Ashford Academy: Prologue

It's common in many UK schools for girls to wear trousers instead of a skirts if they wish, with some schools even adopting a 'trousers only' policy. However, at the Ashford Academy the girls were not permitted to wear trousers under any circumstances. Only a grey skirt of a specific box pleated style, no shorter than eight inches above the knee and no longer than three inches above the knee was permitted. Many girls at Ashford Academy felt hard done by, especially since tights were not permitted either, only ankle, knee or over knee socks.


Jemma was a particularly head strong girl who'd started at Ashford Academy the previous September. It was the end of February and Jemma asked her Head of Year why the girls were not allowed to wear tights, or trousers for that matter. The Head of Year had been asked this question by many girls over the years, so her routine answer was delivered with the usual half hearted gusto. Jemma listened to the list of reasons why a strict uniform policy is necessary, before explaining that she does find it unfair that the boys wear long trousers throughout the winter whilst the girls cannot even wear a pair of thick tights to defend against the cold. “It's a minor detail which I think is wrong... It wouldn't be so bad if we could wear a knee length skirt with over knee socks.” Jemma added. However her reasoning seemed to fall on death ears.

When Jemma arrived home that evening, she expressed her annoyance to her elder sister Sophie, who also agreed that it wasn't fair. “You get used to it I guess.” Sophie sighed as she straightened her stocking tops. “Last winter I’d have given anything to wear tights but this time it wasn't so bad.”

But we shouldn't have to get used to it.” Jemma replied. “most other schools let the girl's wear trousers and we cant even wear tights... it's ridiculous!”

Sophie, whilst agreeing with her younger sister, explained that there is no chance of being allowed to wear trousers because the head mistress is dead set against it. “It's been tried before and she wont budge. Neither will the PTA.” Sophie stated.

That night Jemma decided she would give it a try, so the next day she enrolled her friend Sarah. They did much of their research on the internet and came across some very interesting articles regarding school uniforms. They initially wanted to press for the abolition of the uniform altogether, but found little supporting evidence as most schools reintroduced the uniform within a few years. The next option was to argue for simply being permitted to wear tights or trousers if they wanted, however they knew the PTA was firmly against the trousers idea. “I think if we can only wear skirts then the boys should too!” Suggested Sarah.

I don't think they'd allow that! Imagine Justin Ashton in a skirt!” Jemma giggled.

Eugh!” Exclaimed Sarah. “I could imagine Justin Bieber in a skirt though.” She cooed.

You could imagine Justin Bieber in anything!” Jemma retorted before quickly scanning the myriad of posters bearing the pop star's smug face which covered Sarah's bedroom walls. She turned back to the list of arguments they'd considered. “So... we know the head is dead set against letting the girls wear trousers, and is equally against us wearing tights. All we need is an argument which will force her to reconsider.”

That's what I mean.” Sarah said. “If we have to wear skirts which are 'no longer than three inches above the knee and no shorter than eight inches above the knee'.” She read verbatim from the School's website, “Then the boys should too.” She reiterated. “Or maybe shorts instead of a skirt.”

Jemma took hold of the mouse and scrolled up to the bullet points which summarised the uniform regulations. “Actually you might be onto something Sarah... the girls regulations are much more restrictive than the boys are.” Jemma drew Sarah's attention to the finer details of each list. “Look, we get a grey box pleated skirt, they get black, blue or grey trousers in whatever style. We have to wear the school cardigan and the blazer, but it's optional for the boys. We have to wear specific shoes, they just get 'black shoes'. It's so unfair!”

Sarah agreed, but pointed out that presenting that would only make them change what the boys can wear. “She'll just go... OK, the boys can no longer wear black or blue trousers, only grey. The boys must wear the blazer, blah blah blah.” Sarah stated in a relatively poor impression of the middle class and middle aged head mistress's well spoken voice.

Maybe... but seeing as she wont let us wear trousers, and we cant suggest the boys should wear skirts. Not that I want them to...”

It would be funny though.” Sarah chirped.

...if we suggested they should wear short trousers instead then she might agree.” Jemma suggested.

Which still doesn't help our cause.” Sarah replied dispassionately.

So if we suggest the boys should wear these...” Jemma suggested, drawing Sarah attention to the monitor. “Grey box pleated culottes, almost identical to our skirts, but technically a pair of shorts and argue that it would promote equality between the sexes...” Jemma tailed off dramatically but Sarah either wasn't convinced or simply didn't understand.

