Clitheroe Royal Grammar School
Item #: 1602
Source: Lancashire Life Magazine, November 1959
I've found this debate very interesting and can see some of the different points of view. As Trevor said, you can't assume 'one size fits all' and at the same time, I feel it might be counter productive to leave it up to each individual as to what they prefer wearing for PE. That could just exacerbate divisions between the boys who are more confident and those who are shy.
From my own perspective, I think there are some boys who actually benefit from a 'tough love' approach... I certainly did. I was one of the shy boys going into my teens and it wouldn't have occurred to me to do sports or exercise bare-chested - yet suddenly I didn't have any option when the PE teacher announced he was putting us into teams of vests and skins. At first it seemed a terrifying experience - I felt so exposed and self-conscious when I had to take my top off. And like many other things, the more I did it the less it seemed a big deal. In time, my body developed, I grew in confidence as well as stature and it felt quite natural to be running around bare-chested. However, I doubt I would ever have plucked up the courage to take my top off voluntarily - I needed to have the choice taken out of my hands at that time. It's not really about discipline so much as being nudged out of your comfort zone, which isn't a bad thing at times.
Thanks Chris. You say "I didn't hear any dissenting voices". Because you didn't hear them, it doesn't mean to say there were none, and certainly doesn't back up your claim that all your form liked or approved of the practice. By definition most boys who were not comfortable with the situation would hesitate to say so.
I wouldn't stop you or anyone else from dressing as you like, but teachers of all people should know that one size fits all does not apply to every person, and some relaxation in the codes would not have diluted "discipline". I have to say that far too many teachers had a fetish for discipline, often including corporal punishment, perhaps to mask their latent homosexual tendancies.
Leaving aside the fact that I was there and I don't think any other contributors to this discussion were, it is a fact that when topless PE was introduced at my first secondary school, about two years after I started there, I didn't hear any dissenting voices. It wasn't a question of surveys or gung-ho advocators. This was 50+ years ago, when most kids were expected to wear underwear vests for most, if not all, of the year and we just enjoyed legitimately spending time bare-chested!. In contrast, the "vests for PE" protocol at my second school was "strict" in that toplessness was never an option, even in the summer, and I still remember the head-master announcing at lunch one day half-way through the Autumn term that it was time that we were all wearing our vests (as itemised on the clothing list).
That was then, and this is now, and I was only reporting it as it was, not advocating a return to the "bad old days". Autres temps, autres mœurs.
Chris wrote " I and my classmates were more than happy to be topless for PE at the former and would have relished the opportunity to be topless at the latter, where vests were strict policy.".
I think you mean you rather than "we". Unless you took a poll how could you possibly know what ALL your classmates would have preferred?. Few boys are going to give their real opinion, especially if they know the questioner is really gung-ho about the subject. I would'nt presume to second guess what people prefer, but they ought to have the opportunity to chose their own mode of dress. Perhaps being August you have forgotten how cold it can be in January. School is not a prison.
Strangely I don't like the second schools "strict" policy either: I don't think anybody should be compelled to do anything they don't want to do. We are all individuals, capable of making up our own minds.
Mr Dando said: "I believe Children can never be happy forced into toplessness or nudity during physical education classes or school changing rooms"
My experience, in two different schools, one with a topless PE policy and the other without, was that I and my classmates were more than happy to be topless for PE at the former and would have relished the opportunity to be topless at the latter, where vests were strict policy. I realise this was several decades ago, but I suspect that today's boys would, secretly at least, prefer to be topless wherever possible. Other posters have noted that boys prefer to exercise topless out of the school environment, through choice rather than compulsion, and I suspect many of today's teenage boys habitually sleep topless too, again from choice..
I believe Children can never be happy forced into toplessness or nudity during physical education classes or school changing rooms. Here is a school which still mandates children take a towel to their lessons.
Sports Kit and Equipment for Boys
Black & red sports top with school logo
Black shorts with school logo
Black & red football socks
Trainers (no plimsolls)
White ankle sports socks (indoor & Summer term)
Plastic-studded (moulded) footwear suitable for use on 3G pitch
Red sweatshirt with school logo (optional)
Black thermal top/base layer (optional)
Black sport leggings to be worn underneath shorts (optional)
Plain black track suit bottoms (optional)
Gum shield (highly recommended)
We must use the Coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity to create real self distancing measures for children by abolishing communal changing rooms, compulsory pe lessons, getting rid of school PE kits and allowing kids to exercise at home in virtual work places. It is time to end sex discrimination for all males and consign this sad practice to history.
