TROUSER BLOG – It’s the 21st Century – get real

It’s the 21st Century – get real!

We are now well into the 21st Century yet some schools still will not allow girls to wear trousers as part of their school uniform.  I thought that this had all been sorted years ago, in the year 2000, when my daughter, backed by the Equal Opportunities Commission won her campaign to wear trousers to School.  However despite mounting an acrimonious defence, the School backed down on the eve of the court case and grudgingly changed its uniform policy. While this was good news for the girls at Whickham School in Tyne and Wear, it was not good news for girls in other schools. No case, meant no case law, and therefore other schools could continue to ban trousers.   Many schools saw the way the tide was flowing and changed their policies to avoid any similar challenges. Other stood, and some still stand like King Canute, trying to hold back the waves of change.

In most years since 2000 I have been contacted by someone who was trying to overturn a trouser ban at her daughter’school.  I gave them advice, wished them luck and usually never heard from them again. Some I know managed to change the policy others may not have.

This last year has been different. Social media has enabled people to come together to try to overturn the trouser ban for girls and this web page (www.trousersforall.co.uk), our facebook group Facebook: www.facebook.com/groups/491384444377946/  and our growing twitter feed @TrousersForAll is the result. The Department for Education  (DfE) has strengthened the legal framework around anti -discrimination issues and while they do not actually state that banning girls from wearing trousers in school is illegal, the direction of their argument is clear if you read the documents mentioned in this website.  The DfE even advises Schools to take out their own insurance to guard against challenges to uniform policies. In other words if Schools decide to ignore the DfE guidance – then they are on their own if a legal challenge is made.

I have never found a rational argument to support a ban on girls wearing trouser.  The reasons given are usually based on outdated gender stereotyping (‘women wear skirts’) personal  prejudice (‘girls look nicer in skirts’) and the one from my daughter’s school nearly 20 years ago, that the introduction of trousers for girls would degrade the appearance of the school uniform and could ultimately lead to a breakdown in discipline which could have implications for the exam results of the school and its standing in the community.

One our group has suggested that many schools are conflating, or perhaps even confusing, ‘traditional values’ with ‘tradition clothes’. There is a lot of truth in this, but if it is true, how did we ever move out of gymslips, shorts, caps and knitted knee length grey socks. I have not seen a girl in a gymslip for a very long time, but you do sometimes see little boys in caps, shorts and knee length socks, mainly from private prep schools. So does insisting that girls wear skirts becomes a status symbol for the school?  I think that I would admire a school that came out and stated this, rather than putting forward silly arguments that have no rational basis. At least then we can confront and discuss the real issue of why some schools are obsessed with girls wearing skirts.

But times are changing, last week Brighton College in Sussex, a high achieving independent school, changed its uniform policy so that girls could wear trousers and boys could wear skirts. Pupils, parents, staff and many alumni have reacted positively and other schools have contacted the Head Teacher, Richard Cairns for copies of the policy.

Also last week, Sir Michael Wilshaw, the Chief Inspector of Schools stated that he was determined to ensure that discrimination, including on the grounds of gender, has no place in our classrooms. These comments apply equally to a ban on girls wearing trousers at school.

Hopefully if attitudes such as this begin to prevail we will soon be able to disband out group and take down our web page and social media sites. We will have made our contribution to the 21st Century.

7 responses on TROUSER BLOG – It’s the 21st Century – get real

  1. I heard about your campaign on Twitter so wanted to see your website and blog. I’m 14 and am at an all girls school. We’re not allowed to wear trousers. We wear kilts with ankle socks for class, netball skirts for team sports, leotards for gymnastics and dance and athletics briefs for all other sports.

    It’s true that not being able to wear trousers can be cold in the winter and isn’t so practical but most of us like the uniform because it’s more distinctive and smarter. Also we might have to wear skirts in later life so it’s good to get used to them while at school.

    We had a debate in our debating society about whether the uniform should be changed to introduce trousers for class and shorts for sports. Some people were in favour but most were strongly against. So I don’t know whether your campaign will receive a lot of support, as I think most girls are happier with skirts.

