Northern Ireland news

Schools could save thousands 'by opting for gender-neutral toilets'

 Some primary schools have already introduced unisex toilets to prevent transphobia

SCHOOLS could save thousands of pounds by opting for unisex toilets, a union leader has said.

Ulster Teachers' Union (UTU) general secretary Avril Hall Callaghan was responding to a decision in Glasgow that all new-build primary schools will have gender-neutral toilets.

The UTU has raised the issue at previous annual conferences.

The union heard that gender-neutral toilets could replace traditional male and female loos in schools to accommodate transgender children.

About one per cent of children in schools in Britain and Northern Ireland are transgender.

Teachers said they were becoming increasingly concerned after some schools were asked during inspections what provision they made for transgender children.

Elsewhere, primary schools have already introduced unisex toilets to prevent transphobia.

Some parents say their children do not want to use facilities split with the opposite sex, however, as it makes them feel uncomfortable.

"This is a highly contentious as it raises questions of equality and child protection," said Ms Hall Callaghan.

"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.

"On average new schools cost about £3,000 per square metre so if thousands of pounds can be saved by building a single toilet block instead of two then it is an area of fiscal saving which must be considered along with all the others."

She added that many schools in America and mainland Europe already had gender neutral toilets and it was no longer an issue.

"However, our members would be concerned about child protection issues," she said.

"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.

"Gender neutral toilets are something on which parents and governors need to be in full agreement before any decisions can be taken."

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