Interesting comments from Rob McS about his sons exercising topless and also those about young Euan.
I live opposite 250 acres of common land and see on a daily basis people exercising in many ways. Certainly in spring & summer (and into the autumn) I see lads happily exercising topless and as the summer goes through the shorts seem to get shorter and different colours than the usual navy/black.
I suspect a lot of this may be down to the personal 'make-up' of the lads and what their 'peers' are doing and wearing.
As I say I think the question of shirts vs shirtless is a red herring really. The content of and engagement in PE lessons is what is important to me.
Perhaps freedom for boys to choose from a uniform t shirt, vest or neither would be the way forward.
Rob, I agree with Tom, and to some extent you, if boys want to take their tops off and feel comfortable doing so, that is fine. Equal consideration ought to be given to those boys who do not feel comfortable doing so and should be allowed to cover up. This has damn all to do with "discipline" - a boy good at sports will be equally as proficient in a tee shirt in the same way a boy without athletic skills will not suddenly improve by taking his top off.
Also, Rob, your excuses do not hold water. I doubt there were any branded tops in 1959 when the photos on this site were taken, and where many of the memories have been stirred by contributors or when many of those here attended school. Likewise today there is a shop called Primark which sells cheap unbranded clothing. Schools, could, if they wished, specify unbranded plain clothing be worn (they probably do considering the financial climate).
I have to say this unhealthy desire middle-aged and elderly men have for wanting to see boys running round topless and/or in bare feet sounds extremely dodgy to me. I question the pleasure this thought gives them. The matter of ulterior motives crops up. If they want to recreate the days of long ago why don't they buy themselves triangles and recorders and get a school geometry set and pencil box?
Times have moved on and attitudes should move on too. The days when some seedy PE teacher was regarded as a God who knew it all are long passed.
John, I'd say you've got it right. The "tech tops" are pushed by sportswear manufacturers for one reason...profit. Exercising without a top should be regarded as a practical approach. During lockdown my 2 boys spent time running round a field. No-one ever suggested they take off their t-shirts but they did and have continued to do so. Before lockdown a nearby boxing school encouraged lads to be bare top to fight during competitions. Oddly none of the females objected in any way if with the lads showing their bare chests in a boxing ring then why PE be any different?
I’ve said more than once now that I don’t see the need for boys to go without shirts as technical fabrics allow comfort when shirtless. That said, if you look at the boys who do gymnastics outside of school many choose to.
I am far more concerned with the content of the lessons and the idea that everybody should take part (be encouraged) and also get the most from lessons (be pushed).
As for bare feet I agree, I’m not wildly in favour of it other than in a gymnastics environment though I do think it is good for growing feet to be bare at times and I doubt kids have such care taken when they select shoe sizes as in my day.
My grandparents raised my sister and I from 9 year old and wholly approved of me being barechested as much as possible. My school was deemed most satisfactory in that all boys exercised topless, no exceptions. Our PE teacher was a cold man and enjoyed being in control. He also had an unwelcome habit of taking a whistle cord over your back if he thought you weren't working hard enough or indoors if you weren't sweating at a particular part of a lesson...no pressure. I remember it's sting even now and returning home when I was 13 and showing 3 red marks across my back to my grandmother who simply shrugged it off telling me it was for my own good and I obviously deserved it. I don't think lads exercising topless is a bad thing and it's great that lads like Euan choose to be topless when working out in a safe environment. For us there wasn't any protection and a greatly distorted view of teaching methods.
I totally agree with your thoughts around how the physical education curriculum could be enhanced and teaching children about the importance of nutrition is an excellent idea. I still think that exercising shirtless for indoor PE is a more comfortable way for lads, parents don’t need to spend money on another unnecessary t shirt or vest.
Tom B, I wasn't suggesting there was a direct link, I am just saying that a grown man who insists on kids being totally undressed, only wearing shorts, so that the kids modesty is compromised (think shinning up ropes etc). The barefoot routine sounds very much like a foot fetishist. A PE teacher who constantly find excuses to go into the changing rooms or shower area.is, in my view a potential paedophile, or a repressed homosexual. Let's put it another way - what is wrong with wearing plimsolls?, what is wrong with a thin unbranded tee short?.
