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Should Children do PE in their Underwear?

Talking Pants

The Talk PANTS campaign helps parents of 4-11-year-olds keep their children safe from abuse. Like the Green Cross Code, it takes a potentially tricky subject and gives parents and schools the language and tools to talk about safety and respect for our bodies, in an engaging and age-appropriate way. (NSPCC)

So, why would any school or a local authority seek to ‘normalise’ and ‘minimise’ feelings of concern when raised by an upset parent relating to children being requested to take part in PE in their underwear.

As a former Head teacher, current Designated Safeguarding Lead and Specialist School Improvement Partner, in my experience, this is not, and should not be common practice in our schools.

The Education Act 2002, imposes clear duties to provide acceptable levels of care, and to protect children and young people from all reasonably foreseeable risk of harm or injury. The standard of care expected from schools is understandably very high, and the safety and safeguarding of pupils in attendance is paramount.

Head teachers and school-based staff across the country are being supported by senior leaders, local councils, trustees, proprietors and governing bodies, to make appropriate decisions in support of their professional Duty of Care. This support not only keeps pupils safe from risk and harm, but also reduces the risk of allegations against staff. See our published article on Personal, Professional and Protective Boundaries. 

For a Local Authority to claim that ‘getting children who have forgotten their PE kit to do the class in their underwear happens every day across the country’, not only serves to ‘normalise’ the event, but also minimises the potential impact that this may have had on the child/children and families concerned.

Schools have a very important role in the delivery of the preventative safeguarding curriculum, whilst implicitly teaching children the knowledge and skills that they need to help protect themselves from all forms of possible abuse, and listening to their voices when concerns are raised.

Schools across the country and the NSPCC work tirelessly to promote and provide a nationally accessible curriculum, where children are taught that ‘no means no’, ‘privates are private’’ ‘your body belongs to you’ and if you ‘speak up someone can help’.

PE is a very important part of the curriculum, but sadly, in my opinion any concept of 1960’s shame-based practice only serves to undermine the importance of PE, whilst humiliating children within an already power imbalanced relationship.

The school that has been recently reported by the Shropshire Star, has seemingly been misguided in their decision-making process, and I have been personally surprised at the mixed views both from parents and professionals on this matter. When my views were sought by the Shropshire Star, my suggestion to the Head teacher would be to seek some independent advice to review the safeguarding procedures for the school, in line with Keeping Children Safe in Education and Working Together to Safeguard Children. (DfE)

I have also commented that professional mediation to support parental engagement and educational stability for the child/children concerned will reassure parents and children that the school is able to openly reflect and learn from the decision taken.

I would like to leave you with two questions to ponder:

  1. Would this be okay if it were your child or a child in your care or a pupil in your school?
  2. Would this have happened if Ofsted had been inspecting this school on the day in question?

Sarah Morgan Specialist Advisor; Education and Children’s Social Care.

Shropshire Academy and Learning Trust