Girls at King David High School, a Jewish school in Childwall, say they want to be able to wear trousers like the boys — as well as questioning policy over a ban on leggings in PE. They have handed in a petition, calling for changes, which has so far attracted more than 300 signatures.
The petition, started by pupil Laura Starkey, states: “We want justice for female students in our school and the freedom to express ourselves without being limited to things that boys can do and we cannot.”
King David head teacher Michael Sutton has defended the uniform on religious grounds, as if that were proof it could not be sexist. He said: “As an Orthodox Jewish School, our longstanding uniform policy is an expression of our ethos, as is the case in many other schools of a religious character around the country… We are proud to be a school that places equality, inclusivity and respect for Jewish values at the centre of everything that we do.”
The petition objecting to oppressive uniforms is not the first this year. Pupils at Pimlico Academy had started a petition in response to the school’s strict new uniform policy, which stated that hairstyles that “block the views of others” would not be permitted and hijabs should not be “too colourful”. In response, the pupils accused the school’s management of racism.
The petition stated: “We as students have the right to express ourselves however we choose, and also have the right to have our natural hair whether it be big hair [or] small hair or loads of facial hair or no facial hair,”
It is routine for school girls to be denied time in the classroom because their knees, shoulders or cleavage are considered inappropriate and in need of covering up. This privileges the societal sexualisation of their adolescent bodies over their own right to learn. It is normal for students to be sent home or removed from class for being scruffy. This perpetuates a bizarre myth that learning is somehow improved by wearing bad impressions of adult business attire.
It is great to see school uniforms increasingly questioned by students. Uniforms are often defended on the basis that reducing difference between children reduces bullying. The idea that making poor families buy additional branded clothes helps even out wealth inequality is preposterous. The idea that bullying is caused by the difference of the victim, rather than the poor empathy and emotional regulation of the perpetrator, is dangerous.
This argument played out in 2016 when headteacher Dr Tracey Jones sent 29 girls home as a result of their clothing choices for their own “protection”. She said: “skinny-fit trousers and short skirts are not flattering to the larger girl and make her prone to mean comments from peers.”
Let’s hope the fight back against uniforms continues! In France, Germany, USA school uniforms are rare, and in Wales school uniforms are gender-neutral.