TROUSER BLOG – Going backwards instead of forward

This last week the TfA twitter feed and Facebook Page  has been buzzing with comments  about the events going on at Connahs Quay High  School in North Wales (http://www.deeside.com/parents-anger-at-connahs-quay-high-school-plans-to-ban-girls-from-wearing-trousers/)

This is a mixed, state school, where currently the girls can wear trousers as part of their school uniform – which is good. However apparently some of the girls have been wearing the ‘wrong  kind of trousers’ i.e  denim trousers, trousers that are too tight, and leggings – and now the Head has issued a letter saying that a new uniform will be introduced and all girls will have to wear skirts. Apparently the Head thinks that this is a better solution than trying to enforce the existing dress code which actually excludes denim trousers, tight trousers and leggings. If this is the real reason, and I suspect it is not – then it does seem like taking a hammer to crack a nut and many parents and students are very upset about this allegedly unilateral decision.

Another reason behind this proposed change, could be that the Head would like the school’s female students to look more like those girls who go to nearby trouser banning private schools and selective grammar and faith schools, which have a reputation for having high achieving pupils. The logic of this argument seems to be that ‘ if we ban trousers, then our girls  will look as though they go to a ‘high achieving school’  and then, we might attract more girls who have the potential to become ‘high achievers.’  It is a long shot but it might work. However I doubt if any Head would ever acknowledge this reason, because he or she would not want to admit to existing  parents that they think the current appearance of their daughters  is making the school  less attractive to more ‘desirable’ students . Hence the ‘wrong trousers’ argument.

But banning trousers per se is not the way to go if a school wants to raise its academic standards, because even those ‘ high achieving schools’ that the Head may wish to emulate are now, albeit slowly, tuning into the current zeitgeist and beginning to relax their school uniform dress codes so that girls can wear trousers. This week  St Paul’s Girls School in London has introduced a gender identity protocol to allow those girls who identify as boys to wear trousers. Last year Brighton College in Sussex  introduced a similar policy. While this is commendable in many ways, it does not address the main reason  many girls want to wear trousers. These are; that trousers are warmer in winter/more comfortable/ give more freedom of movement and that they are now common work wear for women including the  Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Education . In fact schools are the last bastion of compulsory skirt wearing for females.  The problem with schools having a separate policy for transgender students is twofold. First, it marks these students  out as ‘different’ when what they might want is just to mix in with the rest of the students in the school and second, a policy which favours one group against another group ( e.g. the non transgender pupils) is discriminatory. Far better to say students can wear either skirts or trousers (or even shorts or dresses) and leave it at that.

But even without the transgender issue many high achieving private and/or state selective schools are introducing trousers for girls, either because they are responding to the wishes of the students  and their parents or because they want to portray a modern and progressive image where girls  can make choices and are not being constrained by the subtle pressures of outdated and sexist stereotypes (watch Dylan’s video clip on our web page www.trousersforall.co.uk).  Last year Birkenhead High School Academy on the Wirral changed its skirt only policy to allow girls to wear trousers following a well organised campaign by the senior girls. The School governing body were proud of the maturity and the organising ability that the girls had shown – and they were right to be.

It is not an unreasonable aim for the governing body of a school with high aspirations  to want their students to look smart because introducing that kind of discipline at an early age will help to improve the  employability of the students when they are older.  But that does not mean that girls have to wear skirts. The smartest group of school girls  that I saw recently going on an outing to Birmingham, were all wearing trousers (although the School  did have a skirt option)  and they wore shirts with a revere collar and no tie – they came from North Bromsgrove High School. The image they portrayed to me was – definitely a school with a positive modern outlook and  high aspirations.   

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