London - Schoolboys will be allowed to wear skirts and girls to wear trousers under new “gender-neutral” uniform policies introduced across the UK.
Eighty state institutions, including 40 primary schools, have either removed reference to girls and boys in their dress codes or have rewritten their uniform policy. It is part of a drive, funded by the government, for schools to be more open to children who are questioning their gender identity.
Diversity campaigners have warned current policies risk discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pupils (LGBT). A spokesperson for Stonewall told The Independent: “We welcome all efforts to support young people on trans and gender identity issues and ensure that they feel happy, welcome and accepted at school, and it's encouraging to see this move. No trans person should be forced to present in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable. When this happens, it can be deeply damaging, particularly for young people.”
In January, Brighton College, an 170-year-old private school regularly among the top 10 schools in England for academic results, scrapped uniform rules for transgender pupils. Richard Cairns, headmaster of the boarding and day-pupil school, told The Independent they had decided there would continue to be two different kinds of uniform, but pupils could choose which one they wanted to wear. “This change follows requests from a small number of families. It ties in with my strong personal belief that youngsters should be respected for who they are,” he said.
“If some boys and girls are happier identifying with a different gender from that in which they were born, then my job is to make sure that we accommodate that. My only interest as headmaster is their welfare and happiness.” Allens Croft School in Birmingham is believed to be the first state primary to declare that it has a “gender neutral” uniform.
The primary is designated a “best practice school” by the charity Educate and Celebrate, which has received more than £200 000 (about R4.2-million) in funding from the Department for Education to give equality and diversity training to staff in schools across the country. Julia Neal, chair of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers' equality and diversity committee, said “gender identity prejudice” in education needs to be challenged.
She added: “It's about senior management teams and governing bodies understanding that there are a lot of facilities in schools that are separated - changing rooms and toilets and uniforms are very gender-specific. If there is gender fluidity they need to understand the importance of genderneutral facilities. And they need to understand how pupils want to be referred to, as he or she. It's a delicate area.”
Andrea Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern, told The Times: “We are increasingly seeing boundaries being overstepped and it is concerning.”
Earlier this year, an Icelandic primary school removed gender signs from its toilets so as not to force anybody into a pre-designed form.The Independent