Over the next few days, Jemma put a lot of thought into her idea. She'd deduced that if she takes the idea of the importance of uniform to the nth degree, then surely the head and the PTA would think again. With her limited photoshop skills, Sarah put together her ideas.

The following weekend, she showed her work to Sarah who spent a few minutes in fits of laughter. “Stop it this took me ages!” Jemma said as Sarah regained her composure.

I'm sorry...” She said before smirking at the printed sheet on her lap. “It's really good... but it's obviously a girl's bottom half stick on to that boy's body. I doubt his legs would look that good in a skirt!”

Jemma sighed. “They're box pleated shorts.” She stated. “But yeah, it would be better to show it properly I guess.”

And you can't possibly suggest the boys should wear swimming costumes too.” Sarah added, “Or those skorts.”

Actually those swimming costumes are for boys... that's not photoshop.” Jemma pointed out.

Sarah took a closer look. “Blimey they are!” She replied. “But I still can't see the point of it.”

The point is...” Jemma replied. “Wearing a uniform is essential as it instils a sense of belonging and discipline. That is why we all wear the same uniform. The problem is that boys and girls do not wear the same uniform which can only encourage separatism. If we are to pave the way for an equal society in the future, then enforcing equal uniform regulations for both boys and girls can only be a good thing. The boys should wear a pair of grey pleated shorts with black shoes and socks which are equal in coverage and appearance to our pleated skirts, shoes and socks. For PE we all wear a polo shirt and a games skort; being a cross between a girl's skirt and a pair of boy's shorts. For swimming, we all wear a one piece costume, which are available for boys...”

Have you rehearsed this?” Sarah asked.

Yes.” Replied Jemma. “...Although this proposed boys uniform is somewhat unusual, it is by no means feminine. However we understand that the boys may not welcome these proposed changes, but that is of no consequence. We may not like the uniform, I know I don't, but it does us no harm...”

Jemma continued for several more minutes and Sarah listened intently. When Jemma finally finished, Jemma said, “Wow! That's quite convincing.”

Thanks.”

But she'd never go for it.”

Jemma grinned knowingly. “I know she wouldn't, she'd argue that we are taking the concept of the importance of a school uniform too far and things shouldn't be taken to such extremes...”

Sarah nodded in agreement, but still looked a bit mythed.

...at which point we point out that that current uniform regulations, and specifically the ban on tights is already at such extremes.”

A light went on in Sarah's head, “Genius!” She grinned.

Jemma smiled to herself proudly. At least she'd convinced one person. She picked up the printed sheet with her photoshoped image of the new boy's uniform. “It would be better getting boy to model the shorts though.” Jemma added apathetically, knowing that wouldn't be easy.

Sarah got up off her bed and opened her wardrobe. She rummaged for a moment before removing a hanger. “Well I’ve got the shorts... er... culottes.” she said, holding a pair of grey box pleated culottes almost identical to those in Jemma's montage. “And I do have a brother.” She grinned.

Do you think he'd wear them?” Jemma asked.

Well, no.” Sarah replied. “Peter!” She shouted at the top of her voice.

This was soon followed by the sound of foot steps running up the stairs. “What?” A young boy's voice asked.

Can you come in here?”

Peter opened the door to his sister's bedroom and smiled. “What?”

Sarah introduced her younger brother to Jemma, before telling him how cruel they were at Ashford Academy to the girls. She told him that the boys could wear long trousers but the girls had to wear a short skirt and knee socks, even in the middle of the winter when it's windy and raining and snowing. Peter shrugged so Sarah said they'd be much warmer if the girls could wear tights, but that's not allowed either. “How would you like it if you had to wear short trousers and knee socks all the way through winter?”

It'd be freezing.” The eleven year old replied.

But us girls have to wear just that, almost.” Jemma added.

Peter agreed that it wasn't fair, and when his sister told him that they are going to campaign to get the rules changed, he half shrugged half nodded, agreeing that he'd help her.

All I want is a photograph of a boy in school uniform, but wearing a pair of shorts instead of trousers.”

But I haven't got my uniform yet.” Peter replied as he was due to start at Ashford the following September.

Well my shirt and tie will be OK... and these shorts will do, and I'll get you some knee socks.”

The boy recoiled when he saw the shorts his sister wanted him to wear. But after a little begging from the suddenly flirtatious Jemma, the young boy shyly agreed.

