German summit aims to flush away bad school toilet experiences

<span>A press conference launching the competition for the best ideas to make school toilets pleasanter to use.</span><span>Photograph: Dpa Picture Alliance/Alamy</span>
A press conference launching the competition for the best ideas to make school toilets pleasanter to use.Photograph: Dpa Picture Alliance/Alamy

Germany’s first School Toilet Summit has met, seeking initiatives across the EU’s biggest country to make facilities less off-putting for children driven to holding it in all day rather than visiting the loos that up to half of pupils have said they try to avoid.

The winning answers included the integration of pot plants, disco balls, scent dispensers, mobile phone holders and plenty of soap and toilet paper to make the nip to the toilet – and with it, school in general – a little more pleasant for pupils.

The competition organised by the German Toilet Organisation (GTO) with student and parent groups accepted submissions from 135 schools from 14 out of the 16 states to improve cleanlinesss, fight odours, discourage offensive graffiti and enhance safety in the school facilities. Prizes valued at €50,000 (£42,000) beckoned.

A GTO study last August revealed that half of German pupils found their school bathrooms so disgusting that they tried to avoid them at all costs, with more than one in four going without food and drink sometimes to silence nature’s call. Sixty per cent of school administrators said that not all of the sanitary facilities at their sites worked.

The summit’s organiser, Svenja Ksoll, said that the state of the bathrooms ranked with bullying and poor lunch options among the concerns children say undermine their educational experience. Avoidance can lead to health problems including stomach aches, constipation and urinary tract infections.

One of the winners crowned at the Berlin event, eight-grader Hendrik Simon and his Hellweg Realschule in the western city of Unna, said their toilets had been a hellhole before the upgrade.

“There was urine on the floor, which was very sticky, and it stank,” Simon, 14, told news agency dpa. “The toilet was very dark and a lot of the toilet seats had been destroyed by vandalism. The mood was very depressing.”

Simon admitted he tried not to use the facilities until he got home. “It wasn’t very nice sitting in class with such a pressing feeling,” he said.

But that was before he and the student council set about turning the toilets into an oasis of order, wellness and calm with innovative decorations and ample supplies.

Other winning proposals included checklists to address common complaints, free period products and training for primary schoolchildren in learning to flush. A touch of humour didn’t hurt either, with the installation of whiteboards for jokes and football goals at the back of urinals to encourage better aim.

One elementary school in Berlin made a music video spotlighting its hygiene superheroes.

A high school in Mainz, the Schlossgymnasium, enlisted bathroom monitors paid with donations from parents to discourage bad behaviour.

Teacher Tjeerd Frank said the staff at the school had their own facilities. “But now the student toilets are so much better than ours that we’re tempted to use theirs,” he told public broadcaster SWR.