‘Absolutely disgraceful’ school toilets causing medical issues for NSW students, inquiry hears

Disgusting toilets and overcrowded, demountable classrooms are pushing more parents to send their children to private schools, an inquiry into New South Wales public school infrastructure has been told.

A state parliamentary upper house education committee is examining the planning and delivery of school infrastructure, after reports from the NSW auditor general, Margaret Crawford, last year.

Public school infrastructure is so bad that students avoid eating or drinking throughout the day so they don’t have to use their school’s “absolutely disgraceful” toilets, Federation of Parents and Citizens Associations of NSW vice-president, Yvonne Hilsz, told the inquiry’s first hearing on Monday.

“We have parents complaining their children have [urinary tract infections], bladder issues, because children refuse to go to the toilet during the day,” Hilsz said.

Some school toilets don’t have working soap dispensers, the doors don’t lock, they’re dark and they stink from decades worth of urine soaking into tiling grout, Hilsz said.

In its submission to the committee, Concord High School Parents and Citizens Association noted their school was short of toilets and demountable bathrooms had been installed, with no plan to replace them.

Volunteers had managed to secure a $150,000 grant from the government to upgrade bathrooms, and were informed that was enough to upgrade just four toilets, which could take up to a year.

The school has one wheelchair accessible toilet, on the second floor of a building where the lift does not work.

Parents were not happy they were being forced to use their free time to apply for grants to fix toilets at their children’s schools.

“This is a state government workplace health and safety responsibility,” their submission read.

Despite being short on toilets and outdoor seating, $250,000 was spent on a new commercial kitchen at the school’s canteen, which students can’t use.

The Concord P&C submitted the canteen upgrade should have been low priority and there was no rational basis for the work.

Parents were being left in the dark over what work would be carried out at their schools and there was too much secrecy surrounding school infrastructure, the Federation of Parents and Citizens Associations of NSW secretary, Alan Gardiner, said.

Talking to School Infrastructure NSW was like “talking to a void”, he said.

“We make comments, I don’t know where they go, what happens, it’s hard to see what changes as a result.”

When a new build took place, there were project reference groups established, which would have only one community representative who would have to sign a non-disclosure agreement preventing them talking to anyone else about what would be built.

“They cannot discuss any of the proposals or options which might be on the table with anyone else … [it’s] unfair and wrong and I think excessive secrecy,” Gardiner said.

Demountable classrooms were also being used to address overcrowding in growing catchments, encroaching on school ovals and preventing children from exercising, the inquiry heard.

Temporary infrastructure, overcrowding and a lack of consultation with school communities about catchment and enrolment was pushing parents who can afford it to send their children to private schools, Hilsz said.

“Where there is option for private, and budget availability for parents to go private … they will move out of public education and by year 5 many have already started to move into private [schools],” she said.

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