The arguments for girls having trousers as a uniform option centre around the issues of normal school wear, equality, practicality and health.
1. NORMAL SCHOOL WEAR
The majority of schools in this and other countries now have trousers as a uniform option for girls. There is no evidence to suggest that girls wearing trousers is likely to lead to a decline in academic standards and/ or behaviour. School outfitters make trousers for girls as well as for boys. Given that girls’ trousers are now such a widely recognised and popular item of school uniform, it is difficult to understand why any school which prides itself on its forward thinking (as most do) does not include trousers as an option for girls.
A new Equality Act came into force on 1 October 2010. It brings together over 116 separate pieces of legislation (including the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act) into one single Act, providing a legal framework to protect the rights of individuals and advance equality of opportunity for all. While the wordage of the 2010 Equality Act itself might not mention school uniforms specifically, it does puts great emphasis on the avoidance of activities and actions in all spheres of life that result in one sex being treated less favourably by comparison with the other. In addition to the above mentioned Act, there was specific guidance on School Uniform published by the Department for Education in 2013. Following this, in May 2014 the DfE published a specific document on the Equality Act and Schools which again emphasises the need to avoid uniforms that are expensive and treat one sex less favourably than the other. A brief look at the arguments for girls having the option to wear trousers in school makes it clear that insisting that girls wear skirts at school means that they are being treated less favourably by comparison with boys. In other words, not allowing girls to wear trousers is discrimination.
Warmth and comfort
In winter (and often at other times of the school year) it can be cold and pupils need to be warm and comfortable. In recognition of this, many schools have fleeces as a uniform option. Trousers are warmer than skirts and it would seem logical to extend the principle of warmth and comfort and include trousers as a school uniform option for girls.
Fit for purpose
Over the last decade or so, a number of uniformed organisations that have females as members or employees have introduced trousers into their dress codes mainly because they allow more freedom of movement and are therefore a more appropriate form of apparel for the type of work and activity undertaken. For example, nurses, physiotherapists, policewomen, postwomen, girl guides etc are among those who have benefited from the introduction of trousers. During a school day many occasions arise for which the wearing of skirts is impractical, for instance playing sport at break times, clearing up classrooms, helping to mount pictures and other work on walls, and sitting on high stools in the science lab. Given that one of the aims of the school is to promote equality of opportunity for all, including access to the whole curriculum (curriculum being interpreted in its widest sense) and given the recognised need to actively encourage girls to take more part in sport, it would seem logical to include trousers as a school uniform option for girls.
Most girls in secondary school cover their legs with tights, mainly to keep warm. Tights, even thick tights, are easily damaged either by catching them on school furniture or having them deliberately snagged. While tights can be bought fairly cheaply, their short life makes them an expensive item. Trousers can be worn with socks (which are more durable) rather than tights and therefore are a less expensive form of school clothing than skirts and tights.
Girls having to show their legs is hugely problematic for some cultures and religions. Furthermore, the wearing of skirts does not protect girls from the accidental or inadvertent public display of their underwear. This can happen when they accidentally slip and fall. On windy days skirts blow around. It is easy to see up girls skirts when they climb steps or bend over. Lifting up a girl’s skirt is a recognised and irritating boyish prank.
However, many school governors and teachers seem to be concerned about the current fad for short skirts, often monitoring and sometimes measuring the lengths of girls’ skirts. The inclusion of trousers as a uniform option for girls would be advantageous in many ways. Those girls who are concerned about decorum can cover their legs completely. It would also reduce (and hopefully eliminate) the amount of time spent on monitoring and measuring the lengths of girls skirts, leaving teachers less vulnerable to allegations of sexual harassment.
Skirts are a more constricting form of dress than trousers. There are certain postures, positions and activities which girls and women cannot easily perform (or have been advised against performing) when wearing skirts. For example, the best sitting posture is an upright back with knees slightly apart- a position usually adopted by men (wearing trousers). Girls and women on the other hand tend to sit with their knees together or crossed (for reasons of decorum). Crossed legs at the knee can restrict the venous return and predispose to varicose veins in later life and should therefore be discouraged.
Some girls suffer from vaginal candidiasis (thrush). This unpleasant and uncomfortable condition is exacerbated by the wearing of nylon tights. The alternatives to tights are:
- stockings with suspenders (uncomfortable)
- stockings which stay up without suspenders (expensive)
- ankle or knee length stockings or socks (cold in winter).
Given the health risks of bad posture and of repeated occurrences of thrush, it would seem appropriate to include trousers as a school uniform option for girls.
Some teenage girls are concerned about their ‘body image’- it is recognised that anorexia nervosa and bulimia are conditions which particularly affect teenage girls. Some girls do not like to display their legs because they consider them either too fat or too thin. Given the need to be sensitive to the concerns of adolescent girls and also to recognise the potential for teasing and bullying that surround them, it would seem appropriate to include trousers as a school uniform option for girls and thereby give those girls who are concerned about the shape of their legs, the opportunity to cover them up if they so wish. Recently, there has been discussion about LGBT+ issues and schools. Forcing LGBT+ people into wearing particular items of clothing can have devastating effects on them. With an estimated 10% of the population being non-heterosexual, all schools should allow pupils to choose items they feel comfortable with. The inclusion of trousers as a uniform option for all would be LGBT+ friendly. A further step would be to make skirts available to all.
The arguments for girls having trousers as a uniform option centre round the issues of practicality, health and safety, normal school wear and equality. There is no rational argument which can be used against the inclusion of trousers as a uniform option for girls and therefore continued refusal to allow girls to wear trousers in any school could be interpreted as prejudice and an example of gender discrimination. A uniform policy which is based on a stereotyped view of what is appropriate wear for school girls has little place in a modern society that espouses equality of opportunity for all.