Let Them Pee.


It’s half term and so, of course, there has to be a polarised twitter row. I’m as bad as anyone for getting drawn into these. But the matter of toilets has been raging for days now. What is to be done?

Opinions about whether or not children should be allowed to go to the toilet seem to centre around the notion of intent and responsibility. They are intending to disrupt my lesson or avoid learning – or, they should have gone at break time so are being irresponsible.

There’s no doubt at all that some children use ‘going to the loo’ to get out of class. I’ve seen teachers make wild stabs in the dark that they account for 50%, 75% and 95% of escapees though I suspect that the real figure is much lower. Maybe the work is too hard and their minds are too full. Maybe  it is true, as one claimed that they want to go and talk on their mobile phones and vape for 10 minutes. Maybe it is the case, as another claimed, that the reason boys need the toilet during class is because they’re too busy “stuffing their faces” at break time. Let’s leave aside, for a moment, the attitudes underpinning these assumptions or the barely concealed contempt for the children in their care.

The evidence for the lack of genuine ‘need’ is offered in this solution:-

“I just say if they go to the toilet, they’ll have to make up the time at break or lunch. This stops 50/75/95% of them.”

I dare say it does. It also means they don’t go to the loo for another break time and pass the problem on to another teacher. I remember desperately hanging on for break many times at school (both as a pupil and teacher). In neither case of physical discomfort was I very good at concentrating so I might as well have gone. I dare say it also contributed to the lifetime of unrinary tract infections I’ve had as an adult which miraculously stopped when I stopped teaching.  I’ve seen girls sit, jiggling, waiting, desperately hoping that the blood they can feel between their thighs is not seeping through the back of their skirts. I’ve seen children wet themselves. I’ve seen a girl, five minutes from the end of a class stand crying as diarrhoea swept down her legs. I witnessed all of this as a pupil and sadly, I’ve witnessed it observing lessons. I’ve picked my own child up from school, stinking from the poo in his pants that he had sat in for two and a half hours. Every single one of those kids is one of the 50/75/95% that prove the rule they don’t really ‘need’ to go.

I’ve had male adults tell me in the past two days that they can tell the girls who are on their periods by looking at them. I’ve had some claim that most only want to go to use their phones without seeming to understand that you could ask them to leave their phones behind. I’ve had many claim that 11 and 12 year old boys are simply too lazy to go to the loo at break times, when they themselves, it would seem, are too lazy to read up on the impact of puberty on the bladder control of 11-12 year old boys, some of whom start to wet their beds at this stage of life.

I’ve had people tell me that it’s fine to go if you have a medical card. But how does that work? No-one is carrying a medical card in the case of the early onset of a period. How many 11-12 year old boys have even really noticed that they seem to be needing the loo more often and more urgently than usual? How many of them have been explicitly told that this can be part of puberty? How many are taught to fully empty when they go to the loo, rather than rush off either to play, or because they are embarrassed about peeing in front of others? How many children find busy toilets so intimidating that they’d rather get into trouble in lesson times for the benefit of a quiet, private space?

We don’t know. There could be 5%, 25%, 50%…I’m not going to make wild guesses. But they exist.

I would argue that in our role as teachers and safeguarders of children, our first duty is to do no harm. In my experience, the following exchanges seem to have worked. They start with the principle, on my part, that the need to use the toilet is a basic physiological need. It does not require a medical card. It also starts with the knowledge that having access to toilets when needed is a basic human right – the UN right to sanitation. It also, takes as read that some children will take the piss. Just as some adults will. So. No-one leaves ‘willy-nilly’ – though I have seen well functioning classrooms around the world where children seem to slip in and out of class to use the loo without disrupting learning. But this is England. Trust is in short supply.

I’m in full flow. It would probably, in all honesty, be better for the child to slip out, but they raise their hands or approach me.

“Can I please go to the toilet?”

“Is it urgent or can you wait until I’ve just finished explaining this.”

Either – “I can wait” – in which case – “thanks – pop out when I give you the nod. Quick as you can though!”

Or “I can’t.” – in which case – “ok – off you go. Quick as you can!”

