Burnley Grammar School
Item #: 1607
Source: Lancashire Life Magazine, December 1959
Why do some people have this obsession with shirtless PE? Wouldn't it better to allow those boys who want to take their shorts off to do so, because they are comfortable with it, and those who are not comfortable with it to be allowed to wear a tee shirt?
Some people seem to think just because they happen to be comfortable with something, that should apply to everybody. Everybody is different.
Of course this is academic because these days I doubt any school would force boys to strip because there are laws to safeguard pupils, and as the school leaving age has been raised it would be inappropriate to dictate to older teenagers how to dress.
The last paragraph there resonates with me Ambrose.
Inclusion is about reassuring shy lads that there is nothing to be embarrassed about rather than allowing exceptions. Taking a shower with contemporaries is absolutely healthy in my view.
Danny C: As I wrote previously, in my first school it was common practice for sports staff to use the showers with the boys until the mid 70's. You must remember that this was 50 years ago and acceptable practices are now very different. It was more usual to shower with the older boys - 14 and above - and I always kept to one end of the large shower area rather than mix in with the boys.
Back then if a pupil had been reluctant to remove his shirt or use the shower I would have pointed out that he should know that bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and boys mature at different rates as he had been told in sex education lessons.
Very few boys that I taught had anything to be embarrassed about. I can only think of two; one who had a micro phallus and left for a private school after two weeks, and one who had undergone heart surgery as a youngster. He was very proud to show off his "zipper" scar on his chest which fascinated his friends.
I would be concerned at a pupils lack of self confidence and encourage them to see that there was little difference between them and their peers. Nowadays of course, I don't have the stamina to coach sports!
Danny, how did the girls react to you being barechested? Did they ever tease the boys?
What reason was given to remove your top in drama class? Were they mixed lessons?
Ambrose, you said that while at teacher training you were "encouraged to share the showers with pupils" but does that mean that you actually did so? Do you believe that being barechested, or even entirely naked, has male bonding advantages as some people seem to assert. I can't say that it ever felt like it did for me.
What would you say to a boy, both back then and if different right now, who came up to you and was open about his self consciousness and said something like - "Sir, I don't feel comfortable taking my shirt off like you are asking, can I wear something please" and "I'd prefer not to use the shower". Some people deny it, but you'd be amazed just how many boys and now men out there who are like this and wished they could have said this and been shown some empathy.
I agree with you in part. The sport I was involved in coaching required the players by convention of the times to be dressed in white sports gear for matches. The boys removed their shirts if they wished in training sessions, but it was their own decision, and if they were seen "prancing around" they were told to play properly.
Most were enthusiastic football supporters and would have preferred to wear a football top, but this was not permitted at the time for matches, although coloured tops are now regularly seen.
How astute of you to work out that I spent over 20 years teaching tech drawing and graphics. I never had pupils removing clothes in those lessons, but I did insist on them attending with clean hands and the homework that had been set properly completed - whether they liked it or not. That way they achieved better standards of attainment and presentation.
"As to "making them do things against their will", if you only did what you wanted to, some pupils would achieve well below their potential."
Could you explain how making boys prance around in just a pair of shorts and nothing else will make them achieve their "potential"?. Their potential for what?. Does a tee shirt automatically make you a loser?. If you were not very successful at, lets say, technical drawing, would removing your clothes suddenly make you into a wizard of the drawing board?
Let's be honest about this - it is all about power and control and damn all to do with "achieving your potential"
" So what's the difference? Being shirtless for PE is the same as is wearing no shirt for a swimming class."
Well, I should say that in a pool everyone there is in a state of undress - in a public street with boys involved in cross country , they will be the only ones in that state - plus of course they will be in water, not being gawped at by anybody who happens to be passing the school playing field or gym window, as happened at the dump I was taught in.
When I was at teacher training college in the late 60's we were encouraged to let pupils address us by our first names. In the school I joined nobody used their first names with pupils until we had a 6th form; after all, the staff would never have dreamed of addressing the Headteacher as Bill or Jack.
Those of us who were going to be involved in sports coaching when we left college were encouraged to join the boys in the showers at the end of the day. I found this a common practice in my first school with the younger staff members until the mid 70's. We didn't get a "thrill from watching vulnerable teenagers undressing". (Mr. Dando) We all knew what teenage boys looked like, and it was often the boys who were more interested in how they compared to each other and to an adult.
As to being in the same room when pupils are changing for sports, it is still a fact that the teacher is responsible for the activities of the pupils for the whole lesson. You do not leave a class unsupervised at any time. Boys are very capable of picking on the class members who stand out as different; the very fat or thin, the shy and timid, the poor sportsmen who often lose their side a game even though they are trying their best. The very presence of a teacher stops a lot of unwelcome comment or bullying behaviour towards such pupils and should not be seen as anything but good supervision of the whole lesson.
