THE traditional end-of-primary-school disco could become a thing of the past as Scottish principals take a hard line against revealing clothes worn by young schoolgirls.
The backlash against the short skirts, crop-tops, heavy make-up and jewellery, which turn girls into mini-adults, has begun in earnest.
Principals fear this early "sexualisation" - which they blame on retail chains targeting pre-teens with ever-skimpier outfits, "sluttish" pop stars like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera and magazines with heavily sexual content - is forcing some childhoods to be cut short.
The moves introduced by schools range from imposing strict dress codes to banning end-of-primary school discos outright. Parents this week applauded the action taken by the junior school of George Watson’s College in Edinburgh, one of Scotland’s largest private schools, which issued a letter instructing all pupils to "dress appropriately" for a leavers’ disco this week.
Gareth Edwards, the principal of Watson’s, said he was increasingly concerned over the risqu fashions youngsters were feeling pressurised to wear.
"Whenever there is a non- uniform event at school, we have a duty to support parents in resisting growing peer pressure among children to dress in a way that is too adult for their age and stage," he said.
"We feel it is important to protect children from having to grow up too quickly, and are particularly conscious that for many, the trend towards adult fashions can compound feelings of low self-esteem that so often are present in early adolescence. To this end, the P7 children were asked to ‘come dressed appropriately’ for the end-of-term disco, which is intended to be a fun event."
One parent of a P7 girl at Watson’s said: "I’m so pleased the school is now taking action. During a previous singing event, I mistook some 12-year-olds for 18-year-olds. It was obscene. They were covered in make-up and dressed in tiny skirts and low-cut tops."
Mary Erskine and Stewart’s Melville Junior School, also in Edinburgh, has replaced an annual disco with a formal ceilidh for a similar reason.
The headmaster, Bryan Lewis, said he was prompted to enforce the disco ban when, at one event, some of his pupils "didn’t look like themselves" because they were "so heavily made-up".
"I think the latest advertising drive by the retail clothing chains is unfair on children as it is designed to be provocative and make youngsters think they have to look different," he said.
"The adult world is being pushed on children which is unfair on them as they are not at the right maturity to wear such clothing. Everything we do here celebrates childhood, and therefore our leaving night is a ceilidh where the boys wear kilts and the girls wear long dresses. It means everyone is equal and not left feeling uncomfortable.
"Society has worked out that there are huge amounts of money in the pre-teen market fashion industry, which is really hard on children. We are not being old-fashioned by not supporting it, we just want children to be happy to be children."
Krys Hume, the headteacher at Edinburgh’s St Serf’s, said they also were holding a formal event instead of a disco for their leaving party this year.
"As regards normal school attire, like other schools in the city, we have noted the trend for girls to roll their skirts up at the waist. St Serf’s has a uniform code and we expect it to be upheld. Any girl seen shortening the length of her skirt is advised to restore it to the acceptable length. If the practice continues, we communicate the fact to her parents."
A City of Edinburgh Council spokeswoman said they had produced a leaflet warning parents that "tight, short or revealing" clothing was "unacceptable" at school - because it "could give offence to others" and affect their esteem.
But Judith Gillespie, development manager of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, said: "I think we should relax about girls dressing up. Girls dress for girls and there is no harm in it.
"It is the adults who superimpose sexuality on the kids. They are just pretending to be adults, the thought that it is anything more lies with the adults."
'PRESSURISED TO WORRY ABOUT LOOKS'
MARGARET McAllister, an eminent Scottish child psychologist, welcomed the fight by Scottish schools to eradicate a new, earlier-sexualised generation.
She said: "Children are not equipped to deal with attention they might receive when wearing skimpy clothing. It is terrible that the market is being flooded with material which is forcing children into an environment where they feel pressurised to worry about how they look instead of simply playing and having fun.
"Discos don’t take place in a vacuum. They are subject to social attitudes which children are being forced to adopt. Accepted clothing for discos is not appropriate for young teenagers, let alone children. It is excellent that these schools are finally making a stand."