LGBT rights: Methodist College launches review of uniform rules

By Robbie Meredith
BBC News NI Education Correspondent

Media caption,
Methodist College wants its pupils to feel their identities are recognised, says its principal

A Northern Ireland grammar school is to review its uniform policy partly to ensure transgender pupils and those from religious groups feel comfortable.

Methodist College Belfast is consulting parents for their views on any potential changes.

Pupils and staff will also be asked for their opinions.

Methodist College told BBC News NI that it regularly reviewed its uniform policy.

School principal Scott Naismith said it had been five years since the last review.

"During that time, obviously, the school community has changed," he said.

'Tradition, affordability and practicality'

"We are a very diverse and inclusive school and that is something we pride ourselves on and we are having to accommodate the needs of a wide range of pupils given their backgrounds.

"We want to make sure that as our practices evolve so our policies reflect the practices that have come into place."

Image caption,
The school community at Methodist College has changed, says principal Scott Naismith

He confirmed gender-neutral uniforms was one area to be explored as part of the review.

"We have some pupils who we accommodate by allowing them to wear ankle length skirts or pupils who are allowed to wear headscarves or pupils who are allowed to wear the uniform of the gender that they identify with rather than their biological sex," he said.

"We will be looking at the history and traditions of the college, affordability of the uniforms as well as practicality of the uniform."

The review was announced in an email sent to parents.

"Whilst we would stress that a review does not mean that we believe significant changes are necessary, it does seem appropriate to ask questions of what we wear and why we wear it," it said.

"If changes are made as part of this review parents, pupils and staff will be informed in due course."

Flexible policy

It said that the policy "should be flexible enough to ensure that recognised minorities are able to feel comfortable, eg religious groups, ethnic minorities, pupils with gender dysphoria.

"Individualism is not the same as being part of a recognised minority and so once a uniform policy has been set all are expected to adhere to the requirements."

Image caption,
Pupils at Methodist College will be asked for their views on the school uniform

The school said that it still believed in the value of having a uniform, rather than allowing pupils to wear their own clothes.

"We would certainly not want pupils to be under constant pressure to dress a certain way to fit in," the email said.

"It is evident that in wider society there is a drift to less formal wear."

Social changes

The email said that older pupils might be given more flexibility but that "would still be within the constraints of overall uniform policy".

It added: "The freedoms given undoubtedly change over time due to changes in society as to what becomes the norm.

"Any policy should allow for this."

In Wales, the government has recently recommended that school uniforms should be gender neutral.