Let’s stop skirting around the important questions in relation to education
By Lucy Stephenson
IT may seem like the school holidays have only just started but in a few short weeks preparations will begin in earnest for the back-to-school brigade.
When I was young this included annual pilgrimages to the stationery aisle in French supermarkets for dozens of coloured pens and notebooks with small squares on the pages that I’d never actually use.
It meant new shoes, if I was lucky a new school bag, and, of course, there was the obligatory trip to Lyndale Sports for a school skirt.
I can still picture the changing room now, and hear the woman outside it talking to my mum about the length of the skirt.
Each and every time I’d walk away unhappy, determined that I’d just roll it up so it would be shorter anyway.
In fact, I’d probably need some shorts for under it too just for security…
Because that’s the thing about school skirts – short, long, tight, baggy, pleated or straight, rolled up or otherwise, they are totally impractical.
And that’s why they should be banned altogether at both primary and secondary level.
A debate about school skirts is continuing to bubble away in Jersey after it emerged that three schools – Haute Vallée, Grainville and Hautlieu – had banned them altogether, with girls instead required to wear trousers.
The news, which followed similar discussions in the UK after 40 schools banned skirts, provoked a lot of comment and even some outrage.
Representatives of the National Education Union, for example, said that skirt bans seem like a new form of ‘discrimination’ against women and that female pupils should be allowed to wear clothes that are ‘acceptable in wider society’.
An anonymous JEP reader, who described herself as a ‘concerned mother’, said that she feared that female pupils were being treated as though they were gender neutral and the ‘female brand’ was being eroded.
‘I worry if this is continued to be accepted, then what’s coming next? Short hair for everyone?’ she said.
And Education Minister Tracey Vallois called for students to be part of the decision-making process on uniform matters.
But isn’t everyone just going a bit over the top?
I’m all for equality and choice, but this has got out of hand.
Because schools – and parents – waste too much time thinking about school skirts.
And they simply have better things to do.
The men in the office were surprised to hear from many of us women that when we were at school the girls were regularly kept behind after assembly so that our skirts could be measured.
We had to line up on our knees so that a teacher with a metre ruler could check how high from our knees they were. Those that were too short were warned, and after a series of warnings then further action was taken.
Today, this process reminds me of something out of the Handmaid’s Tale – all the girls lined up, heads bowed, submitting to some great authority.
Of course, the oppression was temporary and within minutes we’d rolled them back up anyway, but that’s not the point.
The whole process was a headache for all involved, yet it continued each and every week for years.
School skirts are also completely impractical – and freezing in the winter no matter how many pairs of socks you try to get over your tights.
After all, in those very same assemblies after which our skirts were measured, we’d had to sit on the floor for half an hour – not an easy thing to do modestly in a skirt, knee length or otherwise.
There’s all sorts of reasons school skirts should be banned – practicality, simplicity, comfort and to protect both students and teachers from any awkward situations.
But more than all of those is the simple fact that we all have better things to do than worry about them, so just get rid of this unimportant distraction.
The Children’s Commissioner Deborah McMillan is right when she says that students should not be sent home and therefore miss out on precious education time because of minor rule infractions – uniform breaches included.
And, as the dozens of girls at my schools in tiny skirts and those in similar positions today show, there’s actually very little that schools can actually do to enforce uniform policy without interfering with a child’s education anyway.
There’s a simple solution, but so far it is one that most official commentators appear afraid to arrive at in case someone accuses them of being discriminatory.
The three schools, however, have done the right thing and all the others should follow.
And then we can all get on with worrying about the really important stuff when it comes to education, such as why some of our States schools cannot afford for students to even have a textbook between two and why so many teachers are leaving the profession due to stress and overwork.