Twenty minutes later, Peter and Sarah were dressed almost identically. He in the short grey box pleated culottes and her in the short grey box pleated skirt. Both wore a white blouse with a round collar with a school tie and the school blazer. Both wore white knee socks. Sarah wore her black Mary Jane's and peter wore his smart black shoes. Both stood in the back garden where the light was better as Jemma took a few photos.

What's going on here?” A voice asked.

Jemma turned to see Sarah's mother observing them and said hello. She mumbled something about a school project, before Sarah took over. She explained why her brother was wearing a pair of culottes, white knee socks and a blouse, and stressed that he wasn't dressed as a school girl in spite of his attire.

Peter stood sheepishly as his mother grinned whilst the two girls eagerly explained the inequalities regarding the school uniform. Once they'd finished, she asked, “And what if the headmistress agrees with your proposal?”

She wont!” The girls said in unison.

But if she does...” She turned to her young son, “Then that might be your school uniform in September.”

Peter looked down at himself. “Yuk!” He spat.

I think you look quite sweet actually.” His mother added.

Noooo!” Peter blushed. “Can I change now?” He asked.

Before long they were all back in their own clothes. Jemma and Sarah looked at the photos on the computer and agreed that Peter did look cute in the culottes and knee socks. “Maybe we should have got one of him wearing my shoes too.” Sarah suggested. “It's a not as if us girls can wear normal shoes like those.” She added, tapping on the screen.

True.” Jemma agreed. “But I don't think Peter would do it again.”

Do what again?” Sarah's mother asked from the landing.

Wear those culottes.” Jemma replied.

Sarah's mother stepped into her room and took an interest in the photo's on the monitor. “I don't think he'd like to.” She grinned, “Shame though.”

With a little help from Sarah's mother, the girls recreated the sheet Jemma had done. She wasn't too keen on the games skort, but was intrigued with the swimming costumes for boys, or more the fact that they existed. “Well looking at exactly what you girls are proposing, I'm pretty sure the headmistress wont agree.” She said before leaving the two girls alone. Sarah and Jemma smiled triumphantly as they looked at their now professional looking proposition for the new 'equality' uniform.

A couple of weeks passed before the girls finally plucked up the courage to present their case to the headmistress. A meeting was booked one lunchtime and both the head and her deputy were present as Jemma and Sarah presented their case, titled The Inequality of Uniforms.

After their opening statement which Jemma fluently presented, Mrs Bell, the headmistress asked, “Are you pressing for the abolition of uniforms altogether or just the right for girls to wear trousers?”

Er... Neither really... Miss.” Jemma stammered as the carefully planned pantomime began. “We're not against having to wear skirts or having to wear a school uniform... quite the opposite in fact.” Jemma explained, “...however the rules regarding the length or our skirts, socks not tights and our limited choice of shoes does not apply to the boys and is therefore unfair.”

Well the boys aren't known for wearing patterned tights or hitching their skirts up too far...” Mrs Bell pointed out. “...I feel you're missing the point girls.” she added.

The point is Mrs Bell, the boys and girls uniform rules are vastly different. Treating boys and girls so differently only promotes separatism. In this day and age we should be promoting equality.” Jemma replied, before pointing out how restricted the girls uniform rules are in comparison to the boys. Jemma produced a copy of the school regulations to help prove her point.

 As it states, the boys must wear 'a white shirt' whereas the girls must wear a white blouse with a specific collar and short sleeves... for the boys the blazer is optional whereas our cardigan and blazer is mandatory... we wear a box pleated grey skirt within a certain length, the boys have three choices of colour and no ruling on the length of their trousers.”

It goes without saying they must be long trousers.” The headmistress added as her deputy sniggered.

Quite.” Replied Jemma, taking on an almost Thatcherite demeanour. “The boys can wear any shoes so long as they're black, we have a choice of two styles; black Mary Jane's or ballet pumps.”

I understand your point girls... and I agree 100% on promoting equality...” Mrs Bell said, “...However the matter of allowing girls wearing trousers has been discussed time and again at PTA meetings. The school uniform does contribute to discipline and schools which have permitted girls to wear trousers have seen a notable drop in discipline amongst the girls.” She paused to allow her first point to sink in. “Similarly, schools which have dropped uniforms altogether have seen an adverse affect in discipline and a dramatic rise in truancy amongst both male and female students.” She paused again. “So for obvious reasons the PTA does not want to relax the uniform rules in favour of modernity whilst sacrificing the largely good behaviour of the pupils and the good reputation of this school.” She removed her glasses and placed them on her desk. “...and we can hardly start making the boys wear skirts in favour of equality can we?”

