Burnley Grammar School

Childhood - Schools


Year: 1959         Item #: 1607         Views: 655,010         Comments: 2,380

Burnley Grammar School

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There's pleny of room in the modern-styled gymnasium for muscle developing, where the boys are supervised by Mr. R. Parry, the physical education instruction.
Source: Lancashire Life Magazine, December 1959

2380 user comment(s) below:-

Comments by Andrea on 14th September 2016  andreatwo@hotmail.co.uk 

I started at Secondary School in 1971 and never had to do PE topless even at Primary School, let alone at Secondary. I was still flat-chested at the start of the year, but some of my classmates definitely weren't and were encouraged to wear bras by our PE teacher if they hadn't already started to do so!

Comments by Su-Lee on 14th September 2016  sulee.chang@ymail.com 

I agree, I don't think It happens now.
In my case It was back in 1975 & I hadn't started wearing a bra at that stage but about half of the girls in the group had.
It was the same for all of us, so after a few weeks It seemed normal to be topless.

Comments by Ellie on 13th September 2016  

I doubt many if any schools have their y7 girls do PE in just their knickers these days. Maybe a few do for forgotten kit, in single sex lessons but even they would be very few in number.

When I had to go topless in my lessons it was embarrassing but I didn't wear a bra at that age so it wasn't physically uncomfortable. Some girls has developed a bit by that age and one or two had quite large breasts and I agree for them it must have been really hard. .

Comments by Paula on 12th September 2016  

I have read the various contributions which describe topless pe classes for girls in their 1st year at secondary. I was not aware that this practice existed and perhaps still does. Given the wide age gap when girls start to show development I am really surprised that this took place as it must have been terribly difficult for some girls to cope with this. To have to remove your bra and go into the gym in just knickers doesn't bear thinking about. It is a disgrace. I am just so pleased that I didn't attend such a school but so sorry for those who did.

Comments by Ross on 11th September 2016  

Hi Rob & Lewis. I didn't go shirtless but I was barefoot for PE. Mostly indoors and outdoors too all throughout the year.
Thinking about it I'd much more happily hand over my shoes and socks as I did than my shirt.
You mentioned showers I too showered naked in middle school. It wasn't a big deal to be honest we walked to the shower block hung up a towel so after we were done at least we had a towel to hand to wrap up in.
Looking back after a muddy barefoot run in the snow/slush covered fields a warm shower afterwards was kind of a treat.

Comments by Su-Lee on 11th September 2016  sulee.chang@ymail.com 

It came as a big shock to me when we moved house and I had to change secondary school and found that PE was topless.
We wore just tight blue shorts with no top or bra during the first year.
At my previous school we had a full PE kit for indoor and outdoor lessons but I soon got used to it and quite enjoyed the freedom.

Comments by Lewis on 10th September 2016  

I agree with Rob. the very first time going out for PE in just shorts & plimsolls with no pants I* felt insecure beneath my shorts. Also I was a bit apprehensive first time being naked in the communal showers. However, this soon passed.

Comments by Rob on 9th September 2016  

Hi Ross, We soon got used to wearing our minimal kit in the gym and outside throughout the middle and upper school, although we did wear plimsolls much of the time,except when we were outdoors in the summer,when most of us opted to go barefoot.I well remember our very first PE lesson when were all told by the teacher that we had to take everything off and come back into the gym wearing just shorts and plimsolls and then afterwards having to go naked in the communal showers.

Comments by Ross on 8th September 2016  

Hi Rob. In middle school it was the PE teachers rules all indoor PE was done barefoot. I remember the very first lesson when we were all sent back to the changing rooms to take off our footwear then walk back barefoot.
I think it was because of this I opted for bare feet even throughout high school. In or out. At least I didn't have the extra hassle of carrying around and then cleaning trainers.

