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.”
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.”
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