BIG QUESTION: Does school uniform make girls less active?

September 2022

We value curiosity, and as experts in the Gender Sport Gap in schools, we often find ourselves thinking and talking about big issues surrounding the Gender Sport Gap.

This half term Totally Runable Director and co-founder Nat is being curious, asking;

Does school uniform make girls less active?

It’s that time of year again, this year’s school uniform has been bought and is (hopefully) still looking shiny and new. But what does your school do about uniform and gender? Despite UK Government guidance that school uniform policies (amongst other things) “must not discriminate based on sex”, many primary schools still provide two distinct options – one for girls with skirts, cardigans, summer dresses, and shiny open shoes and one for boys with trousers, jumpers, practical shorts and sturdy shoes.

Does this matter? I think it does. It definitely doesn’t help when it comes to sport.

We know that there is often a difference in behaviour in the playground, with a gender split reported by many primary schools. Girls are more likely to be less active, more likely to stand and chat, or hang off the trim trail, while boys are more likely to be found playing football, or running around the playground. This disparity seems to get more noticeable as they go up through primary school. Looking at their uniforms though, and their shoes, is it any wonder if girls aren’t getting involved in physical activities at breaks and lunchtimes? Is their clothing: a dress, cardigan and shiny open shoes, lending itself as naturally to being physical as the boys’ clothing does?

School uniform has been highlighted in a study recently published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health. The research, from Cambridge University, called girls’ school uniforms “a major barrier to physical activity” and involved fitting over 700 children with activity trackers to record their heart rates and movement throughout the day. 63% of boys reached the Government’s guidelines for at least one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day, but only 42% of girls reached the same activity levels. Girls were found to be significantly less physically active during the school day.

We’ve worked in and with primary schools since 2015. Those schools where uniform is practical and gender neutral have reported an increase, particularly for girls, in the more spontaneous physical activity we tend to see in playgrounds and on the school field. This is supported by the research, and is absolutely something I would recommend to schools looking to close the Gender Sport Gap.

Is this something you’ve seen in action? How does uniform affect girls or boys in your school environment? I’d love to know your thoughts and experiences.

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