Let girls be girls

Schools are under enormous pressure to gender-neutralise kids.

Gareth Sturdy

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Around 150 pupils and parents staged a demonstration at Priory School in Lewes, East Sussex last week to protest against the school’s gender-neutral uniform policy. According to the policy, which came into effect this year, all students must wear trousers and girls turning up in skirts will be sent home to change. The BBC reports that the school’s policy was a response to ‘concerns’ over the length of girls’ skirts. It was also designed to be inclusive to transgender pupils.

A video of the protests went viral. It showed security, backed up by police, locking the school gates to close out the girls. It is telling that pupils taking part in Greta Thunberg’s school strikes against climate change are given the day off to do so, whereas these girls are punished for their protest.

Schools which take a robust stand on matters like uniform, haircuts and mobile phones are regularly attacked in the press and on social media. In such a climate, it is important to defend each school’s autonomy to make such decisions. School uniforms are also one of the most potent symbols of authority a school can possess. But the issue at stake with the Priory School is not the length of girls’ skirts – a perennial complaint in every school I’ve ever taught in and for which there are plenty of simple strategies – but rather the impotence and fear of headteachers in the face of the intolerant transgender lobby.

Headteachers are under enormous pressure to introduce gender-neutral policies and gender-neutral spaces like bathrooms, changing rooms and showers. Leaked draft guidance from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission suggests that schools which don’t offer mixed-sex toilets or allow pupils to use ‘single-sex facilities that align with their gender identity’ could be breaking equality law.

A moral panic about trans kids is being promoted and indulged by central government, lobby groups and popular culture more broadly. The actual number of trans children in schools, however, is very low – although the obsession with trans is unquestionably having an influence on many pupils.

Trans kids are only a tiny fraction of children struggling to come to terms with puberty and their sexuality. This includes a large number of girls who want to express their femininity by wearing skirts. Others want to express themselves by wearing trousers. This is a matter of choice which most schools have accepted for years. It is uncontroversial because women wearing trousers is an everyday part of the outside world, though men wearing skirts is not. Restricting this choice with a gender-neutral policy helps no one.

Turning girls away from school for wanting to be girls is not a good look, however you dress it up.

Gareth Sturdy teaches mathematics and English in London and is co-organiser of the Academy of Ideas Education Forum.

Picture by: YouTube.

Correction: A reference to ‘school inspectors’ was removed at the author’s request.

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Comments

ZENOBIA PALMYRA

10th September 2019 at 11:58 am

It’s political correctness gone mad!

Linda Payne

9th September 2019 at 10:42 pm

I can’t get a job in a school because of my diagnosis; but if I was in charge I would have sorted out this problem in a stroke, too many ‘yes women’ in education, Yes to the PC dogma Yes to the discrimination of those of us labelled mentally ill, bitches and witches and basically thick as pig shit

ZENOBIA PALMYRA

10th September 2019 at 11:57 am

Your comment is inarticulate. Do you have a rational point to make?

Ven Oods

12th September 2019 at 11:22 am

I understood it. Does that mean I’m irrational?

steve moxon

9th September 2019 at 10:25 pm

This stuff is going nowhere but up its own fundament.
The political backlash religion of ‘identity politics’ in inherently exponential, so it can’t help being a rabid idiocy, and people in general are not going to put up with that for much longer, no matter how addled with it are the elites, as either ‘useful idiots’ or the actual hate-mongers.
Unisex toilets and a no-dress/skirt code will never ever be accepted by girls — and good for them — and when the actual minuscule prevalence of trans-sexuality is properly raised, then that extension of ‘identity politics’ will be well stuffed — as will the entirety of the rotten ‘PC’ totalitarian fraud in due course.

James Knight

9th September 2019 at 6:42 pm

This makes sense on one level. On another level it is cowardly way to avoid issues raised by trans kids.

Having the police involved is truly shameful. Already parents are fined for taking kids on a holidays or even to a funeral. One mother was told she could only have 2 days with her kids even though she was having a life threatening operation. When did we vote to become a police state?

No wonder home schooling is on the rise.