I do agree with Alan when he says that encouragement not belittlement is the best way to get good results, but not every pupil enjoys every subject. As to "making them do things against their will", if you only did what you wanted to, some pupils would achieve well below their potential.
I've read through the recent comments.There are many interesting point of view.
I know my point of view is very simple but I would like to know the answer.
All of the boys are shirtless for swimming lessons even in mixed lessons. So what's the difference? Being shirtless for PE is the same as is wearing no shirt for a swimming class.
I could understand the shyness thing. I've been a bit shy too to wear no shirt playing shirts vs skins in some PE lessons but if I think it over it is the same as in compulsory swimming classes.
Nothing wrong with Mr Smith or Ms Smith (mrs and Miss too if you like) but lets all stop pretending when you attend school in your teens we are Richard Todd in The Dam Busters.
i never mentioned branded tracksuits, but if you want kids to be interested and not feel they have gone back sixty or seventy years as long as they are clean and tidy there is no need to run round with very little on. It is 2020 and attitudes and behaviour has changed. If you want boys and girls to stay on at school till they are 18, you can't treat them like babies or borstal inmates.
Maybe you are right, my views are outdated.
I guess Sir and Miss are outdated and pupils, sorry, students should address teachers by their first names.
Maybe hard physical training is outdated and a branded tracksuit is the key to gaining strength and physical confidence.
I make my comments about the experience of boys simply because I was one. Boys and girls are different and physical education should be conducted separately in my opinion to give both sexes the education required.
I guess we all have our own views on the matter.
You write: "I do feel the obedience and discipline a tough education system instilled is something I would like to see return."
Why, for God's sake?. The "age of deference" is long in the past. You might regret that, I don't. Could it be because you were treated toughly, that you feel that you want, for need of a better term, to have your own back?. Does it make what you and me went through, possibly, any easier because you would want to put lads through it today?. As regards D & O I have worked in a range of institutions and companies large and small. These days bosses don't bark their orders using only surnames, or expect (or want) to be called "sir". These ancient practices apply only to the armed services, some very obscure arcane organisations and (possibly) to the likes of Rupert Murdoch, Sir Philip Green and Sir Alan Sugar, who treat their staff like cattle., and boast about it. Anyone that works for such an organisation can seek their remedies by resigning, children are forced to go to school for x number of years, and should not be treated in the same way.
As regards your remark about children only being allowed to "wear shorts and possibly a vest" (Thanks for that!) some girls are as badly behaved as some boys, some a good deal worse - would you recommend the same remedy for girls, who seem on the whole to get very soft treatment?.
It seems to me some educators and their admirers subscribe to Orwell's "all animals are equal but some are more equal than others"
It would give me no pleasure to think some scared little 11 or 12 year old went through the same indignities I did, the same shouting and yelling, calling you by your surname as if you were a criminal.
There has to be something wrong with grown men who insist on being called "sir" all day by kids, and likes to demonstrate the power they have over them by making therm do things against their will. Education should be about learning, wanting to learn and exploration - the sort of back to the past ideas you have will do nothing to promote that.
If any teachers read this site, I would like to ask them if, when they started teaching, they received any mandatory psychological assessment about their character, and suitability for the job, because it seems to me that most teachers have either a strong dislike of children, or an overweening desire to enhance their own feelings of self-worth, by this discipline kink, a typical trait of those who lack self esteem. I would also like to know their motives for wanting to see boys running round with next to nothing on.
I think the National Service comment is particularly valid.
While I certainly do not advocate a return of National Service as some do, I do feel the obedience and discipline a tough education system instilled is something I would like to see return.
As for Mr Dando, best ignored I feel. Interestingly again, the extensive list of uniform required which he has copied and pasted just makes me feel things were better when a pair of shorts and maybe a vest was all that was required. Times were simpler!
I know this thread is about school, but do you really want to give the impression you are back in the playground, with pointless posts like that one?. Taunts rather than facts, which I assume you are embarrassed about yourself since you hide behind such a childish screen name.
The truth is some people were deeply affected by the experiences they had at school, thanks to dictatorial policies that were decades out of date. I assume Mr. Dando was one of them.
I think we have to face the fact that everybody had different experiences and therefore a different outlook based on those experience. Contrary to what some of you think we "didn't ALL" enjoy the bullying of PE teachers, and being half naked in public on winter mornings. There is a fine line between banter and bullying, there is a fine line between encouragement and bullying and many teachers crossed that line on numerous occassions. I would genuinely like to see them try those tactics today and see what happened to them.
