New buildings at schools in the Republic of Ireland are set to have the option to feature unisex bathrooms, according to the Department of Education's recently published School Design Guide on Sanitary Facilities.

"School design must adapt to modern changing needs," Ireland's Department of Education's recently published  School Design Guide states.

A key focus in the recently published guide is the design and layout of sanitary facilities and / or WCs.

The Guide, available online here, features several renderings of what bathrooms in Irish schools could like - blocks of individual "self-contained spaces with robust full-height separating walls and access doors" and shared washbasins.

There is an emphasis throughout the Guide on the need for "passive supervision" in such facilities.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education said: “The operation of sanitary facilities is a matter for each school authority.

“As such, early discussion in the design process between the design team and the school authority in relation to the arrangement and layout of sanitary facilities is required.”

The Guide, published this month, says: "Where sanitary facilities are carefully designed and operated, they become a significant component of the learning environment and provide a vital and valuable means of support for children in managing their own health, particularly as part of a whole-school ethos promoting health and well-being. The physical aspects of a school should promote well-being in students.

"School buildings must be open, transparent, adaptable, and flexible."

The Guide further states: “All sanitary facilities are to be designed with the physical and emotional safety of pupils in mind, to promote inclusivity and in order to remove the risk of bullying in the school environment. 

“Toilets, corridors, cloakrooms, locker areas, changing rooms, and showers may be the location of verbal, psychological, and physical bullying. The behaviour of pupils in those areas requires careful monitoring through passive supervision.”

“The location, design, and layout of sanitary facilities must balance the requirement for passive supervision of sanitary facilities from circulation spaces with the dignity and privacy requirements of each user. 

“Well-designed and well-managed sanitary facilities create cleaner, healthier spaces and are capable of being used, cleaned, and maintained in a way that ensures safety and dignity of pupils and staff."

Regarding the potential layout for new sanitary facilities, the Guide says: "Student sanitary facilities in Post Primary schools should be arranged in small blocks, not in a large central block. Small blocks increase the opportunity for passive supervision, discourage anti-social behaviour, reduce disruption caused by cleaning and maintenance, and cut down curriculum time lost through pupils visiting sanitary facilities during lessons.

"In multi- storey buildings, sanitary facilities should be provided on each floor and should have a stacked configuration in order to reduce services distribution.

"All student sanitary facilities are to be designed and located in order to maximise passive supervision and reduce the risk of bullying and anti-social behaviour. At the same time, the privacy of each individual WC unit is not to be compromised.

"WC blocks may be designed so as to provide dual access and egress for student safety, enhance passive supervision, and where the risk of bullying can be further reduced.

"Lobbies or doors into sanitary facilities from the circulation areas are not to be provided as these interfere with clear lines of sight and impede supervision of the general washroom space from the main circulation areas. Passive supervision from the circulation spaces is to be maximised."