While the Dell Primary School in Chepstow, Monmouthshire, and Parkside Primary Academy in Royston, near Barnsley, South Yorkshire say that the decision was made to safeguard children against predators, parents suggest it's body-shaming girls.
Primary schools in the U.K. have stirred quite a controversy after asking students as young as four to wear "modesty shorts" under their skirts. While the Dell Primary School in Chepstow, Monmouthshire, and Parkside Primary Academy in Royston, near Barnsley, South Yorkshire say that the decision was made to safeguard children against predators, parents suggest it's body-shaming girls. Steve King, Headteacher of The Dell Primary School, recently took to a Facebook page for parents and posted a statement regarding the uniform change. "While we do not want to give children messages that they are responsible for the actions of others, we cannot stand by while children's actions may attract inappropriate attention from members of the public but did not act to protect them."
In recent years, wearing shorts under skirts has become a popular practice among teenagers to protect themselves against sexual harassment and incidents of "upskirting." Thus, the primary headteacher warned parents that not wearing "modesty shorts" would draw "inappropriate attention" from the public while the kids are performing activities like handstands in the playground. But this reasoning did not sit well with some parents who were left furious about the school asking their young daughters to cover up. "Children should be free to do cartwheels, hang upside down and do whatever they want to before the inevitable hang-ups of puberty kick in," said one parent according to Daily Mail.
As long as we make the responsibility of what perpetrators do about what women and girls wear, we are sending the wrong message to victims.— Delphi Ellis ✨ (@DelphiEllis) June 6, 2021
Parents accuse schools of body-shaming as girls are told to wear shorts under skirts | News | The Sunday Times https://t.co/E04dvFfEJE
When the matter reached Conservative MP Maria Miller, who is the former chairwoman of the women and equalities committee which conducted an inquiry into sexual harassment in schools, she noted that there were bigger issues that needed to be addressed before introducing the compulsory uniform change. "It's our responsibility to keep children safe at schools and not put that responsibility onto them and what they wear," she noted. Meanwhile, the chief constable of Norfolk and the National Police Chiefs' Council lead for child protection Simon Bailey has shown his support for the decision to make modesty shorts compulsory.
That being said, he did mention that the introduction of the policy should in no way mean the promotion of misogyny and sexual harassment which has no place in society. "If a school wants female pupils to wear modesty shorts so that they feel confident, I am supportive. But it has to be done in the context of a broader change about how we want our youth to grow up, and that means challenging what they are seeing online," Bailey told The Sunday Times. "Anything that can be done to ensure that young girls feel more secure has got to be good news, even modesty shorts, but the culture in schools has got to change at the same time," he added according to Yorkshire Live.
Girls as young as 8 are being asked to wear what are called ‘modesty shorts’. We had a long discussion about this at home & how in doing so girls are made to feel responsible for any harassment they face & internalise shame. It is surprising how this is so deeply rooted. pic.twitter.com/um0aldirPv— Dr Pragya Agarwal (@DrPragyaAgarwal) June 15, 2021
This month body-positive activist Natasha Devon and headteacher Bryony Baynes appeared on Good Morning Britain to discuss the changes made by some schools in their uniform for girls. "We need to ask ourselves, what exactly do we think we're protecting these children from? What's the worst that can happen if a four or five years old shows her pants while doing a cartwheel? Is it that there are predatory adults around, in which case, the school is failing to keep their pupils safe, or is it because of boys and unwanted touching? Laughing? Pointing? Then it's a case of that school not teaching about consent. So I'm wondering why we're asking girls to modify their dress and behavior to prevent a problem they didn't cause," said Devon who believes students should be given the choice of whether or not they want to wear shorts.
*drops mic* #ModestyShorts #EveryonesInvited #UkEdChat @ginamartinuk @StandardIssueUK pic.twitter.com/QF1EJ8vF1d— Natasha Devon 🌈💙 (@_NatashaDevon) June 18, 2021
On the other hand headteacher, Bryony argued that many girls wear shorts under their shorts and dresses out of their own violation. "Our school has a chainlink fence by our field, with neighbors that overlook it," she said according to Mirror. "Occasionally, we've had the neighbors contact me to say, 'We're just a little bit uncomfortable as the girls are doing handstands against the fence. We feel uncomfortable to be in the garden while that happens." Bryony continued, "My girls tend to wear cycling shorts. They've chosen to wear these. They're not wearing them because anyone has told them, and they're not wearing them because they feel victimized." Devon then asked why would anyone feel uncomfortable seeing primary school children's pants. She ended on the note that these kids should be able to play and run around as they please.
Cover image source: Photo by Doug Oakley/Getty Images (Representative)