In today's age of student-led classrooms, schoolchildren able to exercise control over almost all aspects of their schooling experience – except one: their uniform.
While some say wearing a uniform is a badge of pride and creates an identity for a school, there are others who believe it’s time to allow students some flexibility in this area.
One of them is the South Australian Government, which recently announced that its public schools would adhere to a mandatory transgender and intersex policy from this year.
Included in the policy is the choice for students to wear the uniform of the gender they identify with. Education Department spokesperson, Ann-Marie Hayes, told the ABC she believed the policy would benefit all students – not just those who were transgender and intersex.
However, some argue that despite these recent steps, strict uniform rules nonetheless remain an archaic bastion of the traditional schooling model, and one that schools could do themselves a favour by changing.
Dr Lauren Rosewarne is a senior lecturer in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne. She is a writer, researcher and frequent media commentator on issues relating to gender, sexuality, pop culture and the media.
Rosewarne told The Educator that students not identifying as male or female shouldn’t be forced into apparel based on their gender, and continuing to do so could create the capacity for litigation – something schools most certainly want to avoid.
“I suspect that we're a while away from these matters entering court rooms, but I think we're knocking at the door for these issues to become very bad press for schools,” she said.
“In a world of social media, restricting options for a vulnerable group can effortlessly become a bad news story for a school.”
Last year, the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission identified school uniform policies as an area where schools could find themselves vulnerable to legal action.
The Commission said that: “requiring female students to wear dresses instead of pants may amount to direct discrimination”.
Rosewarne said it would be in the best interests of schools to “get out in front” of these issues early.
“Schools should be progressive and abreast of the political climate, but also make only incremental changes that won't seem too renegade and thus won't ruffle too many feathers,” she said.
“Sanctioned options are the approach of most schools that now have a range of options: pants or skirts or dresses. The sticking point however, is that at present these options lists are divided by gender: the skirts and dresses are approved for the biological.”
While she was not aware of schools that had a unisex or gender-free approach to uniform, such an approach would be the simplest way to create an environment of inclusivity.
“Most education policy literature on this topic identifies that schools believe that uniforms quell juvenile violence and help to eliminate socioeconomic differences which are too often the cause of tension between students,” Rosewarne said.
Have your say: Should a ‘sanctioned options’ approach for uniforms be implemented in schools?