Teenagers like me growing up in the 21st Century have frequently been dubbed as the ‘snowflake’ generation; something to encapsulate our sensitivity towards a far wider spectrum of social issues. In recent years, sensitivity seems to have developed into a ‘dirty’ word, especially by older and more ‘robust’ generations. An important question to ask is whether this acute and responsive social awareness is seen as progressive or simply hypersensitive and a waste of time. This question has manifested in the debate of whether pupils should have the freedom to wear school uniform that matches with their gender identity, or whether this would be an unnecessary and excessive step.
Recently, Highgate School (in north London) has released plans to introduce a more fluid school uniform, which would allow pupils to mix and match with what they personally feel comfortable in. This would allow both boys and girls to wear skirts or trousers. It’s not just this school either that has introduced these changes. Over 80 state schools allows pupils to wear clothes of the opposite gender as well as at least 120 schools introducing gender neutral uniform in the UK.
These sorts of changes, especially among schools deeply rooted in tradition, have naturally faced criticism. Allowing freedom (such as allowing boys to wear skirts) among pupils has resulted in schools having to dispute to find balance between the wants of the parent and the wants of the child.
While I think it is important to allow children to wear what fits with their gender identity, a mix-and-match system may just put an imposing pressure on pupils, assuming somebody curious about their identity would have the confidence to explore it in a sometimes rigid school environment.
Currently at Charterhouse, girls have the option to wear skirts or trousers while boys must wear suits. Regarding hair, boys are not allowed hair that goes beyond their shoulders yet girls do not have such limits. Perhaps a fairer rule would be to allow both genders to have the same restrictions on length of hair, as long as it is kept ‘neat and tidy’. Very few pupils at Charterhouse have expressed strong wishes for a revision of uniform policies. This does not mean to say that there is not a demand for change, but rather the potential issue has not yet been addressed. Perhaps in the future as the school shapes itself to fit with our progressive culture, there will be a more determined desire to rethink our school uniform.
By Romilly Cotta