Make Primary Schools have separate PE changing for girls and boys
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In primary schools all across the UK girls and boys are forced to change for PE in front of each other until as late as year 6. Primary schools are currently not compelled to provide separate changing areas for boys and girls and most don't despite complaints from parents.
One of the first things I taught my 4-year-old daughter was body privacy, making sure her private parts were kept private and her body was her own, not for public consumption. I was bewildered to discover when she started PE that she would be forced to change in front of boys. Being only 4 and one of the youngest in her class my daughter has yet to master the art of changing conspicuously and so often exposes herself when undressing- pants that come off with tights and things of that nature. When she came home from school that day after PE she said, her face turned down, 'I was afraid of showing my bum bum.' When I mentioned my concern to the head of early years the next day his response was, 'They're 4 and 5, it's fine.'
Another girl in her class forgot to wear a vest that day and was laughed at by boys while changing. While I appreciate that children can be cruel and there is not much we can do to stop that, it should be our goal as adults to protect them where we can by limiting opportunities for this kind of behaviour.
The attitude that 'they're 4 and 5, it's fine' is not one that cares about protecting our children. Children these days are exposed to so much and as a result they are more self aware than ever before. To have a belief that all children are innocent and have an untainted home life is idealistic and unrealistic. I appreciate the majority will be monitored in what they are exposed to and the majority will never experience sexual abuse, but that does not mean we refuse to address the minority. While we cannot control what happens in every home, we can control what we do at school to protect boundaries.
It is not just an issue of being aware of things of a sexual nature. Issues of body shaming are serious ones that lead to distorted self image which is a precursor to things like eating disorders and other mental and social conditions.
The current assumption that year 6 is the first time separate changing should become an issue because of bodily changes associated with puberty is an ignorant one. Many children experience bodily changes well before year 6. I remember being the only girl in my year 4 class to get my period and wear a bra. It was embarrassing enough in an all girls school, I cannot imagine the humiliation of having to go through that awkward phase undressing in front of boys.
The current solution for children who mature earlier than year 6 is that they are isolated and made to change alone in a classroom or the smelly toilets, further alienating them from their peers.
There is also a consideration for cultural and religious views that require modesty. These pupils are currently having their needs ignored for the sake of convenience.
Rather than isolating children in such a delicate phase of life, why not have a policy that protects all and harms no one? Make schools provide separate changing. It is as simple as having girls change in the classroom and boys in the hall. It is as simple as investing in a screen that can be easily assembled and disassembled. It happens in year 6 anyway!
Listen to parents. Let's not look back and think of what we could have done to better protect our children. Make it national policy that primary schools provide separate changing areas for boys and girls for all year groups.
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