St Patrick’s RC Primary School (Preston), 2015
My battle to have trousers included on my daughter’s school uniform list started in December 2013. It astounded me that in 2013 such a problem would still exist. How naïve I was. In the course of the next two years the resistance I encountered, and the deep-rooted gender stereotyping that existed in our school and in society in general left me equally depressed and determined to battle on. I wrote numerous letters to the board of governors, to no avail. But no-one could give me one valid reason why the rule could not be changed. To my utter frustration, the Head telling me that trousers on a girl weren’t smart enough was wearing a trousers suit. I was banging my head against a brick wall.
I spoke to my MP Nigel Evans, who wrote to the school and to the Minister for Education on my behalf. I got a stock response saying uniform was at the discretion of the individual school and they would not get involved. A chance introduction to a reporter at The Times led to a story being written, but eventually being reduced to a snippet, on the day. When a similar story on a fellow Trousers for All member was written a year and a half later I was invited onto ITV’s This Morning with Phil and Holly to discuss the issue. This was by far the scariest thing I have ever done but so much good came from this appearance. My school changed the uniform rule very shortly afterwards, and it led me to the other founding members of Trousers for All.
In today’s society I find it shocking and disgraceful that it is OK for schools to discriminate against our girls in such a blatant manner. Let’s make a stand and change the world for our girls, one trouser leg at a time!
Pamela Pattman, January 2016
The PANT-ition at Birkenhead High School Academy (Wirral), 2015
In October 2015 we organised a campaign to wear trousers as part of our school uniform. When we thought about it, trousers for girls in our school seemed really simple. Why not? A smart pair couldn’t hurt and the teachers wear them and they look professional enough. Despite us mentioning it many times at council meetings nothing had ever been done to change our uniform policy, so that this is when we decided to launch our campaign. We walked around our corridors at lunch times, explaining how trousers are also a great option. Some people don’t feel comfortable in skirts, other less confident, and others just simply cold. Although it took some persuading with a few girls, after three days on hard work we had over half the school’s signatures for the petition we set up: The PANT-ition!
Along with a carefully written letter and a picture of the trousers with the schools uniform uniform we sent off our campaign to our head mistress on International Girls Day of 2015! We are proud to have received a letter from the school’s Board of Governors in December 2015, which announced a change in uniform policy as of September 2016! This is a triumph for us and the girls in our school, as well as girls around the Wirral Country. It took a lot of hard work but with support from our school, friends and the Trousers for All Facebook page we have made a real difference!
Lizzy (BHSA pupil), December 2015
Hale v Whickham Comprehensive School (Newcastle upon Tyne), 2000
I wrote to the headmaster expressing my surprise that the revised policy did not include trousers as an option for the girls and suggested that this should be included. I was invited to submit my suggestion and reasons to the governors meeting in November 1997 – but it was turned down. Subsequently, I wrote to the LEA Director of Education, the Chair of the LEA Education Committee, and my local MP, all of whom interceded on my behalf with the headmaster and the governors but to no avail, even though some of the school governors were supportive. I also made formal complaints to the LEA and the then DfEE, but the official view was that the responsibility for school uniform regulations lay with the School Governors and even though I might consider that the decision not to allow girls to wear trousers was unreasonable the legal position as to it constituting sex discrimination, was unclear.
The School argued 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. It was the absurdity of this argument and a period of unproductive dialogue with the school, the LEA, the DfEE spanning two years, that convinced my daughter and me to approach the Equal Opportunities Commission. They agreed to support Hale’s case that the school’s persistent refusal to allow her the option of wearing trousers to school as part of her school uniform, constitutes unlawful sex discrimination contrary to ss.1 (1)(a) and 22(c) (ii) of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975.
In the event, on the eve of the court case, the School backed down, on the advice of their lawyers. The good news was that the uniform policy was changed to allow girls to wear trousers at that School, the bad news was that because the case did not go to court, no precedent or case was set regarding gender discrimination and schools could continue to ban trousers for girls, although many did change their policies to avoid being involved in similar disputes in the future.
Professor Claire Hale, January 2016
Ross v Heathfield School Gateshead
From the age of four and half to the age of eleven and a half my daughter was perfectly happy at school.
She left Kelvin Grove Primary School, Gateshead just as it was beginning to introduce a uniform policy. She moved onto Breckenbeds Junior High, which had a uniform policy I thoroughly approved of. It was reasonably casual and no problem with girls wearing trousers there.
When she was 14, she was due to move onto Heathfield Senior High. That must have been 1994/95. I am talking a long time ago!
By this age my daughter was a typical teenager full of angst and self doubt. In one way, however, she was atypical. She had size 9 feet (this is relevant). She was not particularly tall but back in 1994, buying women’s shoes that were a size 9 was virtually impossible. We tried ‘Saxone Tall and Small’. Her feet were too wide for any of those shoes. We were sent to the Men’s Department who wanted to chase us for being female. Unhelpful for ‘angst’.
She started worrying, really worrying about her move to Senior High. Their uniform policy was skirts for girls and Doc Martins don’t look good under skirts. Men’s shoes don’t look good. The policy had to change, not only because of her feet but in the interests of equality.
I wrote to the school – and got no answer. I wrote again, this time to the governing body and got a letter back saying that they had no intention of changing their policy.
I researched uniform policy legislation at that time. I discovered that if a council had a hardship fund that would help to pay for a child’s uniform at a council school, then a uniform policy could be enforced. If there was no fund then uniform could not be enforced. I discovered that Newcastle (the nearby town) had such a ‘hardship fund’ but that Gateshead Council did not.
There was a meeting at Breckenbeds about children moving up to Heathfield Senior High. I approached Heathfield’s head teacher and raised the trouser issue again. I was told that the matter would be reconsidered when Breckenbeds and Heathfield amalgamated to form the new Joseph Swan School in 1996. I said that was not soon enough for my daughter who would refuse to go to school at all if she had to wear a skirt. They said they were sorry but were not prepared to budge. I told them what I’d discovered about enforcement of uniform policy and they said they thought I was mistaken. I left them saying I may have to recourse to law. I thought I had a case because of the lack of hardship fund but mainly equality legislation that disallows discrimination.
I wrote a letter and sent a copy to the Head Teacher, the Parent Governor, the Chair of Governors and to the Governing Body as a whole.
I asked them to review their uniform policy in light of equality legislation, keeping in mind that a parent at another school had recently won a case for her daughter who wanted to wear trousers.
I told them I was totally in favour of school rules but that I was not in favour of rules that skirted the edges of legality and for that reason a policy review would be in order.
I also told them that if there was not a change I would take court action and make sure that other parents were aware, via the press, that Gateshead had no hardship fund for uniforms – and the implications.
It worked. My daughter and other girls started senior school in trousers. Equality achieved.