James Hillier

9th September 2019 at 3:42 pm

School uniform is a Hyacinth-Bucket hangover from the 50s, excused or justified in many ways but really just an expression of desperation and snobbery. Get rid of it.

Winston Stanley

9th September 2019 at 4:18 pm

There is no evidence that uniforms improve educational outcomes.

> Uniforms have a positive influence on student attendance in secondary grades. Attendance rates in grades 6 through 12 increase by 0.3 to 0.4 percentage points after a school adopts uniforms. On the other hand, we find little evidence that uniforms have lasting impacts on achievement, grade retention, or the likelihood of students switching schools or leaving the district for all genders and grade levels.

https://www.nber.org/papers/w17337

Winston Stanley

9th September 2019 at 4:23 pm

We would consider it to be completely ridiculous if a government tried to force all adults to wear suits, so why do we allow that with kids? Why should schools get to treat kids like dress up dollies at a pretend tea party? They are not toys. Let them wear whatever they want, abolish all dress codes in schools.

steve moxon

9th September 2019 at 10:34 pm

You’ve really never come across the arguments?! They’re good ones. Quite apart from inculcating a collective spirit, school uniforms reduce the overt disparity in wealth, status, precociousness, etc. Far from being an anachronism it’s an excellent idea for the age group. When kids get to sixth form, fine, but before then it really does help to reduce what for a substantial proportion is the misery of school.

Winston Stanley

10th September 2019 at 1:25 am

Arguments are easy to come out with, evidence is harder. There is no evidence that school uniforms influence educational outcomes, and I dare say that there is none that it increases a disposition to team work, unless you have some verifiable statistics to the contrary. Kids will certainly encounter class and consumerist vanities and disparities in this society so they may as well learn to cope with that as a part of their education, after all that is a part of their preparation for adult life.

Neil McCaughan

9th September 2019 at 3:33 pm

A worthwhile reminder that after the General Election, Boris Johnson’s Government should sweep this destructive and malicious equalities legislation from the statute book.

James Hillier

9th September 2019 at 3:41 pm

Has he said that?

steve moxon

9th September 2019 at 10:13 pm

Boris Johnson is a signed-up ‘PC’-fascist. I’ve met the ‘identity politics’ bigot.

Jim Lawrie

9th September 2019 at 12:21 pm

Give parents education vouchers and allow schools complete autonomy in setting the rules. The best schools will out, and we will soon see the return of high achieving boys and girls schools, and youngsters with a can-do attitude ready to take on the demands of today’s economy.

Winston Stanley

9th September 2019 at 3:29 pm

Most of UK employment is low skilled, it is doubtful that any schooling is needed for most of it.

Winston Stanley

9th September 2019 at 4:06 pm

The idea that universal 14 years constant, formal education, let alone 17 years, is needed to service the UK economy is ludicrous. The UK economy is mainly low to medium skilled. Most kids can learn in a year the maths that they will ever use at work.

We do not live in a technologically/ economically advanced society/ world that requires most ppl to have a high level of education. And if we did live in an advanced world, most work would be technologically redundant anyway.

The status quo in this society is based around old misconceptions about what the future would look like, and present dishonesty and an unwillingness to radically reconsider matters.

More likely schools are about getting kids off the streets and conditioning them to be compliant in a terminally stagnant society.

Capitalism has basically failed to take us into an advanced society. Near zero productivity growth over the last 10 years only reinforced that.

Ven Oods

12th September 2019 at 11:44 am

Yes. Cycling lessons, with a view to a gig with Deliveroo, would seem more pertinent.

Janine North

9th September 2019 at 11:38 am

And what have the parents got to say about this? Were they consulted? The school is messing with their children’s heads. Parents are responsible for their children, not the school! Identity is such a big issue and with the rise in mental health issues, this cannot be helpful. If some children are undecided what gender they are, let them get on with it. It is well known that in Child Development, children are often confused about their gender. Schools can’t have it both ways with on the one hand supposedly encouraging diversity and then trying to get them to dress exactly the same! If we want everybody to be accepted, then what an individual wears is part of their identity that they want accepted, along with hair styles (that school like to interfere with too). I challenged my local school about 30 years ago when they changed the school uniform without parental consultation and then used non-compliance to exclude children from school. I consulted a solicitor who informed me that the law is on the side of the parents (though most parents back down) and that the 1944 Education Act states that education is free! Clearly the cost of uniform and strict enforcement means that Education is not free. I worked as a Health Visitor and found many families from disadvantaged families cannot afford school uniform and are even less likely to afford any changes. Uniform Allowance is a paltry amount. Children of these families get excluded and play truant. How is all of this schools policy helpful?