Comments by Rob on 8th September 2016  

Ross, if you preferred going barefoot in pe in the nineties you would probably have enjoyed it in earlier decades when most of us had to wear literally just shorts and nothing else all year round. We had no choice but we enjoyed it.

Comments by Bryony on 8th September 2016  

Hi Andrea

Actually I did forget my PE kit a few times even after that first lesson!

Yes I suppose it was quite unfair that we didn't know we would need our PE kit but maybe the timetable was not finalised before the end of the previous term. Of course this was before the days of email, websites or text messages.

Our PE lessons were single sex. We had two gyms, one for boys and one for the girls. I am certain that the boys had the same rule if they forgot their kit and they had to do it in their pants.

In that first lesson and for the whole of the first year at least if we had to do PE in our underwear then that meant doing it in just our knickers. Any girl who was wearing a bra had to take it off. If you forgot your PE kit that happens to be wearing a vest under your school blouse you still had to do the lesson in just your knickers. In fact the vest I wore as underwear in the first year was almost identical to our PE vests but even then our teachers make sure that we changed before a lesson.

I think that the lesson on the very first day showed me that I was not particularly developed and while I felt quite childish compared to many of the girls in my class I didn't start really wanting to wear a bra for a year or more. Maybe if in that first lesson girls in bras had been allowed to keep them on, me and others who had to do the lesson bare chested might have wanted a bra sooner.

I suppose I should be grateful that the first lesson was gymnastics and not hockey or anything else outside!

Comments by Andrea on 7th September 2016  andreatwo@hotmail.co.uk 

Hi Bryony,

I would imagine that you never forgot your PE kit after that!

But seriously it does seem unfair that it wasn't made clear before you actually started at the school that PE kit would be required on the first day!

Could you clarify a few points:

- was the PE lesson mixed or did the girls do it in one location and boys in another?

- presumably the same rules applied to the boys and they had to do the lesson in just their underpants if they didn't have their kit?

- Are you saying that the girls who were wearing bras were allowed to keep them on and do the lesson in their bra and knickers or take off the bra and do it in just knickers (which is what Ellie said happened in her school and which seems very harsh)?

- If any of the girls were wearing an ordinary vest (as opposed to a gym vest), were they allowed to keep that on or not? Like you I wasn't wearing a bra at that stage, but did normally wear a vest under my school uniform.

- You mentioned that you felt childish because you weren't wearing a bra - did the this experience lead you to ask for one?


Comments by Bryony on 7th September 2016  

It's been interesting to read about Ellie's school's approach in the early years of senior school and it's prompted me to share my own experience. I started senior school in 1990. On our first day we found we had PE timetabled in the afternoon so after registration the whole form managed to find our way to the gym where we were met by two tracksuited teachers, one male and one female.

They split the form into boys and girls and took us into our respective changing rooms where we were ordered to remain silent and to sit on the floor. We were then briefed on the PE department, including that for the first half term we'd be doing gymnastics in both of our weekly PE lessons and hockey in games lessons. We were then told that PE kit must be worn exactly as per the rules - with this being the very early 1990s this meant a white vest and light grey gym knickers. Finally we were told very clearly that if we didn't have out PE kit we would still be doing the lesson but in our underwear. Suitably shocked we sat in silence.

It was then that the bombshell was dropped. We were asked whether we had our PE kits with us, as it was our first day at the school. About 3 or 4 girls raised their hands to say they did. For the rest of us we slowly realised what was coming. Inevitably, our rather formidable PE teacher said that was fine and in that case we should all get undressed and line up by the door. As we shyly undressed I looked round and saw a few girls in bras and suddenly felt very childish as I knew I had nothing under my school blouse. Seconds later our teacher reappeared and as if she was reading our minds told us that she basically didn't care if we were wearing a bra or not, we'd be doing the lesson in our knickers and only our knickers.

Needless to say that experience in the changing room and the lesson that followed that stayed with me. Even some 26 years later it feels like only yesterday!

