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Robust blue knickers and human rights

It is up to governing bodies to determine school uniform policies, although the Department for Education and Skills' guidance encourages heads and governors to make sure that uniforms are affordable and to consult parents before changing their policies.

However, the legal position on school uniforms remains confused. In a guide to education and human rights legislation, education law specialist Simon Whitbourn points out that it is still uncertain if a ban on girls wearing trousers would infringe the Sex Discrimination Act after a challenge to such a policy a few years ago was settled out of court.

Mr Whitbourn warns that the Human Rights Act, which guarantees freedom of expression, could add to schools' difficulties if, for example, a pupil wrote "stuff the school" or worse on the back of a school blazer. Again it is not clear whether punishing the pupil would infringe his or her rights, although the legislation does place some limits on the right to freedom of expression. Thus, the Human Rights Act would still make it possible to prohibit unacceptable political views, whether spoken or apparent, on uniform, racist taunts and British National party badges, clothing which incites drugs use and defamatory or criminally abusive conduct.

But the days of school uniform policies prescribing that girls must wear "robust, blue knickers" are hopefully long gone.

Education and the Human Rights Act 1998 is published by EMIE at NFER

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