Why the Lib Dems’ ‘School Toilets’ Bill won’t work

School toilet access in lessons is an issue that I, as an individual, am very passionate about. Not being allowed to go to the toilet, due to a teacher saying no as a blanket school policy; is something that I have spoken out about publicly on my social media platforms, as seen here. Not only am I a member of the party, but I also hold a role at Centre Think Tank and have been researching this issue as part of my work. While I do have some questions about the origin of this campaign, this isn’t the reason as to why I wouldn’t say I like this parliamentary Bill. Instead, my hesitations come from the serious practical issues this Bill will encounter, both in terms of its implementation in schools and its ability to be passed into law.

The current Bill itself isn’t designed to change the law and each curriculum, but instead act as a ‘show-motion’; which is one that carries weight and can shape opinion on this issue, yet doesn’t actually make letting students go to the toilet during lessons mandatory. Instead of giving students the ‘right’ which has been spoken about, a lot by the party on social media, this Bill does the opposite. The Bill itself even says that it relies on teachers ‘common sense’, which means that students aren’t legally protected. The power to decide whether students are allowed to go to the toilet during lessons still relies on teachers; this Bill doesn’t change the current issue of teachers not allowing their students to go to the bathroom. This has obvious consequences, such as students bleeding through their clothes when on their period (as happened with me) or even students being in pain due to holding their pee, perhaps even wetting themselves in some circumstances.

The priority should be to protect pupils. The only way to do so is to change the school curriculum, which becomes a lot harder. As education is a devolved issue, it requires each devolved body to change their curriculum. This means that now the Bill no longer needs to pass through Westminster, but instead all of the devolved bodies and also under EVEL. Layla’s Bill talks about how Tory MPs need to consider taking the Bill forward, but the only way to achieve real and meaningful change is to get minority parties and Labour on board too. If this campaign is ever to be passed into law, it needs cross-party support and not polarisation.

I also think that it is essential that we, as a party, allow victims to speak out in their own right- instead of talking over us. I know a number of women in the youth division who have/are currently going through a similar thing, yet we haven’t been spoken to. The only way to make legislation fit for purpose is to talk to those within the system, not assume that you’re fully aware of the issues because of a few Google searches.

The only way to tackle this issue is to work with those who are knowledgeable about it, or you pass an ineffective policy. I guess the only thing that I can say is that I’m here waiting to help.

* Jasneet Samrai is the current Equalities Spokesperson for Centre Think Tank and the Vice-Chair of Liberals For EFTA. She is also a Former Member of the South East Regional Executive. @wildandwriting

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  • John Marriott 4th Mar '20 - 6:29pm

    “To pee or not to pee, that is the question”. Perhaps that should read “When to pee?” Seriously though, the ‘answer’ to the question ought to be ‘at the discretion of the teacher’. In my experience of teaching students for over thirty years in three different countries, you can usually tell when someone is trying it on. If a student did have a bladder problem or something like IBS we were usually alerted well in advance.

    Surely the last thing you need is a blanket diktat either way.

  • Is there currently law, regulation or guidance in place that stops teacher’s using common sense to allow children to go to the bathroom?

  • Neil Fawcett 5th Mar '20 - 7:43am

    @Hywel. Yes, a lot of schools have very strict policies that prohibit leaving the classroom during lessons. There have been incidents involving girls bleeding through their clothes when their period has started during a lesson as a result. That’s what prompted the Bill.

  • Thanks Neil.

    My question wasn’t quite that though – but whether this comes from Government. Surely this is something which (as a bit of common sense) should be stamped on by Governors. I’m not sure it technically needs a bill to do this (though as a tactical measure to raise the issue that’s probably not a bad move)

    It would actually be a really good campaign to get Lib Dem school governors (a hugely under-used group of people with arguably more power than most councillors) to ask questions, get some FOIs in and propose changes to such policies (OK so that sort of thing isn’t technically set by Governors but there is a huge chunk of soft power there)

  • Having clicked through the links ‘Centre’ is the successor to Liberal Leave – who when Paul Keetch was the lead figure he was sharing pretty unpleasantly racist Leave.EU graphics about Turkey. So I’m not going to accord them much seriousness.

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