Comments by Andrea on 6th September 2016  andreatwo@hotmail.co.uk 

To Paula and Frank,

I went to an all girls secondary school and all the PE teachers were female, so there weren't many males around to see us in our PE kit and certainly not in the changing rooms. Our secondary school indoor PE kit was similar to Paula's - regulation navy blue gym knickers (not white briefs as in Ellie's case) and a white polo shirt. Actually we were supposed to wear the regulation navy knickers under our classroom uniform too.

At primary school we were allowed to change into shorts and a T shirt for PE, but boys and girls did have to change in the same classroom, so we did see each other in vest and pants while we were changing. The majority of our teachers were female, but it wasn't unknown for a male teacher to supervise. During our final year at primary, a few girls who had started to 'develop' began bras rather than vests and they were allowed to change separately in the toilets.


Comments by Ellie on 5th September 2016  

Hi Paula and Frank

Thanks for your messages and questions. To clarify, in years 7 & 8 we didn't wear gym knickers for indoor PE, we wore our everyday underwear knickers. Almost always this meant white cotton briefs. In the second year we didn't have to go topless but still wore our underwear knickers.

In terms of male teachers and boys being present, we did three PE or games lessons a week. Two of these were single sex - one indoors and one outdoors, and were an amalgamation of two different forms. When we were on the field the boys from the two forms were in the gym, and vice versa. The third was mixed sex and indoors, so the boys in our form did see us undressed. The girls only lessons were always taken by a female teacher. The mixed lessons could end taken by either a male or female teacher. I think we had a female more often than a male but there were plenty of examples of the latter. Male teachers certainly don't come into the girls change from at secondary school, though our female PE teachers often sis supervise changing, mainly to make sure we showered properly!

The story you mention is interesting. Wasn't it pretty common to do primary school PE in underwear? My school and a lot of others I know used to insist on just pants or knickers, with vests having to be removed. So although I think there's a lot to that particular story, I don't think the "forcing girls to do or topless" bit is much of a story.

Comments by Frank on 4th September 2016  

To Andrea and Ellie... Similar to Paula's post, were there any male teachers around when you did PE in just knickers in the first years of Secondary school? Or any boys could see you?

About Paula's post, a particular male teacher forcing Sec. school girls to do PE topless and being school policy is quite different.
If it was the school policy then the male teacher cannot be accused of anything, he was just following rules. If it was not the school policy it would be a different matter.

I recently read that in some schools boys were supervised by female teachers in the changing room and in the showers after PE, albeit this would probably be in some primary schools. I can't imagine secondary school boys being supervised in the showers by female teachers.
I wonder if any males posting here ever had this experience at school. I suppose girls being supervised in the changing room and showers by male teachers would be somewhat rarer.

Comments by Paula on 3rd September 2016  

I was shocked to read about Ellie's experience of having to do pe in 1st year at secondary in just gym knickers. I went from vest and knickers only in primary school to Aertex blouse and knickers in secondary school. That remained the kit throughout the school. I read an article last month in the Daily Mail where a retired male primary teacher is facing allegations of , amongst others, of forcing girls to do pe topless. It occurs to me that Ellie's pe teachers may be concerned that they too might end up facing allegations.

Comments by Ross on 3rd September 2016  

Back when I was in school throughout the nineties most indoor PE was done wearing shorts, tee and bare feet. This kit was often used outside in the summer too and in winter we were allowed rugby shirts and trainers although some of us still chose to go barefoot.

Comments by Andrea on 3rd September 2016  andreatwo@hotmail.co.uk 

Hi Ellie,

Leotards never featured in our kit list for PE. Indoor PE lessons were done in gym knickers and a polo shirt right through the school (although girls who were in the gym display team did wear them).

Comments by Ellie on 1st September 2016  

Hi Andrea

As far as I know there weren't any complaints but it might be that some parents complained but the school stuck to its guns. Either way the PE kit didn't change in my time there and even when j was in the 6th form, the first years were still made to do things in just their knickers.

