We look at the recent movement in schools towards gender neutral school uniforms and the legal duties of schools in relation to uniform policies.
Priory School in Lewes, East Sussex has joined the growing number of schools in the UK to have a gender neutral uniform policy. All year 7s starting at the school this September are required to wear school uniform trousers, while those in years 8 and upwards have the choice of whether to continue wearing the current uniform (of trousers for boys and trousers or a skirt for girls) or adopt the new, updated uniform.
It is reported that the school decided to make the changes to its uniform policy to ensure that an increasing number of transgender pupils feel included. Additionally, concerns have been raised about the length of the skirts worn by some of the pupils and the school website states that "this uniform has been designed specifically in response to the many issues and suggestions raised by parents, students and school staff. Specifically, it addresses the current issues of inequality and decency."
A survey carried out by the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that 1% of the population surveyed was gender variant to some extent and the NHS has reported that the number of adolescents being referred to specialist gender identity clinics for gender dysphoria (a condition where a person experiences discomfort or distress because there is a discrepancy between their biological sex and gender identity) is increasing. Readers will also be aware that issues around gender identity have been undergoing increased coverage in the press recently with attention given to the use of gender neutral pronouns, gender neutral clothing and shop layouts and gender neutral parenting.
Priory School follows Highgate School in North London who drew up plans to introduce a similar non gender specific uniform policy earlier in the year and Brighton College who last year replaced their uniform code with one that accommodates transgender students. Highgate School said that the discussion around the new uniforms was raised in response to "a growing number of pupils questioning their gender identity".
However, these moves are not supported by all. Earlier this month, the parents of a six year old boy removed their son from his school on the Isle of Wight due to another pupil at the school dressing as both a boy and a girl. The parents have said that the suggestion that gender is fluid conflicts with their Christian beliefs and they are now considering legal action against the school.
Schools have a duty to comply with the Equality Act 2010 in the provision of education to pupils. This includes educating children about diversity and schools may consider including programmes aimed at improving understanding and reducing bullying. While there is no specific legislation governing school uniforms, schools must ensure that their policies do not discriminate against pupils because of (amongst other protected characteristics) their sex, sexual orientation or because of gender reassignment. It is important to note that pupils who have decided to identify as a different gender are protected before they begin any treatment. Schools may wish to review their policies and procedures (including those in relation to uniform) to ensure that they are not discriminatory.