For the boys at Isca Academy in Exeter, swapping their school trousers for skirts seemed like the only way to keep cool.

The summer heatwave prompted dozens of pupils to arrive for lessons at the mixed secondary school dressed in their female classmates' attire.

Thursday's (22 June) protest came after the boys had been told earlier in the week uniform rules meant they would not be allowed to wear shorts to classes – despite having to contend with the hottest June temperatures in more than 40 years.

Borrowing from their sisters and girlfriends, the pupils took a teacher's joke comment that they could wear skirts literally.

News of their protest sparked headlines across the world, with pictures of them wearing tartan-green skirts going viral online.

But while many saw the funny side, the story prompted a worrying reaction from some parents on social media, who seemed less than impressed with their skirt-wearing antics.

A string of abusive messages attacking the boys were sent on Twitter, including some fathers threatening to beat up their own sons should they think of doing the same.

Others threatened to lock them out the house or in their bedroom.

After reading the story, one furious parent tweeted: "I'm speechless. I'd punch my son if he asked to where [sic] a skirt to school."

Another angry dad added: "My son goes off to school in a skirt he best believe he ain't ever being allowed back in my house."

A third Twitter user, whose profile picture is a Donald Trump "Make America Great Again" hat, simply wrote, "I'd give my son an ass beating if he came home in a skirt," while a fourth added: "Imagine being one of their dads. Hard not to feel like a f*****g failure seeing your son wearing a skirt."

While a string of similar abusive tweets followed, the parents of the skirt-wearing Exeter boys reacted with unashamed pride.

Claire Lambeth, the mother of one of the boys who began the protest, told The Guardian: "I spoke to a teacher to ask about shorts and she said it was school policy [that they could not be worn]. I did say this was exceptional weather, but they were having none of it. If girls can wear skirts, why can't boys wear shorts?

"Ryan came up with the idea of wearing a skirt, so that evening we borrowed one. He wore it the next day – as did five other boys. Then this morning ... I didn't expect it to take off like that. The school is being silly really – this is exceptional weather. I was very proud of Ryan. I think it was a great idea."

Another mother said: "Children also don't like injustice. The boys see the female teachers in sandals and nice cool skirts and tops while they are wearing long trousers and shoes and the older boys have to wear blazers. They just think it's unfair that they can't wear shorts in this heat."

Isca Academy headteacher Aimee Mitchell said the school will be considering its uniform policy in the wake of the protest.

"We recognise that the last few days have been exceptionally hot and we are doing our utmost to enable both students and staff to remain as comfortable as possible," she said.

"Shorts are not currently part of our uniform for boys and I would not want to make any changes without consulting both students and their families. However, with hotter weather becoming more normal, I would be happy to consider a change for the future."

Schoolboys are not the only ones resorting to drastic measures to beat uniform rules during the summer heat.

The GMB union says it would tell hospital staff to wear dresses unless a porter suspended for rolling up his trousers in hot weather was not reinstated. Michael Wood, who works at Watford General Hospital, claimed he was facing disciplinary action from his employers Medirest for turning his trousers up.

Bus drivers in France and Sweden have also been protesting their companies' shorts ban by wearing dresses and skirts to work.