Victorian schools will be forced to allow female students to replace their dresses and skirts with shorts or pants, under changes the State Government says will encourage girls to be active and comfortable.
Currently in Victoria, it is up to each individual school to decide on its uniform policy.
But Education Minister James Merlino said he would move to introduce rules requiring schools to provide options for female students by the start of next year.
The changes will only apply to public schools.
“There’s been a campaign — many parents’ organisations, students contacting me, contacting the Government — and I just thought this was a common sense decision to make,” Mr Merlino told ABC Radio Melbourne.
“The vast majority of schools provide the option of wearing pants or shorts for female students, but some don’t.
“This is about students being comfortable at school, being physically active at school.”
Research on girls’ activity levels and school uniforms has shown they did less physical activity and play at school when wearing a dress or skirt.
According to the federal Department of Health, girls say the fear of being judged or ridiculed is a barrier to participation in physical activity.
The rules will bring the state into line with Western Australia, which announced changes to its uniform policy earlier this week.
In New South Wales and Queensland, it remains the decision of individual schools.
Mr Merlino said his two daughters were among the many Victorian school girls who wanted to be given the option.
“Nine days out of 10 they want to wear shorts and pants to school, and I think that should be an option to all girls at all government schools,” Mr Merlino said.
Simone Cariss — the co-founder of the Girls’ Uniform Agenda, which has campaigned for changes to uniform policies — said she became aware of the problem when her daughter started school last year.
Ms Cariss welcomed the changes in Victorian state schools, but said the compulsory dresses and skirts were a bigger problem in the Catholic and independent sector.
“One of the arguments we hear from schools is that they force girls to wear dresses because it prepares them for the world of work — well, I don’t know what decade those schools are living in,” she said.
“It would be illegal for an employer to say to a woman, ‘You must wear a dress or a skirt to work’.
“We would really encourage schools to take a look at their policy and ask themselves why they insist on forcing girls to wear dresses and skirts.
“Just give them the option, that’s all we ask.”