Many of these "men" would of course use the tough , no-nonsense "disciplined" approach to mask his true interests - it would be in his interest to do so, because to lapse into Alan Carr-like speech and demeanour would blow his cover right away.
There are and have been dodgy doctors, dodgy police officers, why do some people find it hard to accept that there have been dodgy P.E. teachers?
Regarding predatory teachers, of course the behaviour is unacceptable but I don’t see the direct link between that and rigorous physical exercise.
On your final point, I’m not suggesting there should be an atmosphere of “fear, ridicule and coercion” either, though I guess it is a fine line between the necessary encouragement to perform and some coercion. It’s also clear sometimes a child may be fearful of an activity but need to face and overcome it to feel accomplishment.
John, I agree PE is vitally important for ensuring children grow into fit, strong and healthy adults. That is why as I said in the previous post I believe the curriculum needs reform to become more inclusive without taking away the competitive atmosphere.
Given sports kit technology it is no longer necessary to exercise shirtless in my view - though I have no problem with it personally.
I do believe in the importance of uniform both for PE and for school generally and that is about control and discipline. I do feel uniforms should be plain, generic and minimal in quantity - the excess cost of personalised branded kit and unnecessary clothing is a burden on parents.
White shorts and a white vest or T shirt is sufficient for most activity.
Tom B: My problem is that an awful lot of teachers abused their positions - if this was say a history or geography teacher it was still bad, but the fact a PE teacher had access to changing rooms and shower rooms makes their potential for abuse that much worse. A lot of kids would be too frightend to complain, because the likliehood was, until the Savile case came along people chose to believe such things didn't happen. Some would think that an old perv exercising his kinks was just one of those things (there are those who have forgiven the now dead paedophile Michael Jackson in that way - he was just a bit eccentric, who loved children, but only chose to take boys to bed and then paid them hush money). As with school teachers, I am sure there were boys who just regarded it as a bit of a laugh, and perhaps it did them no damage. But for many others it would have caused problems they kept quiet about. Whatever, I am just glad that these days they are CRB checked, and if they did try anything they would quickly be found out and prosecuted.
I agree with you there should be standards of fitness, and the opportunity to try all sorts of sports, but this should be in an atmosphere free of fear, ridicule and coercion
Trevor, I am sorry that your experiences of PE were so negative. You clearly had a teacher who was abusing his position. At the same time I don’t think the answer is to abandon rigorous physical education. ??I have commented a few times on here and on Facebook in discussion with friends.
I would like to see strength, fitness and flexibility along with classroom based nutrition form the core of a school PE curriculum. If done properly, an individuals progress can be assessed and personal targets set so nobody gets left behind. At the same time competition is important and so pupils can be ranked as individuals or teams/houses. Finally there will always be a few who don’t wish to engage and participate - but they must be made to complete a basic level of activity a week and parents/teachers are failing them if they accept excuses.
Sports do not need to be mandatory, some boys just aren’t built for rugby. That said, perhaps insisting all pupils play at least one sport would be worthwhile along with the promotion of local teams and sports clubs.
What is important about Physical Education is that it makes young people develop into healthy adults and in order to achieve that the body needs to be worked hard. My PE teachers worked us hard in the gym and I was glad that I wasn’t made to wear a shirt or a vest for Indoor PE. Exercising shirtless was more comfortable and not a form of control by my teachers and never harmed me in any way.
David: "very good and fairly stricht but still ligthearted PE masters"
Perhaps like our one, whose idea of humour was to take the mickey out of the pupils, so the herd laughed at his weak jokes. I just wish that some of you on here who have such roseate memories of running barefoot etc, could have had to endure the scumbag we had for 5 years.
This "discipline" nonsense, is all down to control, the feeling of power they had over their pupils.
Teachers even today like to think they inhabit their own world, a very special one, to be tailored to their dictates, - the fuss so many of them are making about returning to school after a six month break shows you that.
I can't see the point how dictatorship and something like that has anything to do with shirtless PE. Yes, there were some agressive PE masters in the past. There were maybe more than nowadays. But the result of their attitudes was not shirtless PE. The two have nothing in common.
