CHILDREN as old as five are being sent to school in nappies because their parents cannot be bothered to toilet-train them.
The problem has become so widespread that Education Queensland is drawing up a toilet-training factsheet amid calls from teachers' groups that nappy-wearing children be banned from attending school.
With the introduction of the Prep year, children as young as 4½ are starting full-time schooling — a situation that has fuelled the explosion in nappies in the classroom.
Teachers believe the increasing use of full-time day care also has promoted a culture where it is normal for three and even four-year-olds to wear nappies.
Most children are usually toilet trained between two and three years. Education Queensland refuses to reveal how many children are arriving at schools in nappies citing "privacy concerns".
But the Parents and Citizens Council said it was an issue affecting "dozens" of Prep classes in the state, and it had been inundated with complaints from parents.
State School Principals Association president Norm Hart has written to Education Queensland, citing concerns that the problem could result in litigation — with teachers possibly accused of molestation.
"Toilet training is a parental responsibility and not something that should be taught at school," Mr Hart said. "There are increasing concerns for staff members about the risk of litigation that may arise from toileting, washing and dressing students."
Parents and Citizens Council president Margaret Black said:
"How parents choose to toilet-train their children is up to them, but they need to train them before they get to school. Other children do notice if a child is wearing a nappy and they will tease someone for it."
An Education Queensland spokeswoman did not want to comment on whether the department would be taking action to ban nappy-wearers from classrooms. But the spokeswoman said that children starting the non-compulsory Prep year were "expected" to be toilet-trained.
"Education Queensland works with families to address any toileting issues and will provide advice and assist schools in managing any workplace health and safety issues," she said.
Queensland Teachers' Union president Steve Ryan used the issue to again lobby the State Government for an increase in staffing numbers in Prep classes.
"There needs to be more classroom aides to help teachers with this issue and parents need to inform the school if their child has problems with toileting," Mr Ryan said.
Brisbane psychologist Kathy Valentine said she had treated many school children with toileting problems.
"In some cases the children are still in nappies because they are being neglected or badly treated," Ms Valentine said. "Parents can sometimes handle the issue of toilet-training inappropriately by shouting at children if they make a mistake or putting too much pressure on them, and this can set them back."
Brisbane pediatrician Johanna Holt said schools needed to be aware of workplace health and safety issues when teaching nappy-wearers. Outbreaks of Hepatitis A, diarrhoea and stomach infections have been linked to dirty nappies.
"There needs to be a separate room available for nappy changing, with a change table and hand-washing facilities," Dr Holt said. "Really, children who are still in nappies should not be going to school in the first place."