I think I didn't really NEED a bra even in the second year but given that we were all getting older by then I wanted to wear one. Looking back it was probably a bit awkward for the girls who dos wear bras and needed them, to have to take them off for PE and have to make do with the tiny amount of support that a cotton vest offered! From the 3rd year own we were all squashed by our leotards so it didn't matter so much!

Comments by Andrea on 23rd August 2016  andreatwo@hotmail.co.uk 

Hi Ellie,

Given that some of the classes were mixed, I'm really surprised that there were no complaints from mums!

Also the attitudes from our PE teachers were very different, with several girls being 'advised' that it was time to ask their mum to buy them a bra if the teacher thought there was too much movement under their PE tops!
Although I did start to develop during the latter part of the first year,it mustn't have been enough for the teacher to consider it a problem at that point!

However, like you, I did start to wear one at the start of the second year. I had started to feel a little self conscious over the summer holidays (ensuring that my chest remained covered when I was changing on the beach etc, so I was relieved when mum insisted that I wear one when I returned to school.

Comments by Ellie on 22nd August 2016  

Hi Andrea - I think most or all of us would rather not have had to do it topless either! I was quite lucky in one sense as I didn't actually wear a bra at that age, but some of my form did and for them it must have been pretty bad having to take them off - even more so when we then had to spend the next hour or more with the boys! I started wearing a bra in yr8 (2nd year) and by then I think nearly all of the form had done so too.

Comments by Jon on 22nd August 2016  

At the Grammar School I attended in the late 1960s and early 1970s footwear was not an option for P.E., either indoors or out. Bare feet were compulsory for everything, even cross country, both for boys and girls, except rugby and hockey. Even when we competed at inter-school athletics events we were all barefoot...and we won far more!

Comments by Andrea on 21st August 2016  andreatwo@hotmail.co.uk 

Ellie, I'm glad that our school didn't insist on topless PE like yours! I was still flat-chested at the start of the first year, but had started to develop by the end of the year and some of my classmates were wearing bras by the time we came up to Secondary school.

Comments by Rob on 21st August 2016  

Thank you for answering my questions in such detail, Ellie.
it has,indeed, been interesting, and I thank you for your

Comments by Ellie on 20th August 2016  

Thanks for the questions, Rob. The boys did one of their indoor lessons when we were outside doing games. So everyone has three PE lessons a week: one single sex outdoors, one single sex indoors and one mixed indoors.

In the first year the boys wore shorts and no tops, then in the second year added vests. I don't honestly know if they wore underpants with their shorts or not.

I mentioned our outdoor kit in my earlier post, but you wouldn't have seen this by the time you asked again.

Our single sex lessons werw done in an amalgamation of two forms and were always with a female teacher and a the boys always had a male. But the mixed lessons (which were done in form groups) could be with either a male or female teacher. I don't know whethe the boys were supervises in the showers but I'd expect they were as it wouldn't make sense to do things different from how we were treated. Obviously the times we had a male teacher we weren't supervised unless a female teacher happened to be in the PE department at the time!

Comments by Rob on 19th August 2016  

Ellie,so did the boys do indoors PE twice a week dressed the same as the girls for the first two years,or maybe without a vest in the second year, or did they just wear shorts without pants all the time they were at the school? When the boys were on their own were the girls doing games outside? Surely, you wore shorts and a top for this. was the PE teacher male or female and were the boys checked up on in the showers?

Comments by Ellie on 19th August 2016  

I forgot to answer Rob's question about outdoor kit. It depended on what sport we were doing. In winter we played hockey in aertex shirts, skirts, gym knickers and long socks; netball in aertex shirts, gym knickers and plimsolls and did cross country in vests, gym knickers and plimsolls. In summer we did athletics in vests, gym knickers and plimsolls or bare feet; rounders in aertexes, gym knickers and bare feet.

