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New Zealand school abolishes gendered uniforms

The girls can wear trousers while the boys can wear culottes or kilts

Rachel Roberts
Tuesday 21 March 2017 18:07 GMT
Primary school children aged 6 and 7 will sit exams for a week in May
Primary school children aged 6 and 7 will sit exams for a week in May (Getty)

A primary school in New Zealand has abolished gendered school uniforms to avoid stereotyping, following in the footsteps of dozens of British schools.

The move comes after some girls at Dunedin North Intermediate School in the South Island complained about having to wear “archaic” kilts, headteacher Heidi Hayward said.

The school, which has around 200 pupils aged 10-13, began allowing female pupils to wear trousers in 2016.

But this created further problems when the small number of girls who chose to wear trousers were teased for dressing “like boys”, staff said.

In response, the school created five “gender neutral” options, including shorts, long pants, culottes, a kilt and long trousers, with pupils free to choose any of the options, regardless of their gender.

Ms Hayward told the Otago Daily Times that the initiative aimed to remove gender stereotypes.

``We don't say there's a girls' uniform and a boys' uniform," she said. "There's five options for the uniform, and as long as you wear them in their entirety, you can wear whichever uniform you please.

``Last year I had a couple of kids who challenged me. They said: `Why do we have to wear kilts? You can wear pants. Why can't we?' That seemed pretty logical to me. It was 2016 and I thought it was odd that we still have these stereotypes. What we were hoping to avoid is making it hard.

``If you're a girl who doesn't want to wear a skirt, you should have an option that works for you. That's where the culottes come in,'' she said, adding that none of the boys so far have opted for the kilt.

She said pupils have been accepting of the options, but parents had taken longer to warm to the initiative.

``The kids weren't really fussed about it. It's adults that have taken a while to get their heads around it - they've asked lots of questions.''

New Zealand’s Ministry of Education has advised all schools in the country to offer gender-neutral uniforms to better provide for sexual diversity among students.

The recommendation is not without its critics, with some claiming it panders to a small minority of children who are confused about their gender.

Bob McCorskie, director of New-Zealand based charity Family First, said: “Uniforms are part of life. There are places where there are certain uniforms that women wear and ones that men wear. We’re creating this false environment in schools which doesn’t reflect reality.”

At least 80 state schools in the UK now have gender neutral uniforms, with Allens Croft in Birmingham believed to be the first to have abolished separate dress codes for boys and girls.

The primary is designated a “best practice school” by the charity Educate and Celebrate, which has received more than £200,000 in funding from the Department for Education to deliver equality and diversity training to staff in schools across the country.

The move is part of a Government-funded drive to support LGBT children in schools and to try to encourage a more tolerant and inclusive approach with a less prescriptive attitude towards gender.

While LGBT rights campaigners such as Stonewall have welcomed the move towards gender-neutral uniforms, critics have derided it as political correctness which could potentially damage children.

Andrea Williams of Christian Concern warned: “These kind of policies that are coming out actually could be very harmful, potentially (by) the imposition of a radical ideological agenda of adults imposed on the innocence of children.”

But Jamie Barry, headteacher of Parson Street Primary in Bristol, who put in place a gender neutral uniform, said: “Children may not always realise or understand their gender identity at an early age so I think it’s important we have a policy that we have a culture of acceptance, so that’s why we’ve introduced (the uniforms), because as our children grow up, we want them to know it’s okay to express yourself or be who you are.”

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