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Alarming number of children beginning school unable to speak or use toilet

stressed primary school child

The chief inspector of Ofsted, Amanda Spielman has highlighted concerns over the rising number of children starting school who lack basic hygiene and communication skills.

As a result, these children are starting school at a disadvantage and more than a million hours per year of valuable teaching time is lost as teachers have to spend time cleaning up children after they’ve been to the toilet.






The report conducted by YouGov interviewed more than 400 primary school teachers and 500 parents and children. It found:

  • 53 per cent of teachers are concerned that children not being toilet trained and having an accident in class means time is taken away from others in class.
  • 43 per cent of children found it difficult to concentrate in class as a result of avoiding going to the toilet when they need to go.
  • 44 per cent of children avoid going to the toilet every week and a worryingly 11 per cent do so every day.

The report also discovered 4.7 million children actively avoided defecting at school. Primary school teachers noted that have seen children going without food and drink in a bid to avoid using school toilets.

The side effects of this are huge, they include dehydration, bladder infections and possible bowel problems as they get older.

A quarter of primary school teachers and children described the hygiene levels in school toilets as poor or very poor, with a fifth reporting that no checks are made on them during the day.


James Bowen, director of NAHT Edge union, said: “We are concerned about the increasing number of school leaders who are telling us that children are arriving in school unable to use the toilet independently.

“There can be lots of reasons young children aren’t confident using the toilet at school, but one deterrent can certainly be the hygiene and condition of the facilities.”

”With school budgets under enormous pressure, the reality is that most are finding it increasingly difficult to repair and upgrade such essential facilities.”

Essity will be working with teachers, local authorities and health professionals through its School Hygiene Essentials Initiative to improve toilet hygiene.

Kevin Starr, managing director at Essity, said: “Schools and local authorities are trying to do their best with limited budgets and resources. Spending more money isn’t an option and we don’t believe it’s the answer either.”


“Our aim in highlighting these issues is to open up a dialogue with schools, parents, health experts and local authorities and work with them, using the collective expertise and experience to identify simple and easily implementable solutions to tackle the issues, with little or no cost to schools.

“By doing this, we aim to improve health and well-being, reduce absenteeism and increase self-esteem and confidence of children in the UK.”



Mrs Spielman, a Cambridge graduate and mother of two, spent much of her life as an accountant and investment adviser for leading City firms. In 2004, she became research and policy director for the Ark academy chain before becoming chairman of exams regulator Ofqual in 2011.

She doesn’t blame parents for this, many are working full time jobs, juggling family and work life and as a result more children spend time in childcare. However, they do have the most important role in teaching children basic life skills before they start school.

Mrs Speilman is urging nursery staff to play a part in helping these children learn basic and valuable life skills – saying they can ‘make a world of difference.’


Some children are ‘lucky’ to have a family culture where they get lots of help. Learning nursery rhymes, the alphabet and being read to are part of a daily routine. Others aren’t so lucky, they don’t get the same help at home nor a structured routine and crave this in other environments i.e. at nurseries and schools.


“We now have a situation where, aged four, some children have less than a third of the English vocabulary of their peers,” she told members of the Pre-School Learning Alliance.

“These children arrive at school without the words they need to communicate properly. Just imagine the disadvantage they face, right from the start.

“Unable to follow what’s going on. Unable to keep up with their classmates. Unable to reach their potential.”

“As a child, you will do worse at school. As a young adult, you may struggle to find work.

“And as a parent, you won’t be able to help your own children learn. This is a vicious cycle.”

On toilet training: ‘It is alarming that more and more schools report children turning up on their first day of Reception unable to do this. Indeed, there have been recent news stories about children being sent to school in nappies!”

Mrs Spielman is demanding new reforms, and wants all children starting their first year of school to be able to do basic tasks, such as using a pencil, kicking a ball, putting on their shoes and taking off their coat.


In a separate survey carried out in September 2017, 83 per cent of headteachers didn’t think four year olds were ready or prepared for school. A similar amount commented to say the situation has worsened throughout the past five years.



June 5, 2018