I disagree with Mr Dando in one particular - I think showers are desirable, especially as you get older but efforts could be made to ensure the more shy lads got a degree of privacy - as I said elsewhere they will probably not be joining the army (or the scouts) so they don't need to get "comfortable" with public nudity.
If you want kids to get interested in your subject whether it is PE or geography, then you have to encourage them, not make some of them fearful or hate the subject. I am sure as many were put off as encouraged by the behaviour of teachers years ago.
Danny C, tell us more about your drama class and why boys needed to be shirtless for that too?
What did you and your drama classmates thought of it?
Alan is correct, the conscript culture in the school changing room that still pervaded my time in the 1980's with obnoxious PE teachers getting their thrills from watching vulnerable teenagers undressing. There are more protections for kids these days thanks to the Children's Act 1989, Human Rights Act 1999 & Equalities Act 2010.
However, there are still some outdated state sponsored institutions that mandate compulsory towel and shower requirements. We should use the Covid 19 Pandemic to get rid of the communal changing room and compulsory shower stipulation that still exists in some schools. Here is one offending institution:
Physical Education Clothing
Physical Education is an integral part of the curriculum and it is essential that students change for the lessons. The clothing listed below is required by all students taking part in PE/Games: Please ensure that all items of uniform and PE kit are clearly marked with your child’s name.
PE Kit for all Years 7—11 students — boys and girls (which can only be purchased from Barnums)
Black tracksuit trousers with School logo
Black rain jacket with School logo
Black Mid-layer with School logo
Red polo shirt with School logo
Black shorts with School logo
Black socks with red top
Girls can also wear a Black Skort which is embroidered with the School logo
All students should have a pair of clean indoor trainers to use in the indoor facilities (gymnasium, sports hall, climbing wall, fitness suite). Plimsolls or similar flimsy cloth or canvas shoes are not suitable for PE lessons as they offer no foot support. Students must have appropriate trainers or running shoes.
A pair of outdoor trainers and/or football boots are required for outdoor lessons.
Shin pads are advisable for football and hockey.
A gumshield is advisable for hockey and rugby.
Showers: A towel will be required when a shower is necessary.
Swimming: A costume will be required for students involved in swimming during PE lessons.
It is essential that students bring their PE kit to change into even if they are not taking part in PE lessons.
Remember, remember the fifth of December,
Forced showers, compulsory towels and PE teacher plot.
We see no reason Why child abuse treason
Should ever be forgot!
Stand with me tonight outside the House of Commons tonight, 2 metres apart and demand the end to all forced PE requirements!
James: It is just possible to accept that strict "obedience" needed to be inculcated into 1950s boys because within a few years of leaving school they would have become National Servicemen (my dad was one), but once National Service was ended in Britain there was no need to treat boys like army fodder- using surnames, not even knowing first name it seems, being forced to conform to some outdated dress system. By the 1980s every home had a bath and many had showers, most people used them every day and boys were clean and fairly good at personal hygiene - and why did teachers need to watch boys getting undressed and showering?, I'd like to see teachers today trying to dictate their outdated rules, and watching them
Alan, I just had to accept the strict rules and obey them without question.
It was a tradition that went right through the school for boys of all ages.
Bernard, what's not natural about the basic human trait of shyness and self-consciousness? I was often hyper-sensitive and also very self-critical of myself. I remain so to this day actually. I would not choose to describe my experience of compulsory barechested PE as unhappy. It may well be normal for some boys to take their shirts off in summer, just as well as it is quite normal for other boys never to do so. I most certainly was not conditioned to fear being barechested. My father and brother would be so now and again. I was never pressured to be on holidays. Should I have been? You talked about comfort zones and growing up, well it's not as if I was kept in the comfort zone by having three PE classes every week for almost six years, all of the indoors ones twice a week being barechested and barefoot, and even the outdoor one being shirtless half the time in the warmer weather. I even had a large number of drama classes over a three year period that could often end up with many of the boys with no tops on for various improvisations. Some weeks at my school I could end up being barechested on 4 out of the 5 days in the week, on the Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning with PE and on a Thursday afternoon in the drama studio. So I was pushed into these requirements of my school, like all boys were, and I never complained about it or even played truant to avoid a single class in all that time. I sucked the whole lot up.
But at the end of it all, I grew up and when I left at 18 after countless hundreds of lessons wearing nothing but a pair of shorts and the obsessively policed ritual of showers that were impossible to evade, I still remained with the very same feelings, anxieties, shyness and insecurities that I'd began that school with when I was just 12. So what?
Your post to me really did remind me of an actual PE teacher talking down to me. Don't you think that PE teachers should have at least shown a hint of empathy for the differences of their pupils and how they felt about their bodies? It sounds like you would just have no concern that quite a lot of boys have very sensitive personalities, especially at the ages of secondary school education. Most boys don't shout about their modesty feelings. I didn't. But it was there, and quite a few of my close friends had it the same. There is no denying it. Actually, boys are the more sensitive of the sexes at these ages, not the girls.
