Girls wearing the pants in class, as schools cut skirts and dresses from their uniforms gallery video

Dominico Zapata Fairfax Media NZ

Mt Maunganui Intermediate School is at the forefront of a trend to get rid of skirts and dresses entirely - uniforms increasingly are trousers/shorts or, sometimes, culottes/skorts.

Whether she's skateboarding, climbing the monkey bars, or playing with her mates, 12-year-old Neve Ganley prefers comfort over style when it comes to her school uniform.

The Mt Maunganui Intermediate student wears knee length trousers cut to resemble a skirt, to school each day.

"I prefer wearing culottes than a skirt. They're not skirts, so you can run around with them on. They are quite comfortable."

Mt Manganui Intermediate student Neve Ganley plays at school.
DOMINICO ZAPATA/FAIRFAX NZ

Mt Manganui Intermediate student Neve Ganley plays at school.

Her school is one of a growing number around New Zealand that no longer offer skirts or dresses as part of the school uniform.

A survey by Sunday Star-Times of more than 220 schools shows increasingly schools are crossing skirts and dresses off the uniform list for girls. Instead shorts or "skorts" and culottes are making an appearance.

The survey reveals more than 70 per cent of schools have a uniform. Of them 77 per cent let girls wear shorts and 36 per cent said boys could wear skirts, but most commented boys had never asked for that option.

Neve Ganley prefers comfort over style when it comes to her school uniform.
DOMINICO ZAPATA/FAIRFAX NZ

Neve Ganley prefers comfort over style when it comes to her school uniform.

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Twenty years ago schools started offering an alternative to skirts, but now, in many schools, they're being removed altogether. 

Some girls high schools had or were working towards introducing shorts for students to wear, while co-ed schools like Kapiti College in Wellington, and Queen Charlotte College in Picton let teenagers wear the uniform that suited the gender they identified with. 

Mt Maunganui Intermediate School is at the forefront of a trend to get rid of skirts and dresses entirely - uniforms ...
DOMINICO ZAPATA/FAIRFAX NZ

Mt Maunganui Intermediate School is at the forefront of a trend to get rid of skirts and dresses entirely - uniforms increasingly are trousers/shorts or, sometimes, culottes/skorts.

But does this go to far? In the interest of keeping equal opportunities for boys, girls and transgender students, should schools be offering all students more options - rather than trying to fit them all into the same gender-neutral uniforms? 

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According to InsideOUT's national coordinator Tabby Besley, choice was better than no choice when it came to providing for students who were transgender, or questioning their gender.

The organisation works to help young people in New Zealand feel safe within their schools and communities. 

Chelsey Whakaari, 12, (right) and Neve Ganley, 12, (left) love their uniforms.
DOMINICO ZAPATA/FAIRFAX NZ

Chelsey Whakaari, 12, (right) and Neve Ganley, 12, (left) love their uniforms.

She says schools where students wore mufti rather than a uniform allowed students to express themselves, took away barriers that a gendered uniform could enforce.

"In terms of individuality, it means being able to express that through your clothing. At the same time, I think lots of young people are happy in schools that do have a gender neutral [uniform] option.

"As long as there's some freedom in choice of being able to express themselves, and their identity." 

Clara Bosshard 18, used to be a Wellington High School student. She's going to Dunedin to study fashion design after ...
ROBERT KITCHIN / FAIRFAX NZ

Clara Bosshard 18, used to be a Wellington High School student. She's going to Dunedin to study fashion design after winning a scholarship.

Besley says there is a notion that making things gender neutral meant making them masculine, which she disagrees with. 

She says ideally schools with a uniform would have the option for a skirt or trousers or shorts and those items would not be gendered so people could choose what to wear. 

But there is no clear direction from the Ministry of Education about the right way to structure an inclusive and practical uniform list. This is left to schools to decide.

Clara Bosshard would like to see more unisex clothes in mainstream fashion to help get rid of the stereotypes and ...
ROBERT KITCHIN/FAIRFAX NZ

Clara Bosshard would like to see more unisex clothes in mainstream fashion to help get rid of the stereotypes and limitations that gendered clothing could bring.

Post Primary Teachers Association president elect Jack Boyle says people have to have "faith" that schools would make good decisions for their students and communities. 

"Schools are pretty handy at being self governing and making the right decisions for their communities."

