Schools to be ordered to let children wear gender-neutral uniforms under Lib Dem proposal

Exclusive: Separate dress codes for children branded 'totally out of date'

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Wednesday 13 November 2019 18:46 GMT

Schools would be ordered to allow children to wear gender-neutral school uniforms under new plans put forward by the Liberal Democrats.

Layla Moran, the party's education spokesperson, said the existing rules were "totally out of date" and vowed to legislate to force schools in England to revise their uniform codes to ensure they are more inclusive.

Under plans to be unveiled in the Lib Dem election manifesto, headteachers would be compelled to allow children to wear shorts, trousers or skirts, regardless of their gender.

Schools in Wales have already adopted a gender-neutral policy, which means there cannot be separate dress codes for boys and girls.

The move came after in the wake of a heatwave in 2018, when some parents claimed school uniform policies were too strict.

Ms Moran, who tabled a bill on the subject in the last parliament, said: “Too many school uniform policies look totally out of date in 2019. It is time to support all children in wearing what they are happy, comfortable and confident in.

“This will give every single child the freedom to choose what uniform they wear. Dictating what they can and cannot wear because of their gender is outdated and harmful.

"By helping them be happy in what they’re wearing, we can improve learning outcomes.

“Removing the association of ‘boys’ or ‘girls’ with particular clothes in a school uniform policy may not change the way pupils dress, but it could be hugely important for many young people. It’s time to build a culture of acceptance in our schools.”

The Oxford West and Abingdon candidate previously said she had taken up the issue after hearing a 15-year-old Lib Dem member tell the party’s conference that she was forbidden from playing football on her lunch break as she could not switch her skirt for trousers.

The move was welcomed by the equality charity Stonewall, who said young people should be allowed to wear whatever was most comfortable for them.

A Stonewall spokesperson said: ‘It’s important young people aren't forced to wear something that makes them uncomfortable, so school uniforms should include dresses, skirts and trousers and these items should be available to all students.

"Gender-neutral policies shouldn’t be about banning any particular type of clothing, but making sure every young person can wear what’s most comfortable for them."

The prospect of gender-neutral uniforms has proved controversial in some quarters.

Parents and pupils protested outside the school gates of Priory School in Lewes, East Sussex, after it made trousers compulsory for new and existing pupils.

The school introduced the policy over worries about the length of skirts and apparently in response to the concerns of a small number of transgender students.

The Lib Dem plan would not make any garment compulsory, allowing children to choose.

Senior Lib Dem figures will announce the plan at a launch of the party's equality blueprint on Thursday, which will include measures to protect places of worship, tackle hate crime and improve LGBT+ rights.

The party is also expected to announce plans to make it easier for people to change their gender, which Theresa May's government kicked into the long grass.

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