UNISEX toilets at Musselburgh Grammar School will “reduce bullying, fear and mental anguish”, it has been claimed, despite some parents expressing fears that they could be intimidating for girls.

As part of a project to redevelop social and dining spaces to take account of the increasing school roll, mixed – rather than single-sex – toilets are planned for a new social and dining area.

“Extensive” consultation with pupils led to three options being promoted, all of which include unisex toilets.

READ MOREMixed toilets to be considered for Musselburgh Grammar School refurbishment

However, some parents have expressed concerns over the lack of a single-sex option, with one branding the consultation – which closes on Monday – “flawed” and a “Hobson’s choice”.

East Lothian Council says that single-sex toilets are not included as an option as “it is no longer deemed to be in alignment with national best practice for inclusivity and equalities”, with new schools and extensions built in the county – including the new Wallyford Primary School, Letham Mains Primary School in Haddington and an extension at Dunbar Grammar School – now all having mixed toilets, which have been “well received”.

And the school’s parent council has stressed that “the vast majority of parents” are happy with the decision.

In a statement, Gaynor Allen and Andrew Horrell, parent council co-chairs, said: “All Musselburgh, Wallyford and Whitecraig councillors are invited to attend our meetings and in recent meetings have advised parents that the council’s lawyers have looked over this issue.

“The parent council and Pupil Voice had sought to consult on designating one block for males, one block for females and mixed use for the four toilets with sinks at the end of each row but had no role in that option being removed from the survey, but were assured the question was not in line with current legislation.

“The council has presented evidence that universal toilets, which have floor to ceiling doors and walls, actually reduces bullying, fear and mental anguish.

“As co-chairs of the parent council, we are aware that some people have concerns about the consultation on the toilets; however, East Lothian Council oversees the statutory and legal requirements for these developments.

“The general refurbishment will be a welcome addition to the school and provide much-needed social space and modernise the very tired building. The pupils and staff deserve a substantial upgrade.

“The issue of how to configure the toilets has been raised at many parent council meetings and the vast majority of parents who attend feel it has been dealt with, and are happy for the parent council to move on to other matters such as recruiting a new headteacher, the health and wellbeing of pupils returning to school, and ensuring better communication with the parent forum.”

They added: “The parent council has discussed the issue of the new toilets at length and agreed to work with the Pupil Voice to include parents in the pupil consultation.

“The Pupil Voice drew up four questions, but one of the questions was said by council officers not to be in line with the Equalities Act 2010.

“As a parent council, we have to follow the advice of the council’s lawyers, who have assured us that the council has followed the proper procedure with all aspects of the school refurbishment.”

The signage options being considered are:

  • One indicating two fully universal toilet blocks. Additional toilets will have private sinks at the end of each row;
  • Another indicating blocks with a row of male and a row of female toilets, with universal toilets (containing sinks) at the end of each row;
  • A third indicating one universal block and one block containing a row of female and a row of male cubicles, with additional universal toilets (containing sinks) at the end of each row.

But the plans have not found favour with all parents, with one, Simon Blakeley, contacting headteacher Colin Gerrie, local councillors, MSP Colin Beattie and MP Kenny MacAskill with his concerns over mixed toilets.

He said he thought that a fourth option needed to be included where the two toilet blocks were separated into female-only toilets and male-only toilets.

Mr Blakeley said he feared that girls could be “forced” to share toilet space with teenage males, adding: “High school is hard enough without the added worry of having no private or safe space to go to the toilet or carry out personal hygiene.

“I am concerned for our female young people who are being forced to share a sink area and entrance to cubicles with teenage boys.

“The upshot of this is that a 13-year-old girl, and girls as young as 11, could find themselves in a toilet with an 18-year-old male.

“I wouldn’t choose this option if we were outside of the school environment so I don’t see why I should have to accept it inside a school which is supposed to be a safe space for our young people.”

A parent of an S2 pupil, who declined to be named, has also contacted Mr Gerrie and elected members opposing mixed toilets.

She claimed that “many parents are concerned, angry and frustrated”, adding: “Pupils and parents who would prefer a single-sex option either have to abstain from responding to the consultation or vote for the ‘least worst’ option.

“All I want personally is a fair, transparent process, providing all the options in the consultation, which in turn will provide comfort and choice for our young people.”

A spokesperson for East Lothian Council said: “The specific proposals were developed following extensive consultation with the parent and pupil councils.

“The toilets are completely enclosed, offering the users full privacy, and are in line with the designs used in other public buildings in East Lothian and across Scotland.

“The consultation allows the wider school community to share their views on the final designation for the toilets.

“All of the proposals put forward are in line with our requirements under the Equalities Act 2010 and meet our full legal obligations. When the consultation has concluded, an equalities impact assessment will be completed before any work is taken forward.

“We welcome participation in the consultation and look forward to analysing all of the responses received between now and the closing date. All feedback will be considered, which will inform the decision taken thereafter.

“We take our safeguarding responsibilities towards all our young people extremely seriously.”

The council spokesperson added that pupils at Dunbar Grammar School – which has had a unisex toilet block since 2018 – agreed they did not want signage and wanted the facilities non-designated.

She said: “There haven’t been any issues and the toilets are well received.

“In fact, as part of the Musselburgh refurbishment, young people on the Pupil Voice team went to Dunbar to view the facilities and talk to their peers there.

“The more open design aspect to the corridors also reduces the risk of bullying and the cubicles are completely private as per the specification for Musselburgh.”

Councillor John Williamson, Musselburgh ward member, said: “I think it is very commendable of the mature way in which the pupil voice is being harnessed and gathered through the pupil-led consultation. It is only right that pupils have the final say on their school.

“The proposed works will be an investment that will hugely improve the social and toilet spaces.

“I understand that the majority of stakeholders are supportive and excited about the improvements.”

Musselburgh MSP Colin Beattie said: “I think the views of those who are using these toilets should be prioritised when considering any changes, as well as the opinions of parents and guardians of those attending the school.

“Consulting those affected should be a priority to get an accurate idea of what the wants and needs of the students are.”

But East Lothian MP Kenny MacAskill said: “There have to be separate toilet spaces for girls. To fail to do so is both absurd and frightening.”