Girls to have option of wearing shorts or pants at every Victorian state school

Any school council who does not support girls wearing shorts or pants to school is thinking archaically a Warrnambool principal says. 

Warrnambool West Primary School principal Phil Barnes supports Education Minister James Merlino’s move to ensure girls at every Victorian school had the option of wearing shorts or trousers.

In a victory for parents who have long complained about girls being forced to wear restrictive dresses and skirts, on Tuesday Mr Merlino vowed they would have the option to chose.

Equal: Warrnambool West Primary School Phil Barnes supports a move by Education Minister James Merlino to include pants and shorts in Victorian state schools.

Equal: Warrnambool West Primary School Phil Barnes supports a move by Education Minister James Merlino to include pants and shorts in Victorian state schools.

Mr Barnes said it wouldn’t affect the school’s students who could currently chose to wear dresses, shorts or skorts. “There’s an either/or option here which some would say is progressive,” Mr Barnes said. “Being able to wear shorts or skorts means you’re not intimidated on the monkey bars or in activities like that. You want to make sure you’re doing the best for every single student in the school and if part of that is about feeling comfortable then why wouldn’t you let them wear shorts? 

“I think any school council that came down and said ‘no girls must’ (wear dresses) is an archaic type of thinking that doesn’t sit well with me.”

Mr Barnes said he saw a difference in his niece, who he taught, when wearing pants to school was permitted. “It impacts them because they feel ‘I don’t want to do that because the kids will see my knickers’. Well let them wear the shorts, let them wear the skorts. That’s what she did and it was the best thing that ever happened.” 

Warrnambool East primary School principal Michelle Bickley-Miller said the school’s uniform policy was recently reviewed and it “does not discriminate between boys and girls.”

She said while she believed dresses could inhibit play for girls and add modesty issues, many girls chose them because they were cooler, particularly in summer. “Our girls also like to choose shorts, pants or culottes. We haven’t had any cultural issues arise with uniform but hope that we can be flexible to accommodate any of these needs as they arise,” she said. 

Momentum has been growing across Australia for schools to ditch uniforms that discriminate against girls and limit their movement. The West Australian government this month made it compulsory for state schools to ensure girls had a choice.

The push for uniform equality has been driven by parents group Girls' Uniform Agenda, who say forcing girls to wear dresses and skirts reinforces "rigid gender stereotypes". Its uniform policy analysis at 100 Victorian state schools revealed one in four required girls to wear skirts or dresses.

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