A Co Wicklow primary school is introducing a new gender neutral school uniform policy which will allow boys to wear skirts or girls to wear trousers from next September.
St Brigid's National School in Greystones, Co Wicklow, said the new approach aims to ensure that any children with gender identity issues feel happy and accepted at school.
Máire Costello, the school principal, said the move was prompted by the school’s student council and had been agreed by the school’s board of management and parents.
“We have children who are questioning their sexual identity. It is happening at an earlier age. We want all our children to have a happy experience in school,” she said.
“If that means girls wearing trousers or boys wearing skirts, so be it. The most important thing is that children should feel comfortable and happy over how they are dressed.”
Up until now the school’s uniform policy required girls to wear a green tartan school pinafore, while boys were required to wear grey trousers and a green jumper.
From September, girls or boys will be allowed to choose either one of these options.
Ms Costello said the reaction to the move has been very positive and that the school’s student council helped make a strong case to the board of management of the need for change.
“I’m very proud of them. They did their research and surveyed pupils ... they made the case to the board who were fully behind them.”
The school is also phasing out boys’ and girls’ toilets and replaced them with gender neutral versions.
BelongTo, which supports lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, said secondary schools, in particular, are quietly taking a more progressive approach to school uniform policies on a pupil-by-pupil basis.
Moninne Griffith, BelongTo's executive director, said adapting uniform policies was easier in mixed schools.
However, she said the group was aware of some all-girls schools allowing individual pupils to wear trousers or the school tracksuit. “Teachers usually are very practical people and mostly we hear good things. But we do hear of cases where some teachers refuse to call students by their preferred name or pronoun, which can be very hurtful,” she said.
Sara Phillips, chair of the Transgender Equality Network Ireland, said transgender children are only now becoming more visible in schools thanks to changes in policies.
“There is still a lot of work to be done in schools. There are some great schools - including Catholic ones - and some terrible ones... it takes leadership and a common sense, human rights-based approach to ensure that all children feel welcome.”