There were some very good and fairly stricht but still ligthearted PE masters in the past either who didn't do any harm to pupils. Some of them had a shirtless PE rule too. It is a nonsense to think that shirtless PE effects the attitude of boys about PE or loving any sport. If it were the case all of the boys would hate swimming lessons where they are shirtless even in co-ed lessons without any problems.
Scotty I am genuinely glad Euan feels comfortable, and I would never want to stop anyone from dressing as they like. I am only against pupils being forced to "obey" dictatorial teachers who like to hide behind the rules. I am also glad that there are boys as sensitive as Euan who can see that other people might be uncomfortable and like me, would not want to see them forced to do things against their well. I am also very glad boys these days are more aware of life, and that teachers, or the modern ones anyway, seem to see their jobs more as instructors and coaches and not as dictatorial sargeant majors.
Hi Guys, I just thought I would add my comments to this, I have a 13 year old grandson Euan, he comes to stay with me here in central Scotland now and again, obviously not for awhile with the lockdowns, until recently as a break before he has to go back to school.
He's a very fit lad and into sports football especially and has missed not being able to play in his U14 team he plays for, while he was here I was reading these posts on my laptop and he looked over my shoulder and said "did boys have to do PE bare foot and topless in your day gramps?".
I answered not barefoot but certainly topless, in what I would loosely call our gym which was actually the assembly hall in an inner city sec modern school back in the late 50's early 60's, we had to bring out the vaulting horse and mats and stuff each gym lesson from an adjoining storeroom, but mostly our PE was outside in the school yard and the football pitch across the road in the park, when you joined the school from junior school you were assigned a "house" there being 3 "Crick, Stamer and Frobisher" don't ask me what the names mean as I don't know, I was put into Crick and issued PE kit accordingly that being yellow T shirt and blue thick cotton shorts, plus black plimsolls, Stamer was red and Frobisher green all this kit was supplied by a benefactor who was an "old boy" from the 20's/30's I think who had made good and was fairly rich.
We did topless PE when it was skins v shirts in our "house" games, shirts if it was against the other houses, cross country was the same, but often I and a few other boys removed our t shirts if it was particularly hot during cross country, we didn't have showers in our school just wash basins and washed any mud off our legs and any sweat off our chest and under arms before changing back into school uniform.
My grandson told me their PE rules are pretty liberal, they have lockers (which we didn't) and he keeps spare uniform in there along with underwear and the various kit he needs, he does go barefoot in the gym as he has started gymnastics class after school and prefers not to wear trainers, as regards being topless, well he has in my small gym I kitted out in my garage as I now I don't drive, I want to keep up my fitness as I am now in my 70's, I managed to get some redundant gym equipment from a gym near me and have a exercise bike and treadmill and a cross runner and selection of hand weights, he loves working out and being topless is no problem, he says as he works up quite a sweat, as regards it being compulsory in schools he said it wouldn't bother him personally but could see how it might bother other boys who he says just "go through the motions" and there are a few at his school, the PE teachers they have are very good he says, and try to encourage the slackers but don't push them out of "political correctness".
I am proud of Euan and his attitude to life and the plans he has and just hope it all works for him.
Don't mourn it Stewart, celebrate the fact that dirty old men can no longer indulge their perversions under the guise of "discipline".
My point about mountaineering is not beside the point, what about those teachers who had an "interest" in boxing and wrestling - some of them tried to introduce it into schools (in America they succeeded in the case of wrestling). Many of those old teachers would face a knock at the door from PC. Plod if they got up to their brand of "discipline" today. The word covers a mutitude of sins.
Now thank goodness there are very strict guidlines as to what is and what is not acceptable behaviour.
I think you're missing my point.
In my day at school, those aspects were compulsory, just the same as homework, uniform, and many other school rules.
Schools still have rules today. But, as I've said in previous posts, I don't think UK Health and Safety and other pollical correct backward steps, would allow such a PE regime today (despite barefoot cross country still being the norm in most New Zealand schools). But that doesn't mean it's not the best, and most effective, way to compete, and participate in sporting activities.
Your point about mountaineering isn't really relevant, as we're not talking about a hobby here; we're talking about school rules, discipline, and what's best for a young person's development.
But, as I've said, what was the norm in my day has gone, due to today's political correctness and perceived wokeness. I'm mourning it, as the passing of something that helped make my generation strong.
