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What about the washrooms?

Formica offers their advice for designing washroom facilities in education

Posted by Stephanie Broad | June 18, 2016 | Facilities management

According to the newest RIBA report, too many school buildings are poorly built because of the rigid one-size-fits all approach by The Education Funding Agency (EFA). Newly built schools are left with having to adapt to their pupils needs, including the enlargement of washroom facilities, which local authorities are paying for 

However, according to a year-long study, undertaken by the University of Salford and UK architects Nightingale Associates in 2013, school layouts can influence pupils’ development by as much as 25%. While the study focuses on the design of the classrooms, less attention has been paid to the design of areas such as washrooms. Charities such as Education and Resources for Improving Childhood Continence (ERIC) continuously highlight the importance of the quality of school toilets, which have an undeniable impact on pupils’ health, education and happiness. As David Miliband once said: “If you get the toilets right, you get the teaching right." 

In secondary schools, more privacy is required, which can encourage anti-social behaviour to occur as pupils are left unsupervised 


In primary schools, washrooms needs to strike a balance between privacy and adult supervision. A variety of cubicle door heights is advised, as well as appealing, colourful designs and customised images encapsulated in laminate. Bespoke furniture, feature wall coverings, cubicles, door skins, signage and much more can be designed age-appropriate. Generally, bold designs and colours are more likely to encourage the respect and well-being of the users. Very often schools choose the colours of the school logo for the cubicles. 

In secondary schools, more privacy is required, which can encourage anti-social behaviour to occur as pupils are left unsupervised. Phil Wise, European Category Manager - Commercial Products at Formica Group, explains: “Older pupils can feel vulnerable inside school washrooms. We have noticed that specifiers and fabricators have increasingly taken to installing floor to ceiling cubicles. While this is not the standard in open plan washrooms yet, it certainly has gathered pace, especially as it also helps to avoid pupils passing objects such as mobile phones with a camera under or over the door or partition.” However, other areas of the washroom should be as open as possible to facilitate unobtrusive adult supervision to further help to reduce any form of bullying. 

Special needs 

Another important aspect for washroom design is its compliance with the Discrimination Disability Act (DDA). To adhere to the DDA, a 450mm gap between an in-swinging door and the toilet pan is required. To create spacious, longer cubicles, large sheets of laminate can be installed, with the added bonus of increased privacy. 

Furthermore, the selection of colour and finish in terms of the LRV (light reflectance value) for sufficient visual contrast is another aspect to take into consideration for special needs facilities. This ensures visually impaired people can easily distinguish between different areas of the washroom, such as door frames to walls and sanitary fittings to walls, by virtue of the difference in light reflecting from the surface.

Photos courtesy of Formica


To reduce the frequency with which school washrooms need to be refurbished, the Priority School Building Programme’s Services Output Specification 2013 recommends the specification of compact grade laminate (CGL) for cubicles and wall panels systems. CGL is a versatile, robust and practical material that provides creative design options and stands up to humidity. A good alternative to CGL is High Pressure Laminate (HPL) as it is equally durable, impact, staining and scratching resistant, as well as possessing dimensional stability at elevated temperatures. 

As required in a washroom environment, both materials are water-resistant and extremely hygienic because of their ability to withstand high temperatures when for example steam cleaning or using detergents to get rid of any bacteria.  The durability of laminate offers a long-term solution, making it a sustainable and cost-effective option for schools.


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