There may have been some cases (Yr 9. Child A. 2011 springs to mind) where this has not gone well. The caretaker was not happy. Ironically Child A had a medical card. But in almost a quarter of a century of teaching, that’s the only incident that I can point to where I can honestly say letting a child out of class was a mistake. With hindsight, I think I was happy to send him off to give me a break, but that’s another story…

Otherwise, hand on heart, I cannot say it has impacted on lessons much. And since I ‘left’ full time teaching to teach on the road across the world, what I’ve noticed is that this is a peculiarly British, secondary school obsession. In most of the other settings I’ve worked in – primary or international – there has not been this endemic lack of trust in children or an obsession with their toilet habits.

Others claim different experience. Maybe they work in tougher schools with serial vapers and phone addicts. Nevertheless we still have to ask the question of what right do we have to interfere with basic physiological needs? Should the actions of a few dictate rules for all? And I wonder. Does a lack of trust actually build rebellion? Are children (or indeed, adults) who feel that they are not given their basic rights or who feel that they live in an oppressive system of high surveillance and negative judgement, more likely to become self fulfilling prophecies? I don’t know. But I would say, we really need to get a grip. I’d even say that if children are lying and climbing the walls to get out of your classroom, you might need to rethink your lesson plan. (Takes cover).


12 thoughts on “Let Them Pee.

  1. Hi Debra You did not publish my comment on your last article. Is there a reason for this? Best wishes Roger Titcombe

    From: Love Learning…. To: rogertitcombe@yahoo.co.uk Sent: Tuesday, 29 May 2018, 13:39 Subject: [New post] Let Them Pee. #yiv7070422167 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv7070422167 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv7070422167 a.yiv7070422167primaryactionlink:link, #yiv7070422167 a.yiv7070422167primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv7070422167 a.yiv7070422167primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv7070422167 a.yiv7070422167primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv7070422167 WordPress.com | debrakidd posted: “It’s half term and so, of course, there has to be a polarised twitter row. I’m as bad as anyone for getting drawn into these. But the matter of toilets has been raging for days now. What is to be done?Opinions about whether or not children should be” | |

  2. Of course school pupils have the right to go to the toilet on demand. It’s a basic human right.
    If there are issues of individuals trying to get out of lessons, then that needs to be addressed – sensitively and separately.

    In the NHS, this is called ‘root cause analysis’.

  3. This is an interesting discussion. My sense of it is that it’s about taking a position that is simple and consistent for everyone in a particular context. Where the default position is that students ask permission and teachers normally grant it, that works fine if the level of requests is low; some contexts allow that. The trust is easy to give in some schools – but that’s not a universal. In others, what that approach does is create quite a lot of traffic, toilet visits morphing into truancy (even from lessons with teachers who are really great!), pressure on toilet supervision because children meet up, safeguarding concerns arising and teachers have to start saying ‘no’. This then creates inconsistency with students negotiating and nagging and some teachers feeling undermined; others made to feel that they’re being mean. It can become a minefield. It’s so hard to offer trust to some students in a mixed community but not others – so you have to decide on one default for everyone even though that feels unfair to some. If you adopt a firm ‘no toilet breaks during lessons’ policy, it’s clear for everyone and students soon stop asking. They go to the loo at break just like you do before going on a long car journey. There are some grey areas – some emergencies – and teachers have to use their judgement; it easier in a ‘no toilet’ scenario because it’s so rare for students to ask. But a rare break from the normal ‘no toilet’ rule, is much easier to manage than if there is no rule at all. I think the general principle is sound. In the schools where we’ve had this policy, I can’t imagine how we’d have managed without it and I can’t imagine anyone thinking it was OTT – certainly not amongst the staff.

    1. I take it you’ve never had to pull up in a lay-by to let your child pee on a long car journey Tom! All I can say is that when periods conveniently conform to lesson times, urinary tract infections conveniently stop during lesson times and pre-pubescent boy’s bladders stop being unreliable during lesson times, then we can perhaps move to a consistent model. The other issues you site are less about toilets and more about behaviour management. There are lots of successful measures schools have taken in this respect that have impacted on this without denying children a basic human right. Removing external doors, relocating senior leader’s offices, having corridor monitors etc have all impacted. So perhaps we can look to solutions rather than blanket bans.

