Shelagh Fogarty left 'speechless' as primary schools tell girls to wear 'modesty shorts'

7 June 2021, 18:45 | Updated: 7 June 2021, 18:52

By Fiona Jones

Shelagh Fogarty told listeners that in a rare moment she was left "speechless" after some UK primary schools have told girls as young as four to wear 'modesty shorts' under their summer dresses.

Schools in Monmouthshire and South Yorkshire have adopted the policy so girls do not show their underwear while doing activities such as handstands in the playground.

The Dell Primary School in Chepstow, Monmouthshire, told parents in a Facebook post: "While we do not want to give children messages that they are responsible for the actions of others, we cannot stand by while children’s actions may attract inappropriate attention from members of the public but did not act to protect them."

A parent with a daughter at the school said: "It is shocking that girls as young as four are being asked to cover up. It suggests their pants and what they wear are a problem. It cannot be healthy either to ask them to wear tight shorts over their pants on hot days."

Shelagh reflected that having been a four year old girl, a teenage girl, an 18 year old and now a woman, "they're very distinct phases of your life and I'm sure most women can remember this...you remember when you became aware of your body being of interest to other people."

"You're aware of puberty or just after puberty you start getting the attention of men and boys and it's a huge shift in your life, you become self-aware in a very particular way," she said, branding the experience "uncomfortable in many cases".

"There should be an absolute freedom in the years preceding that, it seems to me...a psychological freedom that you should be experiencing when you're a little kid.

"Of course there are dangers but it's the job of the adults around children to ring fence that psychological freedom and allow it to last as long as it can last because it does naturally in the course of things come to an end."

"The idea that the girls only wear a particular type of underwear so that boys can't look at them...weirdo adult men doesn't look at them...but that it should be suggested as a standard issue modesty pant/safety measure, what is it a layer of protection from?

"It is like saying a 4, 5, 6 year old girl sadly now has to have the same awareness of how the male gaze might land on her as a woman of 20, 25. It's uncomfortable at that age having to deal with it, let alone when you're five and six."

Shelagh questioned that as there is danger out there, would modesty pants make a difference? "No they wouldn't," she said.

When Parkside Primary Academy, in Royston, South Yorkshire, said shorts must be worn beneath summer dresses, one parent responded: "Children should be free to do cartwheels, hang upside down and do whatever else they want to before the inevitable hang-ups of puberty kick in."

Maria Miller, a Conservative MP and former chair of the women and equalities committee, said: "It’s our responsibility to keep children safe at school and not put that responsibility onto them and what they wear."