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Parents voice concern over planned unisex-only toilets at new Ness Castle and Ness-side primary and nursery school in Inverness; Highland Council defends the plan as accepted across Scotland and a means to reduce bullying behaviour

By Alasdair Fraser

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Ness Castle Primary School. Picture Gary Anthony.
Ness Castle Primary School. Picture Gary Anthony.

A new £15 million Inverness primary school and nursery will provide pupils with unisex toilets only.

The 850-pupil facility will serve the new Ness Castle and Ness-side housing estates and ease school roll pressures to the south of the city, within Inverness Royal Academy’s catchment area.

But a number of parents have contacted the Courier to express concern about the absence of single-sex toilets.

The school’s first-phase building, set to open in August, will feature two washrooms for primary children and a separate one for nursery pupils.

All three will be for mixed use by boys and girls, with no single-sex alternatives.

Highland Council says there is evidence non gender-based designs, now common in new builds across Scotland, reduce bullying and other behavioural issues.

Similar facilities are in place at other Highland schools including Inverness Royal Academy and Charleston Academy.

It is understood that it will be a decision for the school’s head teacher whether the two primary school toilets are split between P1-3 and P4-7.

Plan of unisex toilets for Ness Castle primary and nursery
Plan of unisex toilets for Ness Castle primary and nursery

But some parents fear the arrangements could impact youngsters, particularly girls, at a sensitive stage in their development and are vowing to raise those concerns with head teacher Craig Connon and local MP Drew Hendry.

One parent said: “We need to teach our children how to develop healthy boundaries to protect their privacy and personal space, so they can protect themselves from predatory behaviour.

“Having a safe, female-only space is essential.

“The kind of boys who would pull ponytails and poke fun at girls will now have the opportunity to intimidate.

“For primary one to three children, going to the toilet on their own can be an unnerving experience.

Artist's impression of the Ness Castle primary school, ©Stallan-Brand Architects.
Artist's impression of the Ness Castle primary school, ©Stallan-Brand Architects.

“To then be confronted by a 12-year-old from Primary 7 in the same space would be intimidating and could put off some children from trying to go to the toilet altogether.

“There are particular sensitivities for young girls starting their periods. It is an uncertain and sometimes confusing change.

“The idea that they will have to manage this in the same space as boys while they try to embarrass and mock them is unbearable.”

Another parent stressed: “I think the children should have the choice of using unisex toilets or separate gender toilets.

“My daughter is at the age where she is developing and isn’t comfortable sharing a bathroom with males.”

A third said: “This could lead to girls feeling very uncomfortable, especially older ones who are going through puberty.

“I know of many parents who feel concerned and will be taking it up with the school.”

A Highland Council spokeswoman said: “Pupil toilet areas in our new build schools are generally designed as open plan, to allow flexibility in how the school manages the facilities.

"The toilet cubicles and doors are full height and fully enclosed for improved security and privacy for pupils.

“The handwashing areas are open plan and can be easily supervised from the corridor. It is widely considered that this model of toilet facility can contribute to positive pupil behaviour, are fully inclusive, and reduce the potential for vandalism.”

Building work continues at Ness Castle Primary School, with a view to opening in August. Picture Gary Anthony.
Building work continues at Ness Castle Primary School, with a view to opening in August. Picture Gary Anthony.

Councillor John Finlayson, chairman of the council’s education committee, was unaware of concerns over toilet design.

He said: “Issues surrounding the new build are being discussed at stakeholder meetings, with parent representation.

“I’m assuming everything to do with build, design, classrooms, staffing and other matters will be discussed there.

“I’m pretty sure that any design that is being proposed will be consistent with what expectations are for building new schools, not just in Highland but across Scotland.”

The new school is sited near the Brodie Road and Dornoch Road junction of the Ness Castle housing development.

Building work on phase one began in June last year, with 12 classrooms serving 333 pupils and three playrooms for 128 nursery kids set to open for the 2022/23 academic year.

Phase two will create another 12 classrooms for 326 pupils and two more playrooms for 64 nursery youngsters.

It will draw pupils from Holm and Lochardil primary catchments, as well as the new housing estates.

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