      1. In the four specific schools I’m thinking off, specific structural changes would be difficult in those buildings and a simple rule made a big difference – I do think managing the timing of using the loo is something teenagers can be expected to do. It’s a default position rather than an absolute – and helps teachers a lot where behaviour is already tough.

      2. “So perhaps we can look to solutions rather than blanket bans.” You are, of course, right Debra.

        Tom Sherrington is a product of an era in which Academisation has corrupted the governance of schools such that abusive forms of school ‘discipline’ have become common. I write about this, with an example, here.


        Abusive discipline is not just socially and morally unacceptable, it damages learning, as is explained here.


        As I explain in the link given in my earlier comment, proper, accountable, school governance would never permit the sort of attitudes exemplified by Tom Sherrington’s comments. Such proper governance has been made rare by the culture of Academisation. Local Education Authorities (LEAs) were key in their support for effective school governance, which involved active, representative Sub Committees of governors with their elected Chairs reporting to termly full Governor’s meetings.

        In my headship school, the Governor’s Student Welfare Sub Committee would have been the place where Tom Sherrington’s ‘toilet issues’ would have been debated. We had a proper School Council, not the shallow ‘Pupil Voice’ token sort promoted for a while by earlier incarnations of the DfE. This is fully explained in my earlier link. The School Council was led by joint Chairs (a girl and a boy) elected by the whole school community of KS4 students and all employees of the schools including teachers and non teaching staff (caretaker, admin, kitchen and cleaning staff all of whom were directly employed by the school, ‘not outsourced’). Elected student members of School Council attended this sub-Committee and reported back to School Council meetings of elected form representatives.

        Before the demise of LEAs and the coming of Academisation, the legal principle all teachers were trained to respect in relation to the treatment of school students was, ‘In Loco Parentis’. This means that teachers are expected to behave as would ‘reasonable parents’ in matters of pastoral care.

        No reasonable parent would prevent their child from going to the toilet. Parents would in the past have been supported by their LEAs and the courts in requiring basic human rights to be respected in their children’s schools.

  4. “The trust is easy to give in some schools – but that’s not a universal. In others, what that approach does is create quite a lot of traffic, toilet visits morphing into truancy (even from lessons with teachers who are really great!), pressure on toilet supervision because children meet up, safeguarding concerns arising and teachers have to start saying ‘no’. This then creates inconsistency with students negotiating and nagging and some teachers feeling undermined; others made to feel that they’re being mean. It can become a minefield. It’s so hard to offer trust to some students in a mixed community but not others – so you have to decide on one default for everyone even though that feels unfair to some”

    I can’t believe I am reading this, let alone from someone paid to give advice to schools and teachers. Tom, please listen and take note. It is NEVER acceptable for anybody to forbid anybody else from going to the toilet and this obviously includes teachers and pupils. Any other approach is abusive in all circumstances, husband to wife, boss to employee, parent to child, teacher to child. I am a retired headteacher. I would never have employed a person with your views in my school. The fact that relationships are so bad in so many schools that it appears acceptable in some circumstances to forbid students going to the toilet is a shocking commentary on the state of our education system.

    “you have to decide on one default for everyone even though that feels unfair to some”. No you don’t – EVER. Fair and reasonable school rules are just that – fair and reasonable. Forbidding somebody from going to the toilet can never be fair and reasonable. I have a 13 year old granddaughter who had her first period in the last year. It was a traumatic experience for her that that I am sure no male can ever fully comprehend. Her periods were at first heavy and irregular and it took weeks for her to manage them with confidence. Had she attended a school that followed your advice and suffered any embarrassment I would have expected her parents to make an immediate complaint to the school and to the child protection officer in the LA Social Services department, whether the school was a academy or not.

