A number of schools throughout the United Kingdom have decided to change their uniform policy to a more gender-neutral approach in an effort to show sensitivity toward transgender children, and are now allowing boys to wear skirts and dresses.
In all, 40 elementary and 40 high schools have updated their dress codes in order to be more sensitive to transgender students, either by dropping any references to either sex or changing the wording to say that students can wear whatever uniform makes them feel the most comfortable. The new rules allow children as young as five to be open about being transgender without breaking any school uniform rules.
Diversity supporters have suggested to schools that the policies currently in use could be seen as discriminatory toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students, writes Eleanor Harding for The Daily Mail.
Uniforms became popular during the reign of King Henry VIII, with long jackets dyed blue being worn by children at Christ’s hospital. After elementary education became available for all children, uniforms increased in popularity as they were believed to be a way to keep children from rebelling, writes Jenny Scott for the BBC.
As the first elementary school to change their uniform policy, Allens Croft School in Birmingham allows boys to wear a grey or black skirt or pinafore and girls to wear grey or black pants. The school says the new policy was put in place “to promote each child’s right to express their gender and personality in whichever way feels right for them,” reports Douglas Patient for Express.
Head Paula Weaver said that the policy change came about as a result of students at the school who did not dress according to traditional gender roles. Labeled a “Best Practice School” by the charity Educate and Celebrate, the school receives diversity training through a grant from the Department for Education.
“Everybody has the right to be themselves – that was the impetus for it. We do lots of work through literature and drama and we talk to children about the fact we have someone who was assigned male at birth who is saying ‘I’m a girl’. It’s about being open with them and about everyone feeling OK,” said Mrs. Weaver.
Founder of Educate and Celebrate Elly Barnes said that around 80 schools have adopted the new gender neutral policy so far. The schools are located in various areas including Cheshire, Southampton, Durham, Bristol, Chichester, Hartlepool and London.
“In some schools, when I have the initial staff meeting and talk about gender-neutral uniforms, the reaction is ‘We can’t do it, parents won’t like it’. But as soon as they do it, they find out there is absolutely no difference. You don’t get boys coming in to schools suddenly wearing skirts. But it just gives that space for it not to be an issue if there are trans kids,” said Barnes.
However, not everyone agrees with the policy change. Christian groups have shared concerns that allowing young students a choice in their uniforms could confuse them. Andrea Williams of Christian Concern said she believes the change could be pushing an agenda onto impressionable young minds, adding that schools are overstepping their boundaries.
A source for the Government commented that Educate and Celebrate receives funding in order to train staff on how to handle transphobic bullying, not to aid in the implementation of uniform policies.
One four-year-old student, Logan Symonds, wears a dress to school. While his mother Emma believed the desire to be a phase, she said she first started letting him wear dresses when he would throw tantrums after being put into male clothing. She does not want to label him as “transgender,” however, saying he is too young to make such a decision, and that professional advice will be sought when he is older.