In the week that John Lewis removed gender labels from its children’s clothing, one school has gone even further.
Priory School in Lewes, East Sussex has banned skirts in order to introduce a more gender-neutral uniform.
Headteacher Tony Smith said the measures were brought in to address short skirt complaints as well as to assist transgender students in their transition.
Parents have been left furious at the measure which has been implemented for all new Year 7 pupils. Both boys and girls will not have to wear grey trousers.
“Pupils have been saying why do boys have to wear ties and girls don’t, and girls have different uniform to boys? So we decided to have the same uniform for everybody from Year 7,” Smith told the Daily Mail.
“Another issue was that we have a small but increasing number of transgender students and therefore having the same uniform is important for them.”
The headmaster added that “transgender students [were] only a small aspect of why we have made this decision”, saying there are “five or six trans students” currently at the school.
“I think in many ways, it’s unfair citing that as the key reason – it is not, it’s one of many reasons. The new uniform is easy for parents to purchase and it’s not complex or expensive – it’s simple, and that’s what the word uniform means, it’s the same for everybody.”
“This will then allow staff to concentrate on teaching and not uniform issues.
It’s a step in the right direction – I’m not naive enough to think there will be no issues, but I made the decision around this school which is what is important to us.”
Several parents have criticised the move – especially since they weren’t consulted before the big change.
One mother with a daughter at the school said that her daughter wasn’t happy with having her gender taken away.
“My daughter said she has got a gender and it’s female so being gender neutral when she has got a gender is a big deal for her, as she’s proud to be a girl,” she commented.
“As a mum, I feel girls should be allowed to wear skirts if they want to. For me, it’s not gender neutral because they are not allowing boys to wear skirts.”
She said that her 11-year-old daughter had written a letter to the headteacher asking him to explain his reasoning. In it, she wrote: “Girls have different bodies to boys and we should have the right to wear skirts. I think girls should have a choice.”
“The hypocrisy is what gets me the most,” said another mum. “If girls dressing differently than boys is now to be considered sexist, then it is equally sexist to have female teachers wearing skirts and not wearing ties.”
“If they want this, they must live the values they force on others and go fully gender free. The school is creating a hostile environment for girls by treating their views with contempt.”
Some parents, however, have supported the progressive decision. “Women have died and fought for the right to dress the way they wanted to and it seemed to us their rights were taken away,” said one dad.
“But when it was explained to us that it was about inappropriate dressing, I think it was the right decision to make.”
“I’m not in favour of uniform at all, but if you’re going to have a uniform I think it is great it’s gender neutral,” said a mum from the school.
Transgender organisation Mermaids UK has also spoken out in favour of such a radical decision, calling it “a clear message of acceptance.”
Chief executive Susie Green said “adding gender neutral uniforms is one of many simple ways that schools can help any pupils struggling with their gender in any way.”
“Schools need to take a clear line to accept and embrace all diversity, no matter how small the numbers affected.”
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