    Yes there are ‘tough schools’ where students have problematic attitudes and poor relationships. The last word, ‘relationships’ is key. High quality relationships are necessary for effective learning in all schools. It is not possible to have effective learning enforced by disciplinary means that ignores the role of quality relationships.

    You may find this article interesting – or not?


    1. Gosh Roger. You don’t know me well do you. Well, that’s me told. The truth is that my view is perfectly compatible with positive relationships and a happy school. My OH works in a lovely (if challenging) girls’ school run my a woman-only SLT. They have the same rule. You might not have experience of a 1500 student tough inner London school – but if you’re serious about supporting teachers so that they can manage behaviour, keep students on track, and keep corridor traffic during lessons to a minimum, the no-toilet approach is a necessity. Preach at me all you like. School after schools reaches the same conclusion – for entirely sensible reasons. Tell us we’re violating human rights if that makes you feel virtuous, but it’s not helpful or accurate.

      1. The fact that many other schools follow suit does not make it the right approach. In the 1950s and 60s all manner of brutality and abuse was commonplace in our schools. As a 70 year-old I can remember it clearly as a pupil. If you read my linked article you will see that my headship school served what was widely regarded to be a ‘tough’ inner city catchment. When I arrived the culture was as you describe, with teachers constantly wanting ‘consistent rules and back-up from the ‘management’. The fact that indiscipline is growing in our schools should be taken as an indicator that all is not well at the heart of the education system. There is another way and it works. See


        In this high performing national education education system, this very debate would be a source of astonishment and horror to students, teachers and parents alike.

        It is the blanket nature of your proposed rule that makes it unacceptable. Consider a Y7 girl who has just started her period. It is possible that her first periods are heavy and unpredictable, which combined with the shock of leaving childhood behind in such a dramatic manner and the physical skills needed to manage the events, renders her emotionally vulnerable.

        Would you expect the poor girl to share this intimate matter with every teacher that taught her? Would you expect her mother to have a meeting with the head of year, who would then have what the child would perceive to be an unwelcome and embarrassing conversation with her teachers (male and female) about what she would rightly believe to be an intensely private matter?

        I can tell you that if I was the parent of such a child forced to sit in tears in her classroom with bloody knickers, I would be very angry indeed. If it was an LA school I would complain to the head of the school, the Chair of Governors, and to the Director of Children’s Services at the LA. More likely, it may be an Academy or Free School, where the last two options do not apply (although they surely should) where an affluent parent would be more likely to consult her solicitor.

        I would be surprised to find any head not claiming to be running ‘a happy school’, but the perception from the child’s viewpoint may be quite different. As Debra Kidd points out, there are any number of other equally distressing possible scenarios, but if the one I describe was to happen only once, it would be once too many.

        There is a growing, well documented, mental health crisis in our schools. The culture of indiscipline and blanket imposition of abusive rules and punishments are all different facets of the same deep rooted problems.

  5. I think if you can’t trust students to go to the toilet, there are bigger underlying issues in the school community to look at.

    In my classes, I have always operated a ‘you don’t even need to ask’ policy. Students tell me that they are going to the toilet and I simply respond with a nod. I even operated like this in a very challenging inner-city London school where the toilets were a constant behaviour management issue. I have yet to have an ‘incident’ (thought I am now bracing myself for one to occur having spoken this thought out loud) and I think this is largely because students feel respected – not just because I let them go to the toilet they want to but because of my general disposition towards them as human beings.

    Get the culture of a classroom, a school, a community right and the rest will follow.

    1. Liam, you are absolutely, 100 per cent right. Neither schools nor classrooms are prisons and school students are not in ‘custody’ while in the care of the school. Students should feel free to leave a classroom for any reason that they feel is strong enough. They may later, if appropriate out of politeness, explain later without being asked. This is an essential school culture for succeeding in the challenging task of integrating autistic spectrum students in a comprehensive school.

      Those teachers that operate in the sort of culture that Tom Sherrington regards as normal have simply not known or experienced anything better. Given that our education system has been systematically corrupted by marketisation over the 30 years since the disastrous 1988 Education Reform Act, this sad state of affairs is not surprising.

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