Uniform rule;Helpline

11th June 1999 at 01:00
We have a parent objecting because our PE department requires girls to wear skirts rather than shorts. How far may a school go in requiring differences in its school uniform for boys and girls?

School uniform is a controversial issue for some people. Since 1986, it has been the responsibility of governing bodies to determine policy on school dress and the duty of heads to operate it in practice. The few instances of court cases have tended to confirm the right of schools to set their own standards.

In Spiers v Warrington (1954), the High Court ruled that a school "had the right and power to prescribe the discipline of the school and, in saying that a girl must come to school not wearing a particular form of dress unless there is a compelling reason of health, is only acting in a matter of discipline and a matter which must be within the competence of the head".

This case concerned the right of girls to wear trousers, a question which has, since 1954, become a matter of equal opportunities. It is now established that no rule should be applied to one sex which is not equally applied to the other. This does not mean that all boys must wear skirts! Nor does it mean that the rules for boys must be exactly the same as those for girls. What is required is that the rules must be equal in the nature of their requirements and equally enforced.

In making its rules on school dress, a school should make sure that it has consulted parents and taken their views carefully into consideration. The requirements should be reasonable and not inordinately expensive.

If your school can show that its policy is reasonable, is no less stringent for boys than it is for girls and enjoys the support of most parents, you should be in a position to reject the complaint.

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