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Creating an inclusive school uniform policy
Why are certain rules included in your policy? Olivia Dickinson asks you to examine what is in your policy, why, and suggests what to consider when creating it
Creating a school uniform policy is the responsibility of the school governors or trustees but ensuring that the policy is followed day to day by the pupils becomes the responsibility of the head, teachers and parents.
There are statutory requirements set by the DfE around cost and sustainability, and advice in the non-statutory guidance about ensuring consultation with the whole school community when reviewing a school uniform policy, and that the policy must not be discriminatory under the Equality Act 2010 to pupils with protected characteristics.
If you are due to review your school’s uniform policy, you must bear in the mind the instruction in the statutory guidance.
Schools should avoid frequent changes to uniform specifications. They should show how any change in uniform specifications secures the best value for money or why the change is required.
Schools should take action to minimise any financial impact of any change on parents (such as allowing pupils to continue to wear the old uniform for a reasonable period).
Ensure a uniform policy reflects a school’s ethos
When you think of school uniform, the clothes and how to wear them such as length of skirt, shirt tucked in, trousers instead of shorts etc often dominate. But a school uniform policy covers much more than that and isn’t just limited to clothes – for example hair, make-up, piercings and shoes.
Advocates for school uniforms often say it reflects the ethos of a school and ensures pupils feel they belong as it reflects their community. For governors and SLT to make sure a school uniform policy is inclusive and reflective of their pupils, you need to look at why each item is included in the policy and ask questions. This should enable staff and governors to be clear about what they do and don’t want included in the policy.
- What is the reason that boys’ hair must not be long?
- Why must shoes be polishable?
- Why should only stud earrings be worn?
- How is the school uniform policy reflecting or reinforcing the aims and aspirations of the school?
- How is it contributing to the attitudes and character of the pupils?
Below are three areas to show how you can apply this to creating the policy, and suggestions of what to consider.
If the policy expects boys to have short hair but girls can have long hair, that is direct discrimination
Cost, or costing the earth?
The world is currently in a climate emergency, the UK is in a cost of living crisis, and the DfE published statutory guidance on the cost of school uniforms that must be followed by the end of 2022.
If costs are the most pressing concern at the moment, read replies to Mr Pink’s tweet about what other schools are doing.
Bearing all that in mind, how can you create a school uniform policy that is sustainable and ecological, and value for money? And set an example to your pupils that you take the climate emergency seriously?
- Ensure second-hand uniform is offered as standard, throughout school holidays and term time. If the school or PTFA run the second-hand uniform ‘shop’, how accessible is it? Where is it advertised? Is it kept somewhere locked up in the summer holidays, just when new parents are trying to find out what do to and where to buy?
- Get parents on board with donating uniform when their child has outgrown it. Maybe this is done informally already, but can you make it part of the school’s ethos to encourage pupils and parents to think ‘sustainability first’? Nic Ponsford from the GEC suggests an ‘honour’ system for preloved uniform.
- If a change is made to the school logo or school colours, first ask why, but then make sure that existing pupils do not have to buy new items in the new logo or colours. Families with siblings want to be able to hand down items, so even introducing new logos, colours and styles has an impact on younger children new to the school.
- Ensure families who are eligible for uniform grants know about them in good time.
- Review what ‘essential’ items are needed, and which ones must be branded or from a particular supplier. The new statutory guidance makes it clear that having single supplier contracts should be avoided, and not to specify too many different items for PE, or different colours based on sports teams or houses.
- What is the uniform made of? It’s hard to make a judgment call on the material that has the least environmental impact, but here are some points to consider.
- Polyester and acrylic come from plastic, which is made from non-renewable fossil fuels.
- Recycled polyester or plastic can be better than virgin polyester, and there are examples of trousers and blazers being made of recycled plastic bottles. However, washing synthetic items mean plastic microfibres get into our oceans and pollute them.
- Cotton is often perceived to be better for the environment and for children’s skin, but the production of cotton uses a lot of water and insecticides. If the cotton has been sustainably sourced, or is organic, that can mitigate the effects on the environment, but it’s never straightforward!
- Eco-friendly options for clothing are often more expensive, irrespective of branded or high street items.
You need to look at why each item is included in the policy and ask questions
Some parents cannot afford to buy PE trainers as well as school shoes for their children, so think carefully about what ‘incorrect’ means.
- Could the PE trainers be any colour, so they’re also the shoes the child wears at weekends?
- Why do secondary schools insist on ‘polishable’ shoes, as if all children from the age of 11 have become office workers overnight?
Often smart shoes are deemed to be the only option as they are ‘appropriate for the workplace’ but that is making assumptions about what sort of ‘workplace’ pupils will work in.
In primary schools in particular, shoes that are labelled ‘girls’ are often inappropriate for running around, climbing and playing outside. While some girls and their parents choose to buy ‘boys’ shoes to have more robust shoes, make sure that the shoes specified in the uniform policy do not discriminate against girls.
You can read more about the research Let Clothes Be Clothes did into gender bias in school uniform policies and if there was then a ‘pink tax’, meaning girls’ uniform costs more overall than boys.
How a child wears their hair – or chooses what headgear to wear, such as a hijab – will sometimes come under protected characteristics. If the policy expects boys to have short hair but girls can have long hair, that is direct discrimination.
If the policy sets out how hair can be worn and it is impossible for a child with afro hair to wear it like that, that is also discrimination.
As with shoes, too often schools are using an antiquated and possibly racist lens of what ‘workplace appropriate’ means when applied to hairstyles. Rules can be made that are about health and safety, particularly in PE or science lessons, but they must still be applied without discrimination.
There are other areas that have not been covered in this piece, so it is always worth consulting with your school community including:
- the pupils who must wear the uniform (maybe some with sensory issues, or a particular religion)
- the parents who must buy it
- the staff who must enforce the policy
- the prospective parents who worry about being able to afford the uniform.
Last Updated:20 Sep 2022