By Dr Rachel Shanks
In Scotland a consultation on Statutory School Uniform Guidance opened in May 2022 and closes on 14th October 2022. There is currently no national guidance on school uniform in Scotland. This was highlighted in a briefing in November 2020. There are five questions to answer in the online consultation and below suggestions on what to consider when completing the consultation are provided. These suggestions come from the statutory guidance that already exists in Wales and England (general guidance and cost guidance) and the non-statutory guidance in Northern Ireland. Firstly, it should be pointed out that along with many others, the Education Endowment Foundationhas not found evidence to show that a school uniform improves and changes ethos, culture or attainment in schools.
Question 1 – What matters related to school uniform would you wish to be included within the guidance? Why?
The Welsh guidance includes equality of treatment, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (articles 2, 12 and 13), non-discrimination, cost and affordability, practical considerations when changing uniform and consultation with parents, children and the community. The English guidance covers requirements, cost, human rights, equality and discrimination, complaints and challenges to a policy and pupil non-compliance. Another issue the Northern Irish guidance covers is travelling to school.
With incorporation of the UNCRC into Scots law then article 2 on non-discrimination, article 12 on the involvement of children and young people in decision-making and article 13 on freedom of expression will be important considerations.
Question 2 – What role does school uniform have in the ethos and culture of schools?
Uniform has not been shown to improve or change the ethos or culture of schools. Many other European countries have few or no schools with school uniform. One advantage of school uniforms (if it is affordable) is to reduce stigma for families living in poverty.
Question 3 – Following on from Question 2, are there any particular items of school uniform which are central to that? If so, why?
In the Welsh guidance it is stated that schools should ‘avoid high cost items such as blazers and caps’. In the English guidance it is left wholly to individual schools to decide what particular items to mandate or not. It has been found that 20% of state secondary schools in Scotland have an exclusive supplier arrangement and these have been found to be more expensive.
Question 4 – What can schools do within their policies to support the aim of reducing costs of school uniform? [please give specific examples of approaches which could be considered or have been tried]
Reducing the number of branded items, moving to generic clothing and not stating the style of clothing all help to reduce costs. Not having an exclusive supplier arrangement also reduces costs. Not having seasonal changes to uniform or changes in uniform as pupils move through secondary school also reduces costs. Having uniform exchange schemes so that it is easy to re-use school uniform helps to reduce costs.
The Welsh guidance provides many suggestions on how to reduce costs such as only stipulating basic items and colours but not styles so that school clothing can be bought in many places at reasonable prices rather than from just one authorised supplier. To keep costs down schools in Wales are asked to consider whether to require school logos on polo shirts, jumpers, blazers and PE kits from specialist suppliers. It is suggested that only one item, if any, should have a logo on it, like a jumper or cardigan. Schools are asked to consider the cost and availability of non-standard sizes, to avoid dry clean only items and limit uniform changes. Schools in Wales have to consider aligning their uniform policy with that of feeder primary schools so that core items can be used in secondary school.
In England there is specific statutory guidance on the cost of school uniforms. It states that schools should keep the use of branded items to a minimum. Single supplier contracts have to be regularly reviewed and schools should ensure that second-hand uniforms are available.
The Northern Irish guidance also recommends ‘off the peg’ items that are available from multiple outlets rather than an expensive single supplier.
Question 5 – Do you feel these draft principles are appropriate and, if you would change any of them, please set out what your alternative wording would be.
The Welsh guidance does not state it has principles as such, but it focuses on equality of treatment, cost and affordability, consultation with parents, pupils and the community. In relation to equality issues, it covers discrimination in relation to race, religious belief, disability, sex and gender identity. It also refers to the UNCRC articles 2, 12 and 13.
The Northern Irish guidance states that school uniform policies should be ‘fair and reasonable, in practical and financial terms and should have regard to duties under relevant equality and other legislation. School uniforms should be practical, comfortable and appropriate and represent value for money for families’ (page 1).
English guidance states that high priority should be given to cost considerations, and consideration given to human rights, equality and discrimination.
Draft principles which are intended to be incorporated as part of national school uniform policy.
That national school uniform policy should:
- Be informed by the views of children and young people
In relation to the draft principles of interest might be the phrase ‘be informed by the views of children and young people’ as this is a weaker commitment than article 12 of the UNCRC provides as it states that the views of children and young people should be given due weight in all matters affecting them.
- Apply to education authority, grant-aided and independent schools
This is interesting as the Welsh and English guidance do not apply to independent schools.
- Seeks to reduce the cost of school uniform for families Supports equity in relation to school uniform
For point 3 the term ‘equity’ might be replaced by ‘fairness’ as this is more easily understood and does not then get confused with equality and non-discrimination.
- Promotes equality, including recognising specific matters relating to religion and belief, disability, sex and gender
Missing from bullet point 4 is race. Discrimination on the grounds of race is covered by the Equality Act 2021.
- Applies to all uniform uses, including PE and senior phase
All uniform uses could include school outings and extracurricular activities.
Something could also be included about reducing the number of changes of uniform as pupils progress through secondary school.
- Recognises the need for practicality, including in relation to seasonal needs
As well as seasonal needs it might be worth adding something about ventilation requirements in relation to the need for practicality.
- Reflects sustainable approaches to school uniform
This could be expanded upon with principles to ensure that items are able to be handed down, donated, exchanged so that they are re-used before being recycled as part of a circular economy.
- Continues the position of no legal requirement upon pupils to wear school uniform
This is important to retain in order to ensure free access to education and to prevent breaches of children and young people’s rights in relation to non-discrimination and freedom of expression.
- Considers appropriate response for persistent non-wearing of uniform, recognising ethos and culture of promoting attendance and reducing absence
A simple statement stating that pupils will not be excluded for non-wearing of uniform would be useful to help to promote children and young people’s right to education.
- Recognises and builds upon current good practice within schools
This is not really a principle and should perhaps go in the guidance opening statement.
- Does not introduce unnecessary barriers to school uniform policy and practices.
This is not something that other statutory and non-statutory guidance has included as a principle.