Criticism as Devon school bans skirts without consulting students or parents

BPM Media
Tiverton High School is bringing in the changes from September. Credit: BPM Media

There's been criticism for a Devon school which has announced a complete ban on students wearing skirts and the school day beginning earlier without carrying out a consultation.

Tiverton High School (THS) sent a letter to parents this week informing them of changes to the timings and structure of the school day and 'modifications' to its school uniform policy from September.

Among the controversial changes is a new rule stating all pupils must come to school wearing trousers.

Currently skirts are allowed but the new rules are being enforced to create a 'more gender-neutral uniform policy' and due to a persistent problem of skirts being worn shorter than rules permit.

Skirts will still be able to be worn for PE.

The school day will remain the same in length but will begin 30 minutes earlier with a 8.30am start.

Lunch times is also being reduced from 45 minutes to half an hour with two break times of half an hour each being introduced.

Lessons are also being made longer by reducing the number each day from six to five.

In the letter, headteacher Sammy Crook said the reasons for moving to the new structure included:

  • Reducing the amount of lost learning time as a result of transitions from one lesson to another

  • Providing students with the opportunity to attend extra-curricular clubs all year round and being able to walk home whilst the light is still good during the winter months

  • Providing our new year 9 cohort (September 2022) with an extra option block giving them an additional GCSE subject to stud

  • Providing parity of time allocated across subjects within the curriculumEnsuring that we deliver 32.5 hours of in-school time each week which is in line with the proposals from the government white paper

Among the parents angry about a lack of consultation over the changes is Stephen Moakes.

He said: "While I accept an element of rules and policies need to be made, I feel that as a school that encourages its pupils to be engaged and have a voice this seems to be a complete lack of democracy by not allowing the established pupil forums to have input on school uniform changes, start/ finish times of school day, reduction in lunch break etc.

"Equally what about consideration for parents who have to consider morning wake up, breakfast and drop off routines possibly including siblings at other schools. Certainly those travelling significant distances on school buses will be most affected.

"In addition to this, reducing the lunch break to 30 minutes will barely allow time for children to line up to be served food in the refectory which already struggles with capacity issues, eat it slowly with good digestion processes and have some fresh air and exercise whilst socialising with friends. Add to this the well documented science that teenagers' brains learn better with a later start to the day makes bringing them into school even earlier counter intuitive.

"The school day hasn’t actually been lengthened as per government guidance, but merely an earlier start and finish time. I just feel these changes have not been thought through and the children especially have not had an opportunity for their views to be heard."

The school has explained the reasons why it has not consulted on the changes.

Mrs Crook said: "We are making the changes to the timetable overwhelmingly in the interests of students' learning, aligning our offer with the recent government white paper. The changes are also a positive step in supporting the safety of students during the winter, and providing access to extra-curricular opportunities.

"Changes such as this are not something we need to consult with parents on, but we have been mindful of the changes and how they may affect parents and have consulted with local transport providers. For parents who have issues around the new timetable that prove difficult to resolve, we will provide as much support as we can."

Regarding the new school uniform, Mrs Crook said: "We never take decisions like this lightly and go through a detailed process over time in order to come to the right conclusions for our students and the school; decisions that meet our legal obligations, and the standards expected in secondary education. This change to uniform policy has the approval of our governors, and balances the demands placed on us in matters including standards of education, parental cost, inclusivity and student health.

"By moving to 'trousers only' we have particularly responded to the 'trend' for girls in the school to abuse the current policy and wear approved skirts shorter than they should, in and out of school. The wearing of skirts shorter than knee length, which is our current policy, has attracted many complaints from the public and from visitors to the school.

"It has proven time consuming and frustrating for staff to enforce in-school and is beyond our control out of school. We wrote to parents in November about our concerns and expectations around skirts, and in January we held a series of assemblies with all year groups about skirts, advising them that unless the uniform policy was properly observed we would move to an all trousers policy.

"Our current policy has allowed girls to wear trousers, which many do already, and boys have been able to wear skirts if they want to. Trousers also standardise how our students dress, so that we and they can focus on what we consider to be our primary objective: learning.

"We have not limited availability of trousers to one brand, and have made suggestions that give parents options around price and fit, and on the whole trousers should prove a cheaper option than skirts. Our Year 10s are also working on a project to source further options that overcome personal demands for clothing that's sustainably and fairly sourced.

"It is in our existing policy that shorts can be worn in the summer term and this will not change, and there is no change to our policy around sports skirts. We will consider and respond to individual circumstances, as we have always done, where there is medical or other need."