School faces legal action over girl's fight to wear trousers

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The Independent Online
AN EQUALITY watchdog is pursuing legal action against a school which refuses to let a 14-year-old girl wear trousers.

The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) yesterday asked Gateshead County Court, Tyne and Wear, to issue proceedings against Whickham School, claiming that it has sexually discriminated against Jo Hale.

Jo's mother, Professor Claire Hale, has been fighting school rules which say that her daughter must wear a skirt, claiming they disadvantage girls on the grounds of cost, comfort, freedom of movement and protection against assault. But the school's governors have refused to make an exception, saying other parents appear happy with the dress code. Yesterday, Julie Mellor, chair of the EOC, said that the commission received many complaints every year from girls at schools which took a similar view. "We advise them to try to resolve the matter with their school amicably and in most cases that works. Unfortunately, in this case it didn't," she said.

"However, at present, there is no case law on dress restrictions in schools and we hope Jo's case will clarify the legal position once and for all for everyone concerned."

Tom Hopper, chairman of the school's governors, declined to comment on the case yesterday. "This is an on-going campaign by one parent. We knew it would be going to litigation and it would not be right to comment further at this stage," he said. Professor Hale, 47, said: "I think, in a sense, it is very sad it is having to go to court but I'm confident we will win. We are only a few weeks off the year 2000 and you would think the school would agree to be a little more up to date with its policy. It is sad that the girls are now going to have another winter with cold legs and I annot understand the position of the governors."

The hearing could take place in six to twelve months.