Illustration: Pat Campbell

Illustration: Pat Campbell

Poor Kate White was the victim of a massive pile-on over the weekend.

White, in case you missed it, is the principal of Bathurst Public School which, in a remarkably 1950s moment, decided shorts would no longer be on the uniform list for girls.

Apparently, the tikes were wearing them inappropriately, and becoming competitive about brands. Well, goodness. That's a turn-up.

Mainstream and social media were as one - evil, anti-feminist, should be sacked. Let girls be active participants.

Well, yeah, totally (not the evil bit or the bit about being sacked, but the rest).

What puzzles me much more is why no one ever piles on Ascham. Or St Clares. Or Canberra Girls Grammar. Or PLC Melbourne.

Or any other one of the hundreds and hundreds of private schools around Australia that insist young laydeez wear frocks - or as school shops like to call them - tunics.

What is it about the independent school system that insists on making young active women wear clothes more suited to sitting demurely side-saddle behind their white knights?

I actually felt a bit sorry for Kate White. Here she was being monstered because she decided to take shorts off the uniform list. For girls, at least.

She was being reprimanded for a bit of social engineering, which we never seek to challenge when it is driven by those in the private and Catholic school systems. Why do we allow private schools to police femininity on a daily basis?

Sharon Peoples, a fashion theorist who specialises in the study of uniforms and is a lecturer in museum studies at the Australian National University, says school years are when children are forming personalities and behaviours.

''That's why we see school uniforms as so important … there is a more rigid idea of what makes femininity and people who send their children [to those schools] accept the idea and that's what they are paying for,'' she says.

''It's part of a political regime, the rules we have about uniforms.''

Interesting, isn't it, that we demonstrate outrage over this tiny public school in rural Australia yet accept the fact that about one- third of our daughters never even have the choice.

Rosa Storelli, then-principal of MLC in Melbourne, decided that trousers would be an option from 2000. That, she says, was not even a question for her.

''You have to give [students] the choice,'' she said. ''Giving young people a choice is part of the educative process.''

Jane Needham, a senior counsel and mother of three, says her daughter is about to head to a co-educational school where the girls wear skirts. Already her year six daughter is plotting to get that changed.

Needham's also pretty clear on why it happens at independent schools. ''I think it is because so many of the schools are church schools and they are quite rooted in this different view of women and the kind of jobs that are suitable for women to do,'' she says. ''There is a normalisation of treating boys and girls differently [in private education] which doesn't fly too much at public schools.''

Chief executive of the Public Education Foundation Verity Firth is also a little surprised by the double standard. ''It does amuse me that most non-government schools have far stricter uniform policies, particularly when it comes to girls wearing shorts or pants, and there is never the same outrage levelled at them over these policies.''

Yes, there is never that degree of scrutiny of private education in Australia - unless the schools in question happen to harbour a sex offender. Then people get interested. But considering the level of funding they get, you'd think we'd know more. Here are some serious issues to consider about schools funding: the Australian Education Union, representing those in public education, and the Independent Education Union, representing those in private education, can't come to a joint agreement on funding for schools. IEU federal secretary Chris Watt, claims it can't support Better Schools because it's not policed appropriately. Plus, he'd have to be worried to cuts in funding for wealthy schools since one third of his members are in those stand-alone independent schools. His position is that those schools are the most vulnerable. Gonski, he claims, doesn't exist any more and what's arisen doesn't suit the circumstances.

''There's no capacity to shift funding around [as they can in systemic schools],'' he says.

AEU federal president Angelo Gavrielatos says if we are serious about lifting performance, we need to work on a model that addresses disadvantage, and doesn't leave those children in need - disadvantaged kids - short.

Speaking of shorts, Bathurst Public School will, like all rural schools, continue to be short-changed unless we rethink school funding in the long term. Bathurst Public can expect an extra $1.6 million now because the Coalition claims it will honour its election promises. Tomorrow, who knows?

Of course, I want girls and boys to be able to wear shorts at school. But don't just pick on Bathurst Public. Look at what's going on in the private school nearest you.

I can guarantee you they are never short of anything but shorts.

Twitter @jenna price or email jenna_p@bigpond.net.au