And my faith in humanity is restored.
As temperatures in the south of England soared to over 30C (86F) recently, 15-year-old Ryan Lambeth was one of many boys attending Isca Academy, Exeter, (Isca being the Roman name for Exeter) who complained of the heat in the long black trousers which are part of the compulsory school uniform, and requested to wear shorts to know avail. It was Ryan’s mother, Claire (43) who asked one teacher that if girls can wear skirts, why can’t the boys wear shorts? But the school refused to move on the issue.
His mother’s actions did however give Ryan an idea. He decided to borrow and wear an Isca Academy uniform skirt, and contacting his friends, so did five others that morning.
The idea may also have come from a 14-year-old who wanted to wear shorts and was sarcastically told by the headteacher “Well, you can wear a skirt if you like”. Whatever, the idea took off as more and more boys borrowed uniform skirts from girlfriends and sisters, braving the giggles and taunts from others. By Thursday, 22 June, around 30 boys turned up in Isca Academy girls skirts. Not one boy was punished, and as the idea took off, the taunts soon died away and the boys were being championed for their stance. Only one boy was pulled up for his skirt exposing too much of his hairy legs. Some other boys had reportedly shaved their legs.
Even as temperatures dropped to more liveable 20C (70F), the boys continued to wear the skirts, partially to keep up the protest to wear shorts and partially because some prefer the air and freedom which the female uniform affords them. By this time the headteacher, Aimee Mitchell announced that the school was prepared to think again.
“We recognise that the last few days have been exceptionally hot and we are doing our utmost to enable both students and staff to remain as comfortable as possible, Ms Mitchell said, “Shorts are not currently part of our uniform for boys, and I would not want to make any changes without consulting both students and their families. However, with hotter weather becoming more normal, I would be happy to consider a change for the future.”
There are echoes here of a story I reported four years ago, when Swedish train drivers complaining of heat in their cabs reaching 35C (95F) were refused shorts and instead turned to wearing uniform skirts. The train operating company could not touch them, as doing so would be a discriminatory move and thereby illegal (see https://xandradurward.wordpress.com/2013/06/09/training-skirts-takes-on-a-new-meaning/). Likewise French bus drivers in Nantes have followed the same lead, turning to wearing skirts as temperatures soared to 38C (100F).
What really impresses me about the Isca Academy story however, is the way that the idea took off, and how the boys were able to carry out their protest without fear of bullying. That has got to be a positive move, which shows that perhaps the younger generation has a more accepting attitude to dress choice of others. In England 120 schools have adopted a gender-neutral policy towards uniforms, allowing pupils to explore and express their own gender identity by choosing whether to wear trousers or skirts. This is part of a move to combat homophobic, transphobic and biphobic bullying. Sadly, there are no similar figures for Scotland.
When the Isca Academy story broke, some here in Scotland suggested that if schoolboys up here wore kilts, few would even bat an eyelid. They may not, but I would suggest those saying that have never worn a kilt, or are at least forgetting a couple of things about them. For a start, kilts are not skirts; there is a distinction between the two. The modern small kilt, the philabeag, grew out of military wear (no, it was not invented by an English mill-owner – that is an anti-Scottish myth), and had drawstrings to form the pleats at the rear. It was itself adapted from the long plaid great kilt, the philamhor, which was a robe going back in antiquity to many other types of robes worn mainly by men.
But moreover, the kilt is a very heavy garment. A normal philabeag is 8 yards of heavy, tightly woven wool, which is wrapped around the body. Yes, it can be airy (particularly if a man wearing it is a “true scotsman”, if you get my meaning), but anyone who has ever worn a kilt, myslef included, will soon tell you just how warm it gets in the kilt. I most certainly would not have wanted to wear a kilt in the recent high temperatures, particularly as my family tartan, like most tartans, is dark and thereby draws the heat.
The light blue and black tartan (while are so many school skirts, even in England and the USA tartan?) of the Isca Academy uniform would not draw so much heat, and as the skirts are obviously made of much lighter material than a kilt, they seem to be the obvious answer for hot weather, for all genders.
Kinda cute skirts actually – I would wear one.