Of course not Miss.” Jemma replied. “However if their uniform regulations were similar to ours...” She referred to the school rule book, “...for example, the girls uniform regulations state: a grey box pleated skirt no shorter than eight inches above the knee, and no longer than three inches above the knee. Tights are not permitted. White, grey or black ankle, knee or over knee socks may be worn. Shoes must be plain, black leather in either a ballet pump, Mary Jane or T-bar style, 'fashion' shoes are not permitted.”

Sarah then suggested, “To make the guidelines fair for both boys and girls, the boys uniform regulations should read: Grey shorts, no shorter than eight inches above the knee, and no longer than three inches above the knee. Tights are also not permitted...” She grinned.

Well you do have a valid point girls.” Mrs Bell replied, “When I was a girl all the boys wore short pants up until they'd finished school for good.” She smiled.

Me too.” Added her deputy, “I mean... when I was a boy.” He fumbled.

Sarah smiled back and continued. “...White ankle, knee or over knee socks may be worn. Shoes must be plain, black leather in either Mary Jane or T-bar style, 'fashion' shoes are not permitted.”

Well I can't see many boys wearing over knee socks.” Mrs Bell smiled, playing along with their obvious line of fire. “...or wearing t-bar sandals at high school age.”

Does it matter if they like it or not?” Sarah asked. “I'd rather wear an a-line skirt than this...” she said, holding her short box pleated school skirt out. “I'd rather wear tights than knee socks and I don't like my shoes either... but I have respect for the uniform rules and therefore wear the uniform as defined by these very regulations.” Sarah paused as she looked back at Mrs Bell who sat listening intently, “We are wholeheartedly in favour of the uniform and all the reasons why we should wear it. However as representatives of all the young women who attend Ashford Academy, we also want some equality.”

Jemma took over. “In light of the fact that senior school is designed to prepare us for the grown up world. The boys are being given concessions for no good reason, which is completely unfair to the girls. Is it setting a good example by making it blatantly clear that the boys are treated favourably in comparison to us girls?.”

So you're proposing we change the boys uniform from long to short trousers?” Mrs. Bell asked.

Sort of...” Sarah replied, “To ensure the uniform guidelines are fair for both boys and girls...” She paused as she removed an A4 sheet from her file and presented it the Mrs Bell. “...we feel the boys should wear short grey trousers of a box pleat style, very similar to our pleated skirts.”

Mrs Bell looked at the photocopy Jemma had given her. It showed a pair of shorts with box pleating, next to one of the regulation school skirts. “Are these pleated shorts intended for boys?” Mrs Bell asked as she perused the sheet. “I've also never seen this 'unisex skort' before either.” She added.

Er...” Sarah stammered, “Well, they are shorts Miss, just very similar in style to the skirts the girls must wear...” Sarah empathised the 'must', “I doubt they'd be very popular, but neither are these box pleated skirts.” Sarah explained before she dramatically sneered down at her skirt. “On the reverse there's a picture of my brother and I.” She added.

The headmistress turned the sheet over. A wry smile crossed her face as she looked at the image of Sarah and her brother, wearing almost identical school uniforms. She made no comment and turned the sheet back. “...and what you've called the 'boys swimsuit'...” Mrs Bell asked, glancing at the girls suspiciously, “...is it intended for boys, or just a girls swimming costume?”

No it is a boys swimsuit miss.” Jemma answered, routing through her notes. “I found a wholesalers which stocks them.” She said, passing Mrs Bell a catalogue open at the page showing a boy wearing the male version and a girl wearing their version. “They can even embroider the school crest on all their garments.” Jemma explained as Mrs Bell perused the page, “The girls version has a higher leg and crosses at the back with the school crest in the centre, whereas the boys is more like an all in one vest and trunks, with the school crest on the left.” Mrs Bell nodded slightly as Sarah explained. “On page 74 you'll find the pleated shorts, and the PE skort is on page 103.” She added.

Mrs Bell turned the page and read the descriptions of the garments the girls were suggesting. “Well there's no mention of the shorts being specifically for girls, and it does say 'unisex' for the skort.”

I think many girls would rather wear a skort instead of a regular gym skirt too.” Sarah added proudly. “Also, I... er.... we feel similar games kits for boys and girls could make way for more mixed sports.... boys and girls playing hockey, football, netball and cricket in mixed teams. This would put this school streets ahead in terms of equality.” Sarah confidently stated as the rest of the girls nodded in agreement.

