A row has erupted over unisex toilets in schools after a new £12 million building at Buxton School in Leytonstone, east London, was equipped with unisex toilets for pupils over eight years old. A petition calling for the toilets to be closed reached 500 signatures in 24 hours.

Executive head teacher Kath Wheeler welcomed the addition of full-height unisex cubicles for pupils in year 4 and above, while younger children will still use toilets in or attached to their classrooms, the Telegraph reports.

She has commented that the toilets have created “safe spaces where pupils show respect towards each other and feel respected”, and noted the toilets meet the Department of Education and Waltham Forest council regulations.

But a petition calling to close the toilets reached 500 signatures in 24 hours, with outraged parents claiming the toilets would initiate sexualised behaviour and could lead to assaults. Shaila Hussain, a concerned parent commented:

“This will initiate more sexualised behaviour. It would be better to keep it separated as it’s safer. The toilets leading to the corridor can still be open, for staff to oversee single sex toilets. Having the unisex toilets will allow nothing but more mischievous behaviour.”

Hannah Cuthbertson said unisex toilets in schools will just lead to children becoming sexually active even earlier. She added:

 “Unisex toilets will just lead to children becoming sexually active even earlier. In turn this leads to more sexual assaults and problems, children are too young to understand the implications.”

Firuza Beg said the toilets could increase the risk of child abuse, saying:

 “There’s already so much child abuse going on and this will increase the situation even more. If anything does happen then the head teacher and other associates will be fully responsible. Totally disgusting.”

However, many people see this as a progressive step in the right direction. According to Jade Slaughter, another parent at the school commented:

“…unisex toilets will make it much easier for trans and non-binary students. I can’t see any problems with it.”

Caroline Emma Burns said unisex toilets in schools is nothing to be concerned about.

 “Everyone should be able to use the toilet in peace whether in unisex or single sex toilets. Hopefully the kids will be taught to be respectful of each other, whether in the toilets or not.”

Ms Wheeler is inviting parents to take tours of the new facility and reminds those concerned that there are single sex toilets still available. She added: “No pupil has to use a unisex toilet if they do not want to.”