Case studies

Kingston Grammar School (Kingston upon Thames)

I first raised the issue of girls not being allowed to wear trousers as part of their uniform in 2014.

KGS’s current uniform policy instructs that girls wear a “checked skirt, to finish just on the knee” and boys wear “long black trousers of conventional trouser cut”. The skirt that KGS girls must wear is made of a thin, synthetic material, and has to be from a specific supplier. In contrast, trousers worn by KGS boys can be of any brand and quality. The cost of a new pair of trousers is up to ten times cheaper than the cost of the official KGS skirt.

The skirt-only policy puts girls at disadvantage in many ways, disregarding diversity and cost, and reinforcing sexist stereotypes. When I first raised the issue, senior teachers told me that the skirt-only policy remained because in a survey conducted a few years earlier, pupils and parents said that “trousers were not smart enough” and therefore they “preferred a skirt”. Yet the question of girls’ trousers was not asked in this survey, and there was no voting but a consultation involving selected people giving informal feedback. Furthermore, the School acknowledged that several KGS parents had requested the introduction of trousers for girls.

On behalf of KGS, in November 2015 The Education Company conducted an online uniform survey. It was not password-protected, meaning that it was potentially open to abuse. The following month, KGS published a summary of results, which stated that “there is no clear trend towards trousers for girls”. Unfortunately, they did not make it clear in the report how they came to this conclusion.

I have found it difficult to engage with the School community on this issue due to the way in which parent-school communications are set up. Seeking a way to do this will be one of my next steps. Although KGS has shown a willingness to revise the uniform policy, progress has been insufficient as (bizarrely in 2016) the skirt-only policy remains. Regardless of what the survey’s results (with all their limitations) may say, girls should be given the option of wearing trousers. After all, KGS’s aim is “to prepare young people for the world around them”, a world in which the overwhelming majority wear trousers.

Name withheld, January 2016

 

Update: In April 2016, KGS sent all parents a more detailed summary of responses obtained in the uniform survey. According to that document, 68.28% of parents and 68.11% of pupils agree with or do not have an opinion on the proposal that “Trousers for girls should be introduced” . It seems surprising that the School did not consider there was enough support among parents and pupils to introduce trousers for girls. Arguably, many people would consider that the figures above are a clear outcome in favour of trousers or at the very least not a mandate for retaining the status quo. I have continued to raise the matter via email and in various meetings. The School are still saying that changes to the uniform policy are under consideration. In the meantime, girls are forced to wear skirts only.

August 2016

 


 

Catholic school in the North East of England

I have two lovely daughters, aged 11 and 8 respectively. Elder has a strong dislike for skirts and dresses. She does not mind other females wearing them, but she does not see herself as a skirt kind of girl. We have tried to persuade her to put a skirt or a dress on, at least for the odd special outing, but she feels uncomfortable in them, and on the few occasions she does allow herself to be prevailed upon, she goes and changes back into trousers at the first opportunity. Skirts are simply ‘not her.’

This aversion is not the result of anything we have inculcated in her. Her mother wears dresses and skirts as often as she wears trousers. And my younger daughter, although happy in trousers, likes few things better than donning a flowing, English-rose type of dress to go to a party. What these three females wear is an expression of their individuality, moods and tastes, and, in a liberal society in the twenty-first century, that seems exactly right.

Although Elder has been happy in her local schools, we have decided to move her to the best possible secondary school in the region. It is a catholic institution, and it has very high academic and discipline standards. We feel very lucky that she has been accepted. The school has, of course, a strict dress code, stipulating skirts for the girls.

Elder is, I think, biding her time. Over the summer she went through the motions of agreeing to the move, and attended the preliminary events with good enough grace. One of them was the purchasing of the uniform; we were very surprised at the absence of a scene when she was forced to try the skirt on. She is not looking forward to starting school in a new place, surrounded by none of the friends she has cultivated since primary school, with some of whom she has formed solid friendships. She is 11 now, and I sense conflict lurking around the corner.

As the start of the school year approaches, we are looking forward to Elder’s benefiting from good teaching and proper support at the new place. I do worry, though, about the psychological effects of the change, and about the aggravating effect the imposition to wear skirts is likely to have on her. I wish I could speak to the staff and explain my anxieties in a calm manner with some hope of flexibility.

But at the summer induction it was made clear that the uniform was not negotiable. I was struck by the firmness with which the skirt requirement for girls was stated, as if it were a point of honour on which the school’s reputation were staked.

I do intend to raise the point at the first opportunity. But I do not expect an easy ride, since, as I say, skirts seem to have some kind of totemic value attached to them at the new school. I have to tread carefully; Elder will be new there, and I do not want to start her on the wrong footing vis-à-vis the staff. I, too, will bide my time, and will start when it feels right. At that point, too, I will reveal the school’s name, and mine.

Name withheld, August 2016