Mrs Bell sat back in her chair and smiled at the girls who sat before her. “Well you've certainly presented an in depth and compelling argument girls, so you can both be very proud of yourselves...” she said. “...This questionnaire was conducted on both boys and girls in the school I assume?” She asked. The girls nodded. “and there's plenty of boy's names on your petition for equal school uniform rights I see.” She observed, before telling the girls she'd address the PTA at the next meeting.

Both Jemma and Sarah were silent as they left the headmistresses office. Once Sarah was sure they were out of earshot she turned to Jemma and asked, “Did that go well?” She bit her lip, “Or not?”

I'm not sure.” Sarah sighed. 

Meanwhile back in Mrs. Bell's office, her deputy aired his opinion. "Well I've never heard so much nonsense in my life!" he muttered before slurping his tea. 

"What would you know you incompetent old fool?" Mrs. Bell spat, causing him to splutter in his teacup. "The only reason you're my deputy is to keep you out of the classroom. Your idea of discipline is to let the students run riot whilst you go into a spineless panic." she cast him a scornful gaze before seating herself. "I am of the opinion that these two girls have presented some very interesting points." she said before looking dreamily towards the ornate school crest which hung above the fireplace. "Ashford Academy: The school of unrivalled equality."

Mrs Bell presented the idea of 'unrivalled equality' for boys and girls at the school's next PTA meeting. She suggested mixed games lessons, stressing the girls could be just as good as the boys at football and cricket given the chance, and likewise for boys with hockey and netball. “Mixed teams, mixed lessons, and as similar uniforms as possible... we could help produce the first truly equal generation!” she proudly suggested, knowing the largely liberal PTA would find the concept at very least intriguing. Armed with the information Jenny and Sarah had given her, she proposed that long trousers for the boys be out-ruled in favour of shorts, “...similar in style to the girl's skirt” she stressed, before presenting an image of the box pleated culotte style shorts.

A lengthy discussion ensued regarding the specific style of shorts she was proposing. Obviously many PTA members felt the style was not suitable for a boy's uniform. However Mrs Bell convinced some of them when she pointed out that such shorts for boys are relatively common in some Eastern European schools. 
 
Surely if the end goal is equality, then allowing the girls to attend school wearing trousers would be more logical?” said Mr Coledale, a long standing member of the PTA. “Plus I feel a ban on skirts would be more welcomed by the girls than a ban on trousers would be by the boys.”

Yes but, in schools where skirts have been banned, the girls have become much worse behaved, truanted more and have suffered from a lower pass rate.” another parent added.

Mrs. Bell then stressed that changing the uniform as she has proposed would be a hard pill to swallow for many of the boys as well as some of their parents. “However in all cases, a school uniform is a disciplinary tool and relaxing school uniform rules, as many other schools have recently done, has seldom had a positive affect on discipline or the performance of those schools in general.” she added before presenting some facts and figures of schools in the Americas and Europe which had dropped uniforms, only to adopt them again a couple of years later after truanting and bullying increased. “Ninety percent of truants from this school are boys...” she stated, holding up the photo of the proposed new shorts worn by an eastern European boy who also wore white knee socks and t-bar sandals, “...can you imagine any boy wanting to be anywhere but school wearing this?”

Parents and teachers nodded in agreement. “I'd like to see Neville Hughes flex his muscles dressed like that too!” said one of the male teachers, referring to the notorious school bully.

The PTA voted largely in favour of the new uniform proposals. However two parents did storm out in disgust. The new regulations were drawn up in finer detail over the next few weeks and a letter was sent to the parents of all pupils. This explained that the new uniform regulations are to be brought in to affect from the beginning of the following term. 
 
Some of the parents protested and put their sons in to different schools, however others felt the rules were more than fair. Of course their sons hated the idea of having to wear shorts instead of trousers. And once the boys realised what their new shorts looked like, they dreaded the thought of wearing them.

When the news reached Jemma and Sarah, they felt a little bad. Especially for Sarah as it meant her brother Peter, the reluctant model would spend the next five years going to school in culottes. Thankfully though, tights were at long last permitted.

2 comments:

  1. Brilliant story i wish there was more to this story

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    1. There is... much more but i guess you've found them by now :)

      Glad you're enjoying them.

      For the record, check the 'labels' in the right hand column where you'll find the Ashford tag and the rest of the stories in this series.

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