First day at school that banned skirts

By Jonathan BarnesNO skirts, no ties and no old-fashioned shirts were on show at one East Anglian school as pupils sported their new “practical and liberal” uniform for the first time.

By Jonathan Barnes

NO skirts, no ties and no old-fashioned shirts were on show at one East Anglian school as pupils sported their new “practical and liberal” uniform for the first time.

The decision to introduce a new dress code at Kesgrave High School, near Ipswich, prompted a nationwide debate.

It became the first school in the country to insist that girls wear trousers and not skirts and, according to headteacher George Thomas, was accused by some critics of being “draconian” and even “fascist”.

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But Mr Thomas, who welcomed more than 1,500 pupils back to the school yesterday, said he was delighted with the new look.

The changes included replacing the old-style shirts and ties with polo shirts and requiring all pupils to wear trousers.

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“It wasn't banning skirts as such, but introducing a whole new uniform which, in my opinion, is very relaxed and liberal - not at all draconian,” he said.

“We wanted to get rid of the silly aggravations - the formality of ties and having to tell pupils to do them up, shirts untucked and hanging out and nagging girls that their skirts are too short.

“We were fed-up of the way some children were dressing. We had done things to deter it, but it had just become silly.

“We didn't want to keep saying 'Tuck your shirt in' or 'Do your tie up' - that's not what we are here for.”

Mr Thomas, who has been headteacher of the school for 18 years, said the initial response to the changes, outlined in a letter to parents, had been underwhelming.

He received about 20 letters from parents, a handful of which were critical and accused the school of snubbing tradition and even of being fascist.

But the school was thrust into a media storm when the changes hit the headlines of national newspapers.

Mr Thomas said about 90% of the feedback he had received had been “highly supportive” - including from other teachers across the nation.

“I had a call from a headteacher who said that hardly any girls at his school wore skirts anyway and I think that's also the case at other schools,” he added.

“Yes, we did ban skirts, but what we did was introduce a common uniform that is practical and sensible for a hard day's work.

“The children do all sorts of things - drama, art, technology - and we wanted something more sensible, practical and comfortable for them.”

One of the upsetting elements for the headteacher was that the skirt saga overshadowed a major event for the school - the opening of its state-of-the-art communications block in June.

“We wanted to celebrate our successful school and nobody wanted to talk about that,” he said.

The development is just one example of the rapid expansion of the school, which serves one of Suffolk's fastest growing towns. Pupil numbers have virtually doubled in the last decade.

This year's A-level performance outstripped last year's full set of results, which were the first after the completion of a sixth-form block in 2001. A new gymnasium is also currently under construction.

“The last few years have been tremendous in terms of growth and excitement. It is a privilege to be the headteacher of this school,” said Mr Thomas.

“We have been called draconian and fascist over the skirt issue, but far from it. We are the most progressive school in Suffolk, in my opinion.”

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