A piece in yesterday’s Sunday Times:
The UK’s leading police officer for child protection has expressed support for primary schools that introduce “modesty shorts” for girls as young as four. Some head teachers ask children to wear shorts under summer dresses so they do not show their underwear while doing activities such as handstands in the playground.
They say it is to protect them from predators who may be watching but parents have accused schools of body-shaming girls.
Layering shorts under school dresses has become popular, particularly in high schools, where teenagers say it protects them from “upskirting” — having someone take a picture up their skirt without their permission or knowledge. Now reception-age children in some schools are being asked to adopt shorts as part of official uniform policy.
Retailers including Next and River Island market trunk-style underwear or cycling shorts as “modesty shorts”, while Gap calls them “cartwheel shorts to layer under dresses”. Next sells its “modesty shorts” for girls as young as two, while River Island sells them for those aged five and over.
Simon Bailey, chief constable of Norfolk and the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for child protection, backed the idea of compulsory shorts under dresses.
He said: “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.
“My view is that 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.
“The culture has to tackle the misogyny and the sexual harassment and the sending of nude photos. We have to look at the impact the porn industry is having on the way young men are now developing and exploring their sexuality.”
Last month The Dell Primary School, in Chepstow, Monmouthshire, told parents in a text: “As the weather improves, we suggest that girls wear shorts/cycling shorts under their summer dress.” When this was questioned by parents, headteacher Steve King said it was in response to “concerns about children inadvertently showing their underwear while doing handstands”.
In an email posted on a Facebook page for parents, he said: “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.”
A parent with a daughter at the school said: “It is shocking that girls as young as four are being asked to cover up. It suggests their pants and what they wear are a problem. It cannot be healthy either to ask them to wear tight shorts over their pants on hot days.”
Parkside Primary Academy, in the village of Royston, near Barnsley, South Yorkshire, said shorts must be worn beneath summer dresses. One parent objected: “Children should be free to do cartwheels, hang upside down and do whatever else they want to before the inevitable hang-ups of puberty kick in.”
Maria Miller, a Conservative MP and former chairwoman of the women and equalities committee, which investigated sexual harassment in schools, said: “It’s our responsibility to keep children safe at school and not put that responsibility onto them and what they wear.”
Mike Amesbury, the Labour MP for Weaver Vale, Cheshire, whose private member’s bill limiting the cost of school uniform was passed last month, said: “I have a young boy and I have a responsibility to educate him. What we have to do in schools and society is educate boys, not bring in extra compulsory items of school uniform.”
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