“Clothes aren’t going to change the world, the women who wear them will.”

Anne Klein

School Uniform Policies

End Sexism in Schools believes a school uniform policy should be:

  1. Entirely gender neutral in its wording and application.
  2. Inclusive and accessible for students of all backgrounds, including those with sensory impairments.
  3. Focused on ensuring health and safety rather than ‘modesty’.
  4. Consider the comfort of the wearer.

ESIS  endorses Haringey’s Fortismere School uniform policy as an excellent example of a gender-neutral uniform policy that does not modesty-police girls and has the same expectations of all pupils.

Fortismere’s rules stipulate:

  • An unbroken line of clothing from shoulder to mid-thigh.
  • Necklines and clothing that completely covers all underwear, no underwear showing.
  • Midriffs and backs are to be covered at all times.
  • Appropriate footwear must be worn for health and safety reasons.
  • No see-through or ripped clothes.
  • No graphics and images that promote the use of alcohol or drugs, swearing, gangs or attacks on the identity of individuals or groups.

ESIS recommends that parents use this example to benchmark their own children’s school uniform policy, as it can provide a starting point to challenge a discriminatory or sexist policy. 

Skirt lengths are a red herring

What does ESIS think about school uniform rows and girls’ skirt lengths?

The issue is not skirt lengths but the objectification and sexualisation of women and girls that then leads to this sort of modesty-policing of women and girls. That is the case whether or not a school has a uniform and whatever the culture or type of school.

The line is drawn in a different place depending on whether it is, say, a Jewish school, a Muslim school, or a non-faith school. It also depends on how that culture deems modesty to apply to women and girls.

For example, girls may be required to cover their arms, knees, hair, or be prevented from wearing  trousers. This is all about perceived modesty and the sexualisation of girls.

It is vital to understand the debate in this context.

Although boys are subject to dress codes at school, there is never really a debate about how school uniform pertains to them, because boys and men are not sexualised and they are not modesty-policed

Is it acceptable for a school to specify skirt lengths?

  • No, because there is no such thing as the right length. Any skirt length rule is arbitrary. How do skirt lengths affect learning? They don’t. Any argument that girls’ short skirts are distracting to boys and male teachers suggests that men and boys can’t control themselves and is victim-blaming girls for male behaviour.
  • Excluding girls from learning and education for wearing short skirts is perverse.
  • An arbitrary skirt length rule does not take account of the different body shapes and heights of girls and is therefore discriminatory.

Enforcing school uniform policy

ESIS believes that how a uniform policy is enforced is key:

  • Stories of whole cohorts or years of girls being lined up in a hall to have their skirts measured by male or female staff is treating all girls like criminals who need to be policed and therefore totally unacceptable.
  • Alleged uniform transgressions should be addressed with individual pupils at the time they are observed, in private, and not through sweeping spot checks of all girls.
  • No child should be subjected to this sort of humiliation, but it doesn’t happen to boys in this way because modesty-policing for boys simply doesn’t exist.