Comments by Ellie on 19th August 2016  

Thanks for the comments and questions. My senior school was mixed. I mentioned we did PE (as opposed to games) indoors twice a week. One of these would be girls only as the boys would be doing games, normally rugby in winter. The other lesson was mixed sex, and was normally gymnastics rather than any sort of team sport.

We had single sex changing rooms and then walked to the gym. We didn't have spare underpants or vests to change into afterwards, which looking back isn't very nice. We did have to shower after lessons and our PE teacher often used to check that we were having proper showers not simply dipping our heads under the shower jets!

It wasn't too embarrassing in the single sex lessons but it would still have been nice to get to wear clothes! The mixed lessons were obviously more embarrassing, but I'm not sure if it was worse when we were slightly younger but with no tops on, or older but in our vests and pants!

Comments by Frank on 18th August 2016  

Hi Ellie, good to hear from the female point of view also sometimes.
Although it was common in primary schools for both boys and girls to do PE in just underpants, I think it was unusual in senior or secondary schools, as in your case.

Were the knickers only PE lessons in senior school also mixed, or boys and girls separate?
Did you also strip down in the classroom for PE lessons?
Did you, or any other girls feel embarrassed about it?

Comments by Rob on 18th August 2016  

I hope you won't mind me saying the your comments were interesting, but was the senior school all girls and what did you wear outdoors for PE lessons? Did you have to bring a change of knickers and vests and shower afterwards? We boys weren't allowed wear to pants and vests, just shorts;thankfully, no leotards!

Comments by Ellie on 17th August 2016  

I've read some of the comments but by no means all as there are so many! I see that some ladies have commented and j thought it might be interesting to add to this.

I was at school in the 1980s and into the 90s. Our primary school was pretty normal for the time and we just undressed in the classroom and then went to the hall for our PE lessons dressed in our pants and knickers. When I moved up to senior school there was initially little change. All our indoor PE lessons (two a week I think) were done, in the 1st year (year7), in just our knickers. Shoes and tops of any kind were not allowed under any circumstances. In the second year things for a little better, we were allowed to wear vests with our knickers, but still no proper clothes. By the 3rd year we were considered old enough to be allowed to wear leotards!

Comments by Gedvin on 14th August 2016  

Frank ... Berkhamsted School and we were supervised by only male staff and sometimes by prefects

Comments by Roy on 14th August 2016  

I agree with Philip and if what Guy describes did happen and Social Services got somehow to hear of it they would regard it as a clear case of abuse.

Comments by Philip on 13th August 2016  

With reference to the posting by Guy, it is the teacher's responsibility to keep his class under his direct supervision at all times. However much Guy might have liked the scenario he describes, it is a figment of his imagination.

Comments by Guy on 6th August 2016  

Our Grammar School kit all year was just shorts. No top and bare feet and everyone loved it in the whole school and that is today. No boxers underneath and most lads had erections all periods and we enjoyed the wanking in showers afterwards or if the PE master left we had a most enjoyable extra session. This happens from first year at The Grammar.

Comments by Frank on 29th July 2016  

Gedvin, which school was this?
Did anyone watch you during your nude swimming classes, like teachers or staff, especially of the opposite sex?

Comments by Gedvin on 28th July 2016  

John ... Yes we had our own pool. For school swimming up to end of junior school we had to swim naked so up to age 12 or 13, in the senior school we were asked to wear trunks. School swimming was once a week and house swimming twice a week. School competitions necesitated the wearing of trunks ... They had to be Speedo type as any other was regarded as too informal!

Comments by Rob on 24th July 2016  

Hi Dave. It was at an all boys grammar school in England 1955-1961. My parents had a list of the uniform which included a T-shirt for PE. My mother told me that she had learned from the mother of a boy down the road who attended the school that 'in the summer the boys go around outside with nothing on', meaning no shirt when they had PE outside. I thought nothing of this at the time.ynzc2However, at the first PE lesson the teacher told us all to go to the changing room and take everything off, including our pants and socks and come back to the gym wearing just pe shorts and plimsolls. On the way to the changing room the topic of conversation was whether we were allowed to wear a T-shirt, to which I and others said, no, just shorts and plimsolls.We all duly stripped off and returned to the gym as instructed and I am not aware that the matter of PE kit ever became a further talking point. If we had team games in the gym, each team wore different colour bands across their chests.

