Time for the 21st century school uniform

At its 2017 Conference, the QTU unanimously adopted policy to support student dress codes free from discrimination. Beck Humphreys (pictured), the Council Rep for Central Western Branch, spoke passionately in favour of the change. In this excerpt from her speech, Beck explains why dress codes in schools matter.

Our girls have the right to feel comfortable in their learning environment and to not be discriminated against on the basis of what sort of uniform they choose to wear to school.
In 2017, girls should be given a choice on what school uniform they wear. This shouldn’t just be for sports day; a girl should be able to play soccer every day. Why should she be confined to less physical activities during lunch? Our female students should be able to cartwheel, hang upside, run and stretch their legs every day. You want to improve fitness and promote healthy lifestyles in your school – let the girls wear shorts!

We need to take a stand so that our schools can become a more inclusive, caring and safe environment for all our students. Our girls should be able to participate freely in all activities and not be restricted by outdated uniform policies and 1950s social expectations.

As mothers and fathers, we want to see our kids succeeding at school; focusing in class and not sitting behind a desk thinking about how uncomfortable they are because they have been forced to wear a skirt to school that day.

As teachers, we bust our guts, day in and day out, for each and every one of our students. We want our kids focusing on the topic at hand and not on how uncomfortable they feel in the uniform they are wearing.

I would like to think of our schools as an inclusive environment. I would like to think that I approach my teaching from a place where I take into account the needs, differences and wellbeing of all students in front of me.

If a girl sat crying in the dressing room of the school uniform shop, refusing to come out and show her mother the school skirt she had just tried on because it made her feel as big as a whale, would you deny her the right to try on a pair of pants or shorts? So she could feel more comfortable?

If a girl with a bad and disfiguring burn on her knee sat in the dressing room staring at her reflection in her new school skirt, drumming up the many different scenarios young teens dream of when they feel like others will judge them, would you deny her the right to try on a pair of pants?

If a young queer person looked at their reflection in that same dressing room mirror, trying on that same school uniform skirt, feeling sick, feeling their heart race when they realised that their reflection didn’t match the way they felt inside, would you deny them the right to wear pants or shorts?

The wellbeing of our students is paramount. How can a young woman possibly focus on algebra or Shakespeare when she is sitting in her seat worried about how she looks and feeling uncomfortable in a skirt she has been forced to wear because of an outdated uniform policy? We have an obligation to take the wellbeing of our students seriously. Our girls must have the right to choose what school uniform they feel most comfortable in.

Dress codes in all our schools need to include shorts or pants for all girls, for both formal and sports uniforms; in all year levels, from prep to year 12.

Our core business is the teaching and learning of students. We need to care about student wellbeing and let our young women wear what makes them feel comfortable. Let our students focus on their learning; not on what they have been forced to wear to school that day!

Beck Humpreys

As the Journal was going to print, WA amended its uniform policy in response to the pleas of an 11-year-old student.
While Queensland policy currently requires principals to “consider consistency with relevant legislation, both state and Commonwealth; including offering a gender neutral uniform option for students etc”, we are aware that many of our schools do not provide options that comply.  Does yours?

Find out more about the Girls Uniform Agenda campaign at http://girlsuniformagenda.org/

Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 122 No 7, 6 October 2017, p8