I tried really hard not to write this blog post. I really did. After days of mulling it over, I simply can’t keep my thoughts to myself any longer. The issue that’s bothering me? How a school has attempted to introduce gender neutral school uniform and got it spectacularly wrong.
You may have heard of the secondary school in question. It’s the Priory School in Lewes, East Sussex which counts various MPs and media bad boy Piers Morgan among its alumni.
At the beginning of this academic year, the school introduced a new uniform policy that stated all pupils, regardless of gender, must wear trousers. According to the school’s website, the aim was to “address the current issues of inequality and decency.”
I have no idea what the bit about decency is about, but the bit about inequality? That’s backfired and backfired massively.
Parents and pupils were deeply upset at the introduction of this policy. Girls turned up to school wearing skirts and according to one report I’ve read, even one boy turned up in a skirt to show solidarity with female students.
The result? The school wouldn’t let kids in if they weren’t wearing trousers. A protest ensued, the police were called and the school gates were closed to keep skirt wearing teens off the premises.
The majority of those locked out of the school were girls. Just take a look at this video.
I was shocked by that video. The sight of school pupils, the majority of them female, being locked out of school is just bizarre.
Let that sink in for a moment. Teenagers turned up wanting to go to school, but they were stopped form attending because they were wearing skirts or supported those wearing skirts. Not only that, but the police were asked to attend.
This situation was managed incredibly badly. For all intents and purposes, the police were called to enforce a school uniform policy and stop kids from going to school. How can that situation have been allowed to develop? It is totally unreal. I was under the impression most schools had the reverse problem and struggled to get kids to show up for lessons. Here was a bunch of kids who were keen to learn but couldn’t get inside!
Some might argue the kids over-reacted. Maybe, but I can understand why they responded the way they did. The school has forced the girls to adopt a traditionally masculine item of clothing. What do you do next? Enforce short hair styles? Ban bras? You can appreciate why this led to protests. The girls’ identity was under attack.
Imagine if the school had done the reverse and forced all pupils to wear skirts. The resulting protests would probably have been much uglier.
Only rarely do you increase equality by banning things. I’ve made my thoughts on school uniform clear many a time. I personally think all school kids should wear track suits or some variant of track suits that are tough wearing, easy to maintain and encourage physical activity.
School uniform policies should not focus on gender neutrality. That’s a divisive argument on which no one will agree. If you introduce a school uniform that’s comfortable, reasonably priced and encourages and promotes physical activity, you’ll get most people on board because it’s a sensible idea. Such a uniform could include trousers, skorts, shorts or leggings. It could keep everyone happy and the Dickensian uniform most kids have to tolerate would be consigned to where it belongs: History.
The result of the Priory’s approach speaks for itself. I found it shocking that kids who wanted to attend lessons found themselves being locked out. Even worse was the sight of confused police officers looking on as the gates were locked. I suspect they were quietly horrified at what they were witnessing and keen to get on and with some proper policing.
There’s talk of a legal challenge to the policy. I shall be watching how this situation develops with interest. I also look forward to perusing The Priory’s next Ofsted report. The bit about attendance will probably make for interesting reading!