New Gender-Neutral Uniform Policy Gives U.K. Students A Choice Between Pants & Skirts

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A new government-backed policy will allow students of any gender at 80 state schools in the U.K. to choose whether they wear a skirt or pants as part of their uniform, the Telegraph reports. The move comes after continued lobbying from LGBTQ communities and marks an increasing spotlight on gender equality and acceptance of diversity in schools, both in Britain and abroad.

As part of this new gender-neutral decree, the uniform policies of participating schools (institutions that are government-funded) have gotten rid of gendered language altogether. Out of the 80 state institutions that have adopted the change, 40 are elementary schools (called primary schools in the U.K.), according to The Independent. The gender-neutral uniform stems from a grant aimed at making government-funded schools more LGBTQ-inclusive, a spokesperson for the U.K. Department of Education told Mashable. Specifically, the money goes to "target[ing] homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools," in order for students to develop to their full potential in an education environment.

Allens Croft School, an elementary school, was the first to adopt this new policy, though it wasn't all that recently: The school's principal, Paula Weaver, told the Guardian that the rule took effect "more than a year ago." So far, the feedback has been positive — and the intention is to offer options as to how students can dress, instead of limiting them, as Weaver told the publication: "We’re not insisting on anyone doing anything. It’s not about influencing children. It’s about giving them choice."
A shift toward more progressive uniform policies has been in the public conversation for some time now. In the U.K., a private boarding school in Brighton axed its 170-year-old dress code in January. Of the groundbreaking decision, the school's headmaster, Richard Cairns, explained at the time that "if some boys and girls are happier identifying with a different gender from that in which they were born, then my job is to make sure that we accommodate that," according to the BBC. Back in October, public school students in Puerto Rico were given the choice of wearing either pants or skirts as part of their uniform — based on whichever garment students felt best aligned with their gender identity.

Across the pond, more inclusive visions of what uniform policies should (and can) look like might soon roll out all over the country. Julia Neal, chair of the U.K.-based teaching union ATL's equality and diversity committee, explained the urgent need for more inclusive attitudes in schools. "It's about senior management teams and governing bodies understanding that there are a lot of facilities in schools that are separated — changing rooms and toilets and uniforms are very gender-specific," she told the Independent. Neal, who has also been petitioning for gender-neutral toilets in British schools, added that administrators need to understand the importance of respecting students' preferred pronouns and gender expressions (as any uniform conversations or changes ought to take into account).

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