Sara Drew

9th September 2019 at 11:19 am

Using security and police to lock girls out of education? What century are we in here?

cliff resnick

9th September 2019 at 1:08 pm

A society that takes mind altering drugs as normal part of life is at the end of the day going to be pretty wiered.

cliff resnick

9th September 2019 at 1:10 pm

is that wired or weird

Ven Oods

12th September 2019 at 11:28 am

‘wiered’
Having one or more level changes in a river course that seriously affect how far you can row in one direction.

Ven Oods

12th September 2019 at 11:41 am

“What century are we in here?”

The Middle Ages, but with added Global Warming.

Jim Lawrie

9th September 2019 at 9:55 am

The lawyers and activists who take it upon themselves to interfere in the running of schools, hospitals , prisons, factories pubs etc … must be sent to this school to explain themselves, the law and their agenda to these girls. In the open, outside the school gates. Then it should be voted on by the pupils to see how convinced they are.
It is wrong that they can commandeer and trash the hard won authority that teachers have by subordinating it to explain and justify their agenda.

Pupils attend school until age 18. Students attend institutes of higher education. That is not semantics. It is about who and what they are and their place in society. The degree and expectation of autonomy, self discipline and self reliance is different between school and college. One lot can vote. The other cannot.

Ven Oods

12th September 2019 at 11:30 am

And what if you’re 19, still at school, doing resits?

Claire D

9th September 2019 at 9:38 am

It is worth considering what is to be gained by central government, and in their view society, by neutering boys and girls ? because that is what appears to be their aim. Maybe it’s nothing sinister but I find that hard to believe. By denying biological facts and reducing sexual differences to only a social construct imposed from the outside rather than naturally emanating from within leads to commodifying ‘ gender ‘. Answer : money to be made.

Ven Oods

12th September 2019 at 11:39 am

I’d argue that if such moves result in females being less interested in what they wear, there’s money to be lost.

brent mckeon

9th September 2019 at 8:12 am

My view and societies action regarding the Trans situation is the same as per vaccinations. That vaccinations work and that govts do a great job is simply the truth. However there are a tiny minority of people who are affected badly by vaccinations and these people need clinical help etc but the mass of the general population should not suffer by these people being allergic to vaccinations. The Trans community should be dealt with the same, assisted by society and medical/clinical intervention if required without disrupting the huge majority general public or society as a whole. ie ‘Trans’ people exists, deal with them and treat them if required but not at the expense of disrupting the whole of society, eg messing with young kids at school by people who are not trained educators.

steve moxon

9th September 2019 at 10:46 pm

Yes, indeed. Reasonable (that is, not politicised) estimates of the prevalence of trans-sexuality are that it’s minuscule, with some older generally accepted estimates putting it as vanishingly rare. Stripping out cross-dressers and the like would get back to reality. Either way, zero public provision should be made for such a ridiculously tiny minority. And I speak as someone who takes issue with dumb feminists and Joanna Williams, who wilfully refuse to accept the clear evidence that male > female trans-sexuals really do exist, as people with male bodies but female-type neural patterning, presumably through an in-embryo developmental malfunction (or one or more of several such, that average out to produce the steady minute TS prevalence across the population).

Stephen J

9th September 2019 at 7:36 am

I think I would be inclined to encourage pupils to challenge anyone that is trying to force cultural marxism on them.

This is nothing to do with transexual issues since we have all encountered such people and have our own ways, as with everything in life, some folk are more tolerant than others. The least tolerant, if you listen to the advocates of CM are the trans people themselves.