What my own experience tells me is that you cannot forcibly knock confidence into somebody, you have to build it carefully.
Some boys who initially hated being forced to take their shirts off for PE ended up liking it, well that's maybe, but like me I'd suggest that the vast majority of self-conscious boys just learnt to tolerate it as it became more familiar.
James, Did you never wonder why such bizarre rules were applied so vigorously?
The wearing of no underwear underneath our shorts was a rule that was rigorously enforced and changing and showers were continually supervised.
I can understand your dislike of not being allowed to wear underwear underneath your shorts. This rule was clearly a hygiene one as it was not a pleasant prospect to have to wear sweaty underwear for the rest of the day following the PE lesson. Parents could easily have been asked to make sure that their sons brought a clean pair of underpants to change into after they’d showered. Personally I found exercising barechested a comfortable experience and was glad that I wasn’t made to wear a top for PE and cross country.
Alan, I agree that we are individuals and that some boys at the school that I attended wore their shorts with alacrity and showed off their physique,while others,like myself were quite shy and inhibited.
There was a considerable amount of "banter" towards myself especially as I was a bit on the skinny side,but that was something that I learned to accept.To wear just shorts and also being topless in the confines of the school made me feel bashful,but going on public roads and streets was particularly galling.
I didn't enjoy being "gawped" at on those long cross country runs wearing just my shorts and not being allowed to wear anything underneath.
Bernard, with all due respect I don't think there is anything unnatural in some boys being more modest and shy than others. I agree with Danny, I used to feel very uncomfortable. The "banter" I went through just compounded the problem. I too was neither fat not very skinny, but I detested it.
I think you and others need to realise that everybody is different, with different levels of comfort and modesty and just as some people are left handed, and others right, it is not unnatural at all.. It is called individualism. Not everybody enjoys running round more than half naked, either indoors or out. Not everybody wants to be gawped at in public streets while running round topless, or to be the subject of speculation as to what, if anything, they wore under their shorts. I think it especially terrible that 18 year old MEN could be forced by a teacher to undress, against their will. I am very glad that today's kids would not be subject to those kind of rules. It is called progress. You might not "approve" but there it is. Society moves on.
Danny - I was sad to read your post and how unhappy you were to have done p.e. in just shorts. I thought you must have had some reason to be ashamed of you body - overweight or very skinny, perhaps - until the very end when you said you had no reason to be ashamed of your body!
There must have been a reason for your problem with being barechested - I don't think it can be natural for a boy to be reluctant to take his shirt off, especially when there are plenty of other boys around him without shirts. I was at school some twenty years before you and, as Rob said, it was normal for boys to take their shirts off when playing outside in the summer. I wonder if you had been "conditioned" to fear taking your shirt off. Perhaps you didn't see older relations - brothers, uncles or your father without a shirt and this made you feel uneasy. There are quite a few people commenting here that they were unhappy to do p.e. shirtless to start with but grew to like it such as Lee. It seems a great shame that you weren't like that. We all need to be pushed out of our comfort zones sometimes - it is part of growing up.
My shyness when it came to showers is a big regret.
Up until the age of 11 my school didn’t have showers at all.
In the senior school the changing rooms to the age of 13 had a square room with 8 shower heads on 3 walls and a rail for towels.
The older boys changing rooms had a central area fully visible from the changing areas at either end with 6 shower heads on each side.
Showering was not enforced and while initially encouraged, boys quickly started to either just wash legs whilst still wearing shorts or not bother at all and go home dirty.
There was just one boy who would shower after every lesson without exception. I was always amazed by how confident he was to get on with it in front of us all and jealous too. I never plucked up the courage to start myself.
Now of course I realise that my shyness was totally unnecessary. We are more the same than we are different, even at that age. Nudity is perfectly healthy.
At my boys grammar school in the 1960s unless we were playing rugby it was white cotton shorts and bare feet for anything else except swimming which was naked in the school's own pool. Showers were communal, cold and naked and any lad not showering properly or wearing underpants for any sport including rugby was guaranteed that his bottom would meet up with the gym master's plimsoll on at least six occasions and often more, six on each cheek was normal and your bottom was bare. It burned and stung for the rest of the day. Being sent off from rugby meant your bottom had a meeting with the cane, four for a yellow card, eight for a red one.
We were expected to change underwear for PE. I wasn’t aware of anyone wearing their trunks under their shorts. Wearing underwear into the showers, however, was frowned upon. I remember two boys being caught doing this in our second year. They were sent straight back in, naked. The teacher made it clear after the lesson that wearing underwear in the showers would not be tolerated.