Gender neutral school uniforms could appear in north's schools, says union
PARENTS might find themselves shopping for a gender-neutral uniform this summer if schools in the north follow the lead of others elsewhere, it has been claimed.
Avril Hall Callaghan, General Secretary of the Ulster Teachers' Union (UTU), was speaking after a London school announced plans to introduce gender-neutral uniforms in response to a growing number of pupils questioning their gender identity.
Highgate School said it was considering mix-and-match outfits for pupils.
More recently, dozens of pupils at Isca academy in Exeter staged a uniform protest after the school insisted they wore trousers in a heatwave.
They wore skirts to school to protest against 'no shorts' policy.
Ms Hall Callaghan said some people may be shocked by the idea of gender-neutral uniforms.
"Really we have to look at what is fair and equitable in this age of gender equality and recognise the needs and rights of all our young people regardless of their sexuality," she added.
"After generations of often secrecy and shame, young people who don't fit the general binary perception of gender in society are at last being supported to come out and live their lives openly. However, many of our institutions still have to catch-up - and school uniform arguably being one."
She said many schools in the north allowed girls to wear trousers.
"Little more than a century ago this would have been considered outrageous," she said.
"As children question and come to terms with their identity, often school is the place where this is most evident so teachers may be aware of these issues, even if parents are not, and can provide mediation, for instance, if such a situation arises.
"You only have to look at some of the school leavers' yearbooks to see young people cite their names as those of their chosen gender as opposed to that under which they enrolled – an announcement about who they really are just at the cusp of adulthood."
The Girls' Schools Association, Ms Hall Callaghan added, had also advised members to stop using the word ˜girls' and address children as `pupils' instead. Last year it was revealed that around 80 state schools in Britain were allowing pupils to wear clothes of the opposite gender.
"So this is happening in our schools and we must be aware of it. These young people's rights are enshrined in equality legislation and we must ensure they are met and respected, even if that means radical changes in uniform."