  2. Dear Emma
    Thanks for your post. It’s good that you like your school uniform with its skirts, but not all girls feel your way and we have had a lot of interest and positive feedback from our website and our other social media sites. Recently a girls’ school up near Liverpool ran a petition ( the Pant-ition) which found that a large number of girls wanted to wear trousers. They took the results to the Head and the School governors and they have been told that trousers will be introduced from September.
    It is also good that you were able to debate the issue. At my daughter’s school about 20 years ago (a mixed school) they were told that under no circumstances could the subject of uniform trousers for girls be raised at the student’s forum! I’m glad that times have changed.
    Nowadays trousers are worn by women in all walks of life and I think that when you leave school and go to work you will find that a lot of women are wearing trousers. You said in your post that some people were in favour of wearing trousers at your school. Why can’t they have a choice? Given that so many women wear trousers today – why can’t the school uniform include both options?
    Claire@trousersforall.co.uk

  3. I don’t have a problem with the idea of girls being allowed to wear trousers for school but if this is being raised as an equality issue then there is no true equality if girls are given a choice when boys dont have choice. The answer then has to be to campaign for “trousers for all” and eliminate skirts and dresses completely from school uniforms.

  4. Hello Razzy
    The remit of our group is that not allowing girls to wear trousers at school is a discrimination issue and you can read our arguments on this web page. Over the years some schools have responded to these and similar arguments, by making everyone wear trousers – which has caused other problems. Other schools have simply introduced choice. You are correct in saying that if girls get ‘choice’ then boys should have it too, and you will be pleased to know that some schools have simply changed their uniform policy so that there is a Uniform A ( with trousers) and a uniform B (with skirts) and any pupil can wear either. A few weeks ago Brighton College in Sussex hit the headlines because it did exactly that. One of their reasons was that it addressed the needs of the transgender community. Many people will probably still say that the boys will not wear skirts, but where I come from ( Scotland) you can see men and boys wearing kilts ( a skirt by another name) and some boys schools have kilts as part of their uniform. I have noticed that a lot of schools now have kilts for girls – it would not be a bit step for them to say that boys can wear them too and then if these schools also allow the girls to wear trousers, everyone will have choice.
    Thanks for responding to the blog
    claire@trousersforall.co.uk

    1. Hi Claire, it’s Emma here again. I remembered your site and came back here just now and saw your reply and also Razzy’s comments.

      Yes, I can see that if girls have the option of a skirt or trousers then boys should too. Personally I don’t want to have to see boys wearing skirts as I think it would look ridiculous and undignified. Though my school is girls only, I have a boyfriend now and a brother too and I don’t think they or other boys should be wearing skirts unless they’re trans (which they’re not BTW!).

      So if I and other girls have to wear skirts all the time so schools can have a rule saying boys have to wear trousers, I think that’s OK. It’s only a few months of the year when it’s really cold that I would be tempted to wear trousers if we had the option. Even then, luckily at my school we’re not allowed tights, just ankle socks, so after the first couple of weeks each winter of having really cold legs I find I get used to it and I quite like it.

      1. Hello Emma. It is nice to hear from you again. Did you read recently about the boys at a school which would not allow them to wear shorts in that hot spell a few weeks back. The head was adamant that shorts were not part of the uniform policy and so the boys were not allowed to wear them ( can’t think why not- in lots of hot countries men wear formal shorts. She said that they could wear skirts if they wanted ( gender free uniform policy). So the boys did and turned up to school in skirts. They made their point very well.

        1. Hello Claire,

          Yes I saw that article. My boyfriend said he wished he could wear shorts to school in the summer and also early autumn like this week when it’s very warm. But I think the school won’t allow it because the boys could look too casual.

          Plus if they let boys wear shorts in the summer they would have to let girls wear trousers in the winter. When I reminded my boyfriend of this he said he prefers me in a skirt, especially as we’re not allowed to wear tights at our school and he likes to see my legs :-). so I guess it isn’t really sexist having to wear skirts if you’re a girl as long as boys also have to wear trousers.

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