South Australian private school Annesley College is leading the way when it comes to gender-neutral uniform options.
They're moving away from the more traditional model of offering girls a summer dress for the warmer terms and winter pinafore for cooler terms in order to provide students with a variety of choices for Term 4 and beyond.
For boys and girls in their Early Years program (aged 2 years old to Grade 2), there’s a branded short sleeve polo, long sleeve polo, sports shorts, tracksuit pants, cotton ‘drill’ shorts, cotton ‘drill’ pants, skort, leggings, rugby jumper, windproof jacket and puffer vest, leather sandals or leather shoes.
“Students no longer have to wear white sports shoes they’re now able to choose their own bright and colourful shoes," Principal Luke Ritchie said.
For Primary Years students (Grades 3-7), they’ll be able to wear the above uniform any day they want or choose to wear a more ‘formal’ dress/skirt option.
“If they choose to wear the newly designed formal uniform, they will be required to wear the new sports uniform for sports lessons twice a week in order to participate fully,” Ritchie said.
In the spirit of promoting student choice within the uniform range, “we’re in the process of finalizing a ‘formal style’ uniform that includes a woolen jumper, dress, skirt, shirt, trousers and shorts which will be optional if students want to wear it”.
“Girls will be allowed to wear the cotton trousers, shorts and shirt if they choose and with all things going to plan this will be ready for the start of the 2018 school year."
They’re also getting rid of the old requirement to wear the formal outfit to more formal events.
“We believe children should be comfortable at formal and informal events so choice within our uniform range has been promoted to support this belief and we are very happy with the design created,” Ritchie said.
Annesley’s decision to offer a more flexible uniform choice was based on “ensuring students are comfortable and empowered as they play, inquire and explore” rather than the increased pressure to offer uniform equality.
Research shows that girls who wear a dress or skirt to school do less physical activity during their break times.
But Principal Ritchie is already happy with the level of participation in physical activity “our students will continue to be active and play, but now they’ll be able to do it in the comfort of a new uniform that supports them in their physical endeavours” he said.
Annesley included the school community in the decision making and believes it was a very important step in the process of change.
In Term 1, Principal Ritchie posed this question to parents and caregivers: Does our current uniform support or hinder our students as they play, inquire and explore?
The next phase of community consultation involved presenting design options for comment and feedback, involving students, parents, caregivers and staff.
"The overwhelming feedback from these stakeholder groups was very positive. Stakeholders informed us that uniform helps to build a sense of community, but within the uniform, we need to present students with a level of choice to promote their individuality," Ritchie said.
“With this feedback in mind, we have a uniform with a wide range of comfortable, quality items that enable students to have choice.”
But modestly, Ritchie doesn’t consider Annesley as leading the way with such a stand-out move.
“For me as Principal, it’s not about ‘leading the way’ but about ensuring the students at Annesley have a uniform that they feel comfortable to play, create, collaborate and solve problems in,” he said.
“I believe schools need to connect with their stakeholder groups and ensure that the wellbeing of their students is central to decisions made about uniform."
And they’re not just making waves in uniform choice.
“We have created a new Innovation Centre the students have called the ‘Innovation Station’. The flexible learning space incorporates 3D design tools/software, a maker space for tinkering with old technology and using robots/lego technic, a new art studio and a TV studio."
“Our new uniform will further enhance student comfort and creativity in this exciting new space!”