Comments by Derek on 24th July 2016  

Some researcher in the future is going to be dumbfounded that this topic has had so many (over 1000) replies over so many years all saying more or less the same thing! What is so intriguing about it?

Comments by Dave on 23rd July 2016  

Hi Rob! Was there any comments among boys getting to know having to be shirtless for PE? Were it a talkin point among the boys sometimes? How did you get to know the compulsory PE kit? Was it in a list or the teacher himself told it to you? Hod did you play team games if you all were barechested? Which decade was it? Was it in England?

Comments by Rob on 22nd July 2016  

Dan, This was at an all boys grammar school. At my small primary school we didn't do pe but just moved around the school hall to 'Music & Movement' on the radio wearing our normal clothes.So it was a bit of a culture shock at the grammar school the first time when I had to strip off completely and wear just a pair of shorts and plimsolls.I remember taking off my sleeveless vest in the changing room and feeling strange wearing nothing on top.No doubt a lot of others felt the same but we very soon got used to it and enjoyed the freedom. Again I was apprehensive the first time about taking my shorts off and going in the showers but after that I felt no embarrassment.

Comments by Dan on 21st July 2016  

Rob, was this in primary or secondary school?
From what I gather showers after PE in primary schools would have been rare, unless it was a boarding school.
I am also curious how many posters here had the no swimsuit rule at their school with swimming pools.

Comments by Rob on 20th July 2016  

We certainly weren't allowed to wear underpants.Our kit was just shorts and plimsolls and that came off after every session as we always had compulsory showers.

Comments by Dan on 19th July 2016  

The no-underpants rule for PE seems to have been common in many schools, though not at my school. I guess it did not apply to girls in most schools either, if any. But we did have showers after PE.
I wonder how many here had compulsary showers after PE.

Comments by Dan on 18th July 2016  

With gang showers after PE we were used to being naked together, so I don't see that nude swimming would have made any difference.

Comments by John on 18th July 2016  

@ Gavin: your school had its own pool,didn't it? How was swimming organised and conducted there?

Comments by Lewis on 12th July 2016  

Graham with regard to your comments about pajamas. I remember for scout camp the camp list always included PJ's,and they were packed. However, when on camp and in tents I remember that we opted to sleep in our pants in our sleeping bags. After a couple of nights we had opted to sleep naked. It seemed macho and we were away from our parents control. If we went to the loo in the middle of the night( which was usually over the other side of the field.) We would go over there naked. This was in the era before girls joined the scouts

Comments by Sam on 11th July 2016  

Dave, to answer your questions: yes, my school was all boys. Until our first PE lesson in the gym I think we were under the impression that we'd be wearing vests as part of the uniform. Then the teacher arrived, introduced himself and went through the register and promptly announced 'you boys won't be needing your vests for this lesson. Take them off and go and line up in the gym'. There were a few shocked stares and most of the boys went quiet, we hadn't expected that and a lot of us felt shy about doing the lesson shirtless. I did wonder what was the point of putting on a vest only to take it off straight away, but looking back that probably was the point - it suddenly made us feel vulnerable and less sure of ourselves. I certainly felt self conscious about my body for a while and so did most of my friends, but we all got used to it in time and I think it was no bad thing in the long term.

Comments by Dave on 11th July 2016  

Hi Sam!

Hi Sam! What was your mates reaction having to do PE shirtless. How did you get to know it? Was it in a uniform list or the teacher told it to you himself? Was there anys reason given to you having to do PE shirtless? Was it an all boys school?