I think it’s unfair to brand behaviour that in most cases was quite innocent “kinky” because of the monsters that have existed in the profession.
Personally, I don’t feel the shirts vs skins debate is necessary. Technical tees wick sweat and remain reasonably comfortable when working hard. It is fair to say that if you look at gymnastics clubs away from the school setting it is quite normal to see lads in vests and shirtless. The shorts also tend to be similar to the Umbro nylon football shorts if the 80s.
Also, as I’ve said previously I do believe a tougher PE regime would have benefited me. While I wouldn’t have appreciated it at the time there is only so much that encouragement can achieve.
Stewart: "This regime moulded my whole lifestyle, as I have always gone barefoot as much as possible, ever since and love it...and I am now barefoot probably 90% of the entire time......but my view is that bare feet should be compulsory for all P.E. at schools, both indoors and outdoors."
Fine for you, but my question is.... WHY?
I used to enjoy mountaineering, but I wouldn't suggest everybody ought to, or make it "compulsory" for everybody.
To put it bluntly, why should some individual fancy be made compulsory?
To me it makes no sense whatsoever - if the individual enjoys it fine, but let those who don't have the alternative.
Just to put my previous comments into perspective...
Between 1967 and 1974 I attended an English grammar school where the P.E. regime was very strict, and bare feet were compulsory for both boys and girls indoor and outdoor P.E. It was always a mixed lesson, like all the other lessons at the school, and for indoor P.E. in the gym or sports hall both the boys and girls wore shorts.
The girls also wore T-shirts, but the boys were bare chested.
Outdoor P.E. was on a Wednesday afternoon, with cross country every fortnight, both winter and summer. Boys could wear T-shirts for that, but again, both boys and girls were compelled to run barefoot...even in winter when there was ice and snow. In the winter term, the alternate Wednesdays were given over to netball for the girls, again they had to play barefoot. For boys, it was rugby, and this was the only exception to the barefoot rule. We could wear rugby boots.
All the other terms were given over to track and field events, where both boys and girls wore shorts and T-shirts, but again, we were barefoot, no exceptions. Even when we competed in county athletics tournaments we had to be barefoot, while most other competitors wore shoes. I do think this gave us a distinct advantage though, as we did tend to win most events.
Our P.E. teachers for the most part wore shoes for the lessons, but there was a strange thing with the cross country. Our P.E. teachers were quite young -- the boys' teacher (male) was late 20s, and the girls' teacher (female) was in her early 20s (but, of course, to us teenagers, that was positively ancient!). Both teachers always ran cross country with us -- the man at the front, and the woman teacher at the back. The man wore shoes, but the girls' teacher always ran barefoot -- yet she always wore shoes for all other P.E. lessons, including indoors.
I loved being barefoot for P.E., but my girlfriend at the time hated it. She was okay with going barefoot indoors, but not outdoors. She asked if she could wear shoes for cross country and netball, but was told definitely not: bare feet were compulsory. I remember seeing her crying while she was brushing snow, barefoot, off the netball court.
This regime moulded my whole lifestyle, as I have always gone barefoot as much as possible, ever since and love it...and I am now barefoot probably 90% of the entire time. I can't see the health and safety brigade condoning barefoot cross country at schools nowadays, either compulsory or by indivdual choice, but my view is that bare feet should be compulsory for all P.E. at schools, both indoors and outdoors.
I agree with William. I don't think things have changed to the right direction in our paranoid PC times. There has been some posters that couldn't believe him about shirtless PE continued in the 90's.Why is it so unbeliveable? Many posters have written that they had PE barechested in the 80's. So what's the big difference?
I live in middle Europe but shirts vs skins were very common here either in the 90's. We wore vests apart from ball games (shirts vs skins) but many posters wrote that shirtless PE were common in the UK . I don't think it was meant to humiliate anyone. Being shirtless for PE is more practical and safe than a T-shirt especially for gymnastics. (T-shirts caught in gym equipment..etc.)
Boys are shirtless for swimming even in coed lessons. What's the difference?
Why would anyone want to make something like this up? I can only speak for myself but my post is 100% what happened. I do find it odd how each school took a different approach.. with it was changing into a t-shirt and vest when we were outdoors just for at least half the class to be made to remove both to be barechested. Simply that's the way it was.