This research project has focused on the school uniform and dress code policies of the 357 state-funded secondary schools in Scotland.

This research began with the help of 13 University of Aberdeen undergraduate and Masters students  who studied for a week with Dr Rachel Shanks on an Applied Qualitative Research Training programme.

Dr Rachel Shanks (6th from the right) and the 12 University of Aberdeen students of the Applied Qualitative Research Training programme in May 2019
Dr Rachel Shanks (6th from the right) and the 12 University of Aberdeen students of the Applied Qualitative Research Training programme in May 2019

Three of the students have continued to participate in the research and the different strands they are working on are detailed in a European Educational Research Association blog post.

The first focus of the research was the reasons that were given for school uniforms:

  • To foster school ethos, identity, pride and a sense of belonging
  • To prevent competition, discrimination, reduce bullying and improve discipline
  • For safety, security and to reduce truancy
  • Financial benefits (cheaper than wearing own clothes)
  • To enhance the reputation of the school
  • To prepare young people for the workplace (employability)
  • To improve attitudes to learning and improve standards

We also analysed the school uniform policies in terms of the style of the uniform, discipline, equality and children’s rights, what was banned and affordability. Some of the initial findings can be seen in the infographic below.

We have used the work of Michel Foucault in terms of ‘governmentality’ to understand how school uniforms are justified, for example to improve young people’s employability. In terms of equality, our first focus has been the gender dimension to school uniforms, for example how the policies refer to decency and modesty in relation to the length of girls’ skirts and the requirement for girls and young women to wear ties. A policy briefing on the affordability of secondary school uniforms has been produced. This work was presented at an online Explorathon event in November 2020 which included the Child Poverty Action Group Scotland and a Member of the Scottish Youth Parliament. Dr Shanks is currently progressing this work with various stakeholders including Members of the Scottish Parliament.