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Battles over school dress

Girls and trousers have proved an explosive combination in schools with strict uniform regimes. The Department for Education and Employment has called on schools to restrain themselves from excluding pupils over minor offences such as flouting dress codes. But pupils and headteachers have gone to extreme lengths in recent years to fight their corners - not just over trousers, but skirt lengths and jewellery as well.

A group of girls staged a sit-in at Testbourne school in Whitchurch, Hampshire, in 1995, after they were banned from wearing trousers.

In a similar row at the Cleeve school, near Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, headteacher Brian Gardiner had sent 12 girls home for wearing trousers to school in cold weather.

"Boys wear trousers and girls do not - that is the convention of society," he said. "I don't think we would allow boys to wear skirts." The Equal Opportunities Commission claimed Mr Gardiner's stance was "blatant sex discrimination". Parent Jim O'Brien, of Wallsend, launched a campaign in 1997 to change the uniform policy at Thomas More high school in North Shields after his daughters were suspended for wearing trousers not from the school's regulation outfitters.

The father of Jennifer Board, who was barred from Woodroffe comprehensive in Lyme Regis, Dorset, for wearing trousers which were too baggy, complained that parents could not afford expensive uniforms. Jennifer was sent home when her wide-legged trousers were deemed "inappropriate". She had to borrow her sister's trousers before she was re-admitted.

When Dormston school in Sedgley, West Midlands, was inundated with complaints from local residents earlier this year about pupils wearing "pelmet" skirts, headteacher Barbara O'Connor took the drastic step of sending 21 girls home. The girls had failed a skirt-length inspection, requiring hems to be no more than two inches above the knee.

Mrs O'Connor said: "We received many complaints from the community about the inappropriate length of some of our girls' skirts. Some people have said they followed behind the girls and it appeared that they were not wearing a skirt at all." Some parents criticised the school for being heavy-handed and trivial.

The nose stud started a new battle over jewellery in school last year. Greenlands high school in Blackpool reacted when three girls turned up after Easter with pierced noses. The teenagers were barred from classes until they removed them. But the girls refused and their mothers threatened legal action. The matter was eventually settled without recourse to the law - and the studs stayed out.

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