At least 120 schools adopt gender-neutral uniforms, charity says

CREDIT: This story was first seen in the Guardian

At least 120 schools now have a gender-neutral school uniform policy, and primary schools are adopting the stance faster than secondary schools, a charity that develops LGBT training in schools has said.

The Guardian reports that a gender-neutral approach could involve allowing both boys and girls to wear either skirts or trousers, or may be based around a unisex uniform for all.

Dr Elly Barnes, founder of the charity Educate & Celebrate, said 120 schools have signed up to its best-practice programme and hundreds more may have put gender-neutral policies in place.

“In our experience, primary schools are adopting [the programme] faster than secondary schools,” she said.

“There doesn’t seem to be any type of school that’s more likely to take it up than any other, and no particular part of the country where there’s less or more take-up.”

The independent Highgate school hit the headlines at the weekend for consulting parents on whether to introduce gender-neutral uniforms, allowing boys and girls to choose between skirts and trousers, along with other measures such as unisex toilets and addressing all students as “pupils” rather than boys or girls.

But hundreds of other schools have been quietly implementing similar policies with little fuss.

“Lots of schools are doing it very quietly, very unobtrusively: they’re just getting on with it,” said Susie Green, chief executive of Mermaids, a charity that works with children with gender identity issues and their parents.

Many of the schools are drawing on money from a £4.4m government fund to tackle homophobic, transphobic and biphobic bullying.

A Guardian study last year found that 2,700 adolescents or children are seeking medical treatment for gender identity issues. These are the most acute cases, while many others are uncomfortable dressing and behaving according to their assigned gender.

Research has found that about one per cent of the population experiences gender identity issues, Green said, and the consequences – particularly for young people – can be severe.

“They suffer rates of suicide around 50% higher than the general population. The kids that we deal with are the ones who turn around and say I’m not a boy…or it’s not about being a tomboy.

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“Parents find it really patronising when they are told it’s a trend, or they are just being politically correct.”

She added: “When you have a child who you have to lock the pills away from and [who] cries themselves to sleep at night…they find it really patronising to suggest they could possibly be visiting this on their children.”

“For us it’s been fairly straightforward,” said Paula Weaver, headteacher of Allens Croft in Birmingham, which was among the first primary schools to introduce gender-neutral policies in 2013. “It was in place for a while before it hit the news.”

She added: “There’s nothing special about gender-specific toilets and uniforms: children just need to be able to express themselves and if they feel comfortable, it’s what clothes they feel comfortable in.”

Several girls have chosen to wear trousers, and one boy has chosen to wear a skirt, she said.

Prof Stephen Whittle, a professor of equalities law at Manchester Metropolitan University, advises schools on gender issues for the trans charity Press For Change.

He said: “What’s happened recently is that since the Equality Act 2010, awareness in the last three years of trans issues [has grown] – what we have seen is individual schools where kids have been challenging the requirements…increasingly schools are recognising the need to make changes.”

While he has noticed a significant rise in the number of schools changing their policies, Whittle said he found academies and free schools tended to be less willing to adopt gender-neutral uniforms, and Catholic and Jewish schools were the least receptive of all.

Not all children who express gender nonconformity go on to transition, he said.

“One of the things I’m keen to emphasise is kids don’t have sex changes, adults do.

“Children can change their minds … they are exploring how best to be themselves. This is about giving all children as good a chance to experience an education as possible.”

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