School Uniform: Time to Change

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I started the year as assistant head of secondary; my role requires me to oversee pedagogy as well as the student life of the secondary students. Of all the concerns and challenges and issues the one thing that bothers me every day is the school uniform. I have complete control and knowledge of pedagogy, in fact, I can even think of innovative strategies, and approaches to uphold excellence in teaching and learning. But the school uniform issue is something that never sees the end of the day. I am bothered by it as I do not agree with the concept of school uniforms but I need to ensure that school policies are followed by students.

Recently, I had three girls in my office for non-compliance with the uniform policy. The Head of Year had got them to my office as they did not follow the uniform policy. A tank top, one visible bra strap and a short skirt landed them in my office. I started my conversation by asking the girls if they knew why they were in my office. Did they realize what was wrong? They had no clue! I told them they were not in proper uniform and asked them why they should be in proper uniform. To which one of the girls said’ “because it distracts the boys”. This came as a shock to me. I did react appropriately, completely rejecting their explanation. Without stretching the conversation, I told them that they were non-compliant with the uniform policy and they must follow school policies. I did tell them if someone is distracted by what the other person wears, it’s their problem. I did address the issue and it turned out to be a conversation on misogyny and gender equality. The girls also asked me why girls get picked for what they wear, that they always have self-doubts: too short, too long; too low, too high; too tight, too loose. While their male friends get away even with dirty clothes, loose, tight, low, high, short, long everything?

This incident made me think of the whole purpose of a dress code or a uniform. It is believed that uniforms reduce disparity as everyone is wearing the same dress. This way students can focus on academics and not worry about what to wear to school or have self-doubts. But the flip side of the coin, the uniform does not improve student grades, and attendance and does not resolve conflicts or issues like bullying, and socio-emotional challenges; so what is the point?

In fact, having a strict uniform policy can also be discriminatory:

  1. Skirts for girls vs trousers for boys-why not the same for all?
  2. Length of skirt mandated not length of shorts?
  3. Only available up to a certain size, excluding plus-size students or teens going through a growth spurt.
  4. No age-specific considerations?
  5. Discouraging self-expression is considered a violation of human rights, and uniforms inhibit self-expression…

So what if we get rid of uniforms?

  1. Students will not be forced to buy expensive clothing that they find restrictive and uncomfortable.
  2. If we aim for diversity, creative thinking and multiple perspectives, having a uniform code only limits all of these.
  3. Positive impact on school culture as there will be one less reason to have consequences for students.
  4. The focus will shift from ‘what students are wearing’ to ‘what students are learning.’
  5. Finally, it is about student choice and voice, stifling it is not the aim. Freedom from school uniform is freedom of expression, freedom of choice and voice.

Change is the catalyst for innovation. Changing the way we think creates a vision. Changing archaic policies transforms organisations. The focus of schools is learning not on who is wearing what. Let them come in short, let them come in covered, let them come as who they are and not who we want them to be. International mindedness, inclusion and diversity start with identity; uniforms stifle the self-expression and identity of our students. Time to change: the school uniform!

One thought on “School Uniform: Time to Change”

  1. I have to disagree with your statement that ”uniforms stifle the self-expression and identity of our students. ”

    We have voices which are powerful so let’s use them to express who we are.

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