel and bladder health of all children and teenagers in the UK.” Its vision is to ensure that “every child and teenager with a bowel or bladder condition can access support and live free from embarrassment, shame, isolation and fear.”

In 2014, ERIC launched the Right to Go campaign, in support of the Children and Families Act which upholds the statutory duty of schools to support children with health conditions. The campaign provides free resources and guidance on best practices, and promotes this through the School Toilet Charter.

In summary, the charter stipulates that all schools should provide:

  • Unrestricted access to a toilet;
  • Adequate number of facilities for male and female students, ensuring enough privacy;
  • Dedicated and properly equipped unisex toilets for users with special needs;
  • Properly designed toilet and washroom facilities, suitable for the range of anticipated users;
  • Hot water, with adequate provision for soap and hand drying facilities;
  • Toilet tissue dispensers provided at a convenient height and regularly replenished as required;
  • Regularly serviced sanitary towel disposal units in all female cubicles, where appropriate;
  • Effective toilet supervision regime during normal usage hours;
  • Effective toilet cleaning/inspection regime to uphold standards of hygiene, behaviour and cleanliness;
  • Published school toilet management policy approved by school governors and pupils, and properly communicated to school community; and
  • Child-friendly comments and complaints procedure to efficiently communicate concerns to school administration.

This charter incorporates some aspects already stipulated in the regulatory guidelines. It is a helpful resource for schools in ensuring that all toilets and washroom facilities are accessible for students, staff and visitors with special needs.


For nurseries, preschools and children’s centres, it is recommended to have toilets pans and wash basins with lower height. Self-closing taps can also help prevent overflowing. Unisex toilets are acceptable if users are below eight years old. Suitable and hygienic changing facilities should also be provided.

For primary school washrooms and toilets, additional provisions include cubicles that can be locked from outside. Urinals are not recommended but if preferred, modesty screens should be installed.

For older kids, water-proof and vandal resistant cubicle panels can be considered. For kids aged 11 and above who do Physical Education, changing facilities and showers must be provided. Hand washing areas can be passively supervised, but cubicles should definitely be private. And when it comes to hand washing, liquid soap dispensers and hand towels are the most hygienic option.

Passing an Ofsted inspection with flying colours is not an easy feat, but it’s not impossible either. Read up on guidelines or consult with a professional to make sure you’ve got all areas covered—washroom and toilets included.

Good luck!


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