Comfort and heat both had to be taken into account when designing a uniform. 

Clara Bosshard says it was not unusual to have boys wearing skirts to school when she was there.
ROBERT KITCHIN

Clara Bosshard says it was not unusual to have boys wearing skirts to school when she was there.

"Are they providing what you need rather than looking homogenous, are they warm enough, are they made of a durable material."

Boyle says it is important to "empower young people" by allowing to make a certain amount of choice with in a range. 

A recent study by the Australian Bureau of Statistics found young women there took part in far less physical activity than young men.

Part of the imbalance could be traced back to girls wearing skirts at school.

In 2013, a researcher from the Journal of Gender Studies claimed "skirts and dresses "restrict movement in real ways" and "skirt-wearing, consciously and unconsciously, imposes considerations of modesty and immodesty, in ways that trousers do not".

Mt Manganui Intermediate's policy is for boys and girls to wear pretty much the same uniforms.

Principal Lisa Morresey says the practical, comfortable uniform brought every child to the same starting point.

"It just becomes a great leveler …. gives them a sense of identity and oneness."

"Our boys and girls wear exactly the same polo shirt, their fleece is exactly the same, their sandles are exactly the same, the only thing different is the culottes and the shorts."

Former Wellington High student and budding designer Clara Bosshard says it was not unusual to have boys wearing skirts to school when she was there. 

The 18-year-old, who was soon to depart for Dunedin after winning a scholarship to study design, said putting genders into different uniforms could create segregation. 

Schools moving away from putting girls in skirts showed the world was making progress in gender equality. She would like to see more unisex clothes in mainstream fashion to help get rid of the stereotypes and limitations that gendered clothing could bring. 

"Everyone should be able to shop how they want and dress how the like without having to try to live up to any expectations, or society." 

Wellington High School principal Nigel Hanton agrees. The school is known for its inclusive school community and does not have a uniform. Students can almost wear what they want, he says.

The only rules are that clothes do not have alcohol or drug references on them, and aren't offensive. 

The school's culture of acceptance and mufti allow individuals to express who they are, Hanton says. 

Sera Lilly, head designer of Sera Lilly Curve and soon to be mother of five, says she is in favour of a simple uniform. 

"I'm not a massive fan of school uniforms in terms of the cost to parents, but then I do like it how schools have uniforms so no one is separated from everyone else."

The checked skirt, the shirt, the tie, the jumper and the blazer her daughter wore each day was expensive, she says. 

"It would be so ideal for it to just be a skirt and a top. Kids just grow way too quickly." 

If schools had "more generic"uniforms, items could be passed down from an older brother to a younger sister. 

"I'd rather my girls wore shorts to school than a skirt." 

Lilly is pleased schools are moving away from the more traditional uniform. 

"I think it's a great thing, you just have to move with the times."

New Zealand Schools Trustees Association president Lorraine Kerr says most primary schools with a uniform allowed girls to wear pants during the winter, secondary schools usually insisted on skirts. 

"Secondary are all so different, secondary, for girls, are skirts, and I guess in terms of longs you wear pantyhose."

She isn't aware of many secondary schools offering pants for girls, or of any students saying they would like to be able to wear pants instead of kilts or skirts. 

"Not that I'm aware of ... At the end of the day, the decision belongs to that individual board [of trustees]."

Legally, schools have a clear legal entitlement to specify a uniform for their students, and there is nothing in the law that said they have to go one way or the other when it comes to making special provision for transgender students, lawyer John Hannan says. 

They did need to make sure they were not breaching any anti-discriminatory provisions of the Human Rights Act. 

"If their uniform had the effect of discrimination that could potentially be a problem for them." 

That is not an issue back at Mt Maunganui Intermediate. The school is a busy place with an active student body, says principal Morresey. 

Culottes, skorts, or just plain old shorts, make sense.

"It's practical, it's comfortable and it brings a sense of pride to our children."

The culottes were added as part of a uniform review which was undertaken by the schools' board of trustees – with input from the community, about seven years ago.

"I think for girls having a uniform that enables them to ride their bikes, do cartwheels, climb trees do all of that active stuff is really helpful."

But the school would not blindly enforce the uniform without student input.

"We actively ask the kids what needs to improve, what do we need to do better, and uniforms isn't something that has come up."

 - Sunday Star Times

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