My experience is that such people are usually butterflies, they love performing. Let that continue, but also let people deal with their own issues themselves, if they get hung up about a bloke in a dress, there is something wrong with them.

ZENOBIA PALMYRA

10th September 2019 at 11:58 am

‘Cultural Marxism’? Hilarious.

Winston Stanley

9th September 2019 at 3:22 am

Some pretty bizarre stuff. It is not clear why the gender preference of a hypothetical transexual boy-girl should negate the gender preference of half of the school to dress as girls. Or why a hypothetical trans boy-girl would want to dress as a trans girl-boy (in trousers) anyway. Or why a hypothetical trans boy-girl could not dress as a trans girl-boy, should he oddly want, without all the girls doing likewise. And would he not be wearing trousers in the first place? What on earth is that all about?

The only intention seems to be to ban any gender dressing (boys and girls dressing differently) in the guise of a concern for the hypothetic odd case of a trans kid in the school. The pretence of a concern for a hypothetical trans kid’s gender dress preference is a pretext to entirely negate any concern for the gender dress preference of all the girls. Pretence and pretext. Posing as one thing while doing the complete opposite. Often known as “hypocrisy”, which is a kind of corruption. Disingenuity. Faking it. Posturing. BS.

Melissa Jackson

9th September 2019 at 9:36 am

It’s not hypocrisy. It’s intentional. Those pushing for this often publicly state their intention to destroy the gender binary.

Even worse than this – They do not actually support or even care about trans-people. They are against the very basis of trans-identity which is switching from one gender to the other. Wider society is actually more supportive of trans-people than their own activists, because the trans-lobby is actually tacitly against trans-people.

If they were demanding the right of trans-people to wear the uniform of their identified gender we would support that. But of course, they need not demand that. Almost all organisations would allow that.

Instead the push is for everyone to be made genderless, something that literally no-one is asking for. Trans-people want the right to just quietly be a girl (or boy). They want to present as that gender. Making them dress genderless is as bad as making them dress the wrong way, because that’s still the wrong way.

There are two options. Letting one person wear the opposite uniform makes them feel better and doesn’t upset anyone else. Forcing everyone to wear a neutral uniform doesn’t make the trans-kid feel better AND upsets everyone.

steve moxon

9th September 2019 at 10:52 pm

Neatly put. ‘Identity politics’ totalitarian Left hate-mongers are nasty elitist-separatists who hate ordinary people en mass and have invented faux symbolic groups in the pretense we all hate them, when this is just their ‘projection’ on to us. In a just world there’d be an individually tailored slow torture for every last one of ’em.

L Strange

9th September 2019 at 9:44 am

I believe that in this particular case, the ‘trans’ kids are not hypothetical – the change in uniform rules was in response to actual complaints/demands by them. Or so a school statement seems to claim.

As far as I’m aware, most schools with a uniform allow girls to wear skirts or trousers as they prefer, provided they’re in school colours etc. All this, or any other, school has to do is allow both boys and girls the same options, whether they’re biological or trans.

Ven Oods

12th September 2019 at 11:34 am

And what about PE lessons? Are the girls playing netball to be forced to wear shorts instead of skirts?

Adelaide Dupont

9th September 2019 at 2:42 am

If everyone who wanted to be themselves was turned away from school we would have a rump of conformists.

“The actual number of trans children in schools, however, is very low – although the obsession with trans is unquestionably having an influence on many pupils.”

Definitely agree with the latter.

I was first exposed to the trans concept in the mid-1990s when it was moving away from Female to Male/Male to Female dualities that had been there a few years before. This exposure was through a newsy article in a popular womens’ magazine.

Ju Gosling wrote about transgendered authors a few years later in her ground breaking thesis – Virtual Worlds of Girls [this probably ties into the Enid Blyton discussion].

Men wearing skirts is not an everyday part of the outside world? It does seem that boys wearing skirts has been in some times and some places.

All the casual homophobia in the colonial army shocked me when I watched THE NIGHTINGALE – that it was so blatant in the 1820s in Van Diemen’s Land.

In much of Indigenous Australia there are sistagirls and brothaboys.

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