Gender-neutral school uniforms could stop bullying and discrimination, education expert says
ABC Adelaide, 8 December 2016
Creating a more inclusive school environment may be as simple as introducing a unisex uniform, according to proposals being considered by schools across Australia.
A move away from a strictly boys-wear-pants, girls-wear-skirts dress code has been proposed by the Safe Schools Victoria coalition.
Ann-Marie Hayes, the executive director of child development at the SA Education Department, said the suggestions had validity.
“Being inclusive, respectful and making [school] the best environment is critical,” Ms Hayes said on 891 ABC Adelaide‘s Afternoons program.
She said the department had been suggesting ongoing policy changes to help adapt to current demands.
More than just clothing
Ms Hayes said school uniforms and dress codes often became a prickly subject.
“We already have [some] very good neutral uniforms.
“We actually make it very clear to the schools that they need to ensure there is no discrimination.”
She said the schools’ governing councils needed to be encouraged to set dress codes that could not cause discomfort for students of different religious or sexuality backgrounds.
Good for some, but maybe not for others
891 ABC Adelaide listeners had mixed responses to the suggestions.
“Such a stupid idea, setting up the child for bullying,” one texted.
“It’s not gender neutral for boys, it is only the emancipation of girls,” Nigel of Walkerville added.
“If a girl identifies as a boy, then she should wear a boy’s uniform and vice versa,” another messaged.
“So a small minority rule the majority? The stupidity of political correctness,” Mark commented.
Options the key
Ms Hayes said defining clothing ranges as boys’ and girls’ uniforms was also not helpful.
“We should be really saying that children and young people should actually get to choose without having to be overt, and if they choose something that is gender neutral, that’s OK.”
She said many schools already provided a large range of uniform options.
“You don’t have to be really gender specific.”
Ms Hayes said she was aware of gender-diverse and transgender students in the South Australian education system.
She said when options for uniforms were non-gender specific, discrimination on transgender students was limited.
“If they wanted to choose to wear a girl’s uniform, because that is the diversity that they are choosing — they would be subjected to the same rules.
“If we put the wellbeing of our students at the forefront … we are ensuring that you can come to school and feel respected and have a safe place to be yourself.”