Parents, associations and local authorities take up the issue of toilets at school

It’s an old observation but still relevant: toilets at school are a problem. Eight out of 10 children hold back “often” or “sometimes” according to a study conducted by Essity, Harpic and Harris interactive presented during a round table at the Congress of Mayors on November 23.

Conducted with 600 young people and 400 parents, this barometer is part of the program The toilets are ours. Figures reminiscent of those of the survey of departmental delegates of National Education.

“While there has been a slight improvement since the period of covid-19, toilet hygiene continues to be a problem: one in two children believes that these places are dirty or smell bad”, illustrates Jean-Daniel Levy, director of the study institute. “And 68% of parents say it’s a topic that concerns them, up from previous years. »

The fact that the vast majority of children hold back affects both their learning (58% say they have trouble concentrating because of this), but also their health (60% say they have a stomach ache from holding back). Among the solutions mentioned, the people interviewed point to education for better use and better hygiene.

A program to disseminate good practices

“The time is no longer for raising awareness but for action,” says Marc Specque, Essity’s communications director. Since 2019, the leading group in hygiene and health has launched the “Own the toilets” program with Harpic and other partners.

“We want to be a catalyst for spreading good practices,” he adds. The objective of this program is threefold: “it’s about talking about the subject, sometimes seen as taboo, but also providing a better understanding of the subject, with field studies. Finally, with various partners, we offer concrete solutions”, explains Benoît Bucco, marketing director of Reckitt, a multinational to which Harpic belongs.

Another partner of this program, the association Les Petits Citoyens supports local authorities on these issues and creates educational tools to free children’s voices. “The toilets allow children to integrate into collective places, in particular the school, points out Catherine Jacquet, general manager of the association. We see that empowering children on the subject requires talking. »

The mix in question

The toilets are also a security issue, point out the parents’ associations, the Peep and the FCPE, who came to attend the meeting.

“The toilets are seen as areas of lawlessness: it is a place where school bullying is expressed”, testifies Anaïs Collignon de la Peep. This is confirmed by the geographer of the genre, Edith Maruejouls, who has conducted several studies and experiments in schools.

“Many children, in primary and middle school, say they are afraid of adults when they go to the toilet. Often built without promoting surveillance, there is a feeling of impunity that emanates from these places. The specialist in the development of public spaces advocates constructions allowing the gaze from the outside, to facilitate surveillance. It has also carried out simple concrete experiments, by isolating the urinals to avoid prying eyes or by prohibiting the opening of cabins from the outside.

During the Covid period, the geographer saw the toilets of the establishment she was studying become mixed. “This question of mixed toilets is difficult to hear for parents only, children adapt to it very well. »

Instead of gendered blocks, blocks by level (small and large) have been installed. The result remains clear: “The educational teams find that there is less incivility, the toilets are cleaner and there are fewer discipline problems. Moreover, all the establishments that have experimented with this have never returned to single-sex toilets. »

The challenge of a specific national budget

Deputy Rodrigo Arenas (Nupes) is also familiar with this subject, which he has already addressed as president of the FCPE, between 2018 and 2021. For him, we must “get things moving”, both at local and national.

“When deputies ask for a specific budget for toilets in school buildings, this is not necessarily implemented: a budget is required and why not planning by the State? We would undertake that, by the end of the five-year period, 25%, 50% or even 100% of the toilets will be renovated. »

Leyla Temel, deputy mayor of Saint-Denis, testifies to her experience when the city launched a renovation plan for school toilets. “As elected officials, we have an injunction to move quickly, because we have to make the toilets accessible and clean. But in this logic, we are content to renovate what already exists. Without long time to reflect, it seems relevant to rely on the studies of the program, to change our way of seeing things. »

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Parents, associations and local authorities take up the issue of toilets at school