Private schools have long taken a strict approach to uniform. With a tie knotted not quite right or a skirt pulled too high, a pupil could expect to be hauled into the head’s office.
But now the 170-year-old Brighton College, regularly named among the top 10 schools in England for academic results, has ditched the usual hidebound insistence on tradition to allow boys to wear skirts and girls to wear trousers if they wish.
The move is in recognition of gender dysphoria, when an individual feels there is a mismatch between their biological sex and their gender identity.
Richard Cairns, headmaster of the boarding and day-pupil school, said 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.”
LGBT rights across the globe
LGBT rights across the globe
Russia’s antipathy towards homosexuality has been well established following the efforts of human rights campaigners. However, while it is legal to be homosexual, LGBT couples are offered no protections from discrimination. They are also actively discriminated against by a 2013 law criminalising LGBT “propaganda” allowing the arrest of numerous Russian LGBT activists. (Picture: Riot police hold an LGBT activist during a Moscow rall.)
Men who are found having sex with other men face stoning, while lesbians can be imprisoned, under Sharia law. However, the state has not reportedly executed anyone for this ‘crime’ since 1987. (Picture: Chinguetti Mosque, Mauritania.)
3/7 Saudi Arabia
Homosexuality and transgender is illegal and punishable by the death penalty, imprisonment, corporal punishment, whipping and chemical castration. (Picture: The emblem of Saudi Arabia above the embassy in London.)
Bruno Vincent/Getty Images
The official position within the country is that there are no gays. LGBT inviduals, if discovered by the government, are likely to face intense pressure. Punishments range from flogging to the death penalty. (Picture: Yemen's southern port of Aden.)
Both male and female same-sex sexual activity is illegal and in some northern states punishable with death by stoning. This is not a policy enacted across the entire country, although there is a prevalent anti-LGBT agenda pushed by the government. In 2007 a Pew survey established that 97 per cent of the population felt that homosexuality should not be accepted. It is publishable by 14 years in prison. (Picture: The northern Nigerian town of Damasak.)
Homosexuality was established as a crime in 1888 and under new Somali Penal Code established in 1973 homosexual sex can be punishable by three years in prison. (Picture: Families use a boat to cross a flooded Shebelle River, in Jowhar.)
Although same-sex relationships have been decriminalised, much of the population still suffer from intense discrimination. Additionally, in some of the country over-run by the extremist organisation Isis, LGBT individuals can face death by stoning. (Picture: Purported Isis fighters in Iraq.)
Brighton College, where fees can exceed £12,000 a year, has been described as “Britain’s most forward-thinking school”.
The decision came after a girl at the school – which has a Gender Society for its pupils – raised it with the headmaster together with her parents.
She will be the first pupil to wear what was once known as the boy’s uniform. Parents of a number of prospective pupils have also contacted the school about the issue. The rule change affects pupils aged 11 and over.
Sixth-form pupil Amy Arnell said that no one was surprised when the change was announced. “There is just no reason not to do it if it makes people feel more comfortable about themselves,” she said.
Fred Dimbleby, another sixth-former, said he was proud to attend a school where “there is no concept of the norm, of conformity and of the expected way to be”.
“Everyone has supported this move and I think that there is a real sense of unity, from the headmaster to the youngest third former, about this idea,” he said. “I also know that students who are gender fluid or for any reason decide to change the uniform that they wear, will be accepted, supported and encouraged by the whole school.
“I think it would be great if all schools took up this idea. Secondary school is such a formative period for people so it’s important to encourage people to be who they want to be.”
Mr Cairns admitted the college’s new uniform policy was unusual. “The college’s approach is different from most other schools, which have tended to give transgender children personal leeway with uniform,” he said.
“Brighton College has instead decided to abolish the notion of boys’ and girls’ schools altogether. Traditional uniform will be worn but the type of uniform will be a matter for the individual boy or girl, always assuming parental support.”