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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Schoolboy in a skirt: Pupil protests at rule forcing boys to wear trousers during hot weather

By Andrew Levy


It's not necessarily a photo Chris Whitehead’s parents will be framing and keeping on the mantelpiece.

But they are certainly proud of him. The 12-year-old wore a skirt to school yesterday to protest against ‘discriminatory’ rules which ban boys from wearing shorts.

He says it is unfair that girls can change into skirts during the hot weather, while boys have to swelter in long trousers.

Skirting the issue: 12-year-old Chris Whitehead wore the skirt to school in protest at not being allowed to wear shorts in the summer months

Taking a stand: Chris Whitehead, 12, who sits on the school's council with supporters at Impington Village College, near Cambridge

This, he says, affects their concentration and ability to learn.

The schoolboy is taking advantage of a ‘silly loophole’ in the uniform policy at Impington Village College, near Cambridge, that means boys can wear skirts as the school would be guilty of discrimination if it tried to stop them.

‘In the summer months, girl students are allowed to wear skirts but boys are not allowed to wear shorts,’ Chris explained yesterday before his protest.

Making a stand: Chris, who is in year 8, has said he is outraged by the shorts ban and hopes to have it overturned Making a stand: Chris, who is in year 8, has said he is outraged by the shorts ban and hopes to have it overturned

Skirting around the issue: Chris, who is in Year 8, said he wearing long trousers in summer affects boys' ability to concentrate

‘It discriminates against boys. I will march in a skirt with other boys waving banners and making a lot of noise.


Students at Impington Village College must obey the 'Look Smart' uniform policy at all times.

The policy states students must wear 'plain black tailored trousers or knee-length skirts without slits' but does not specify a gender.

This means shorts are banned by their omission.

The uniform policy also states skirts should be 'free moving not tight against the legs, and trousers should be neither tight nor baggy'.

Jeans, corduroys, cargos with pockets, drainpipes, leggings or capri pants are all banned.

Pupils can wear one pair of discreet stud earrings, no bangles or rings, necklaces must not visible and no more than one watch should be worn.

Discreet make-up is permitted but teachers have the power to instruct students to remove excessive make-up and nail polish.

Teachers also have the power to make students tie back hair for health and safety reasons.

Coats, scarves, gloves and hats can be worn to and from College but not in lessons or the library. Denim, sweatshirts or "hoodies" are not permitted.

Plain black sensible footwear must be worn with no logos, coloured flares, coloured stitching and no high heels or boots, or sandals.

Tights must be plain, opaque, black or flesh-coloured and socks worn with skirts must be plain in colour and ankle length.
Belts must be plain, narrow, black, and fitted through belt loops of trousers.

Pupils are also ordered to wear sky blue polo shirts or sweatshirts bearing the school's logo.

‘I will be wearing the skirt at school all day in protest at the uniform policy and addressing the assembly with the school council.’

The year 8 pupil, who lives in nearby Histon, added: ‘Wearing a skirt is just like wearing shorts with a gap in the middle. I don’t feel silly at all. I don’t embarrass easily.’

The 1,368-pupil school, which was classed as good in its last Ofsted inspection in 2006, imposed the ban two years ago after a consultation with parents and teachers. Its ‘Look Smart’ dress code states students must wear ‘plain black tailored trousers or knee-length skirts without slits’ – but does not specify gender.

This means that while shorts are prohibited because they are not mentioned, girls – and boys – are free to wear skirts as long as they are ‘free moving, not tight against the legs’.

Chris borrowed a skirt from his sister Joanna, 11, and was accompanied by 30 supporters waving placards saying, ‘Cool shorts, not hot pants’, ‘Shorts for the long-term’ and ‘What’s wrong with my legs?’

And he said he intends to continue wearing the outfit.

His mother, Liz, 50, a maths teacher, said: ‘I’m delighted that Chris is taking action on what he believes in – which the school actually encourages, so he is only doing what he is taught.’

And his father, Brian, 48, who owns a publishing company, added: ‘It’s a creative and imaginative idea. I was worried about him getting picked on but he just shrugged his shoulders.’ Headmaster Robert Campbell said: ‘Our uniform policy does not state girls’ and boys’ uniforms because we can’t be discriminatory, so Chris is perfectly within his rights to wear a skirt.

‘What he has done is raise the issue in an entirely legitimate way. I think it will be right to start thinking about uniform again in September.’

An Equality and Human Rights Commission spokesman said: ‘It’s not possible to say if different uniform policies for boys and girls is or is not lawful, as it’s not been tested in the courts.’ But schools ‘should be flexible when considering students’ needs’, he added.