Should Public Schools Have Compulsory School Uniforms?

Over the last few weeks my Facebook news feed has been filled with my friends from the UK, the US and Canada sharing photos of their children starting school or heading back to school. Here in Australia our schools use the calendar year as our schooling timetable with our school year commencing after our summer holidays but our distant northern neighbours finish their summer holidays mid-August through to mid-September.

Earlier this year my first born son started school. On his first day we took the customary “first day of school” photos and like many parents these days we also showed them off on our Facebook wall for friends and family to see. And just like us, our friends and family around the country did the same with their children dressed up in the clean, shiny and new school uniforms to start the school year. That’s the kids starting Public School, Catholic School or Private School, and also from kindergarten through to high school students.

And that’s where I noticed the difference between the photos being shared back in late January, early February by my Australian connections, and those overseas connections that have just shared their photos. No school uniforms, or very few. My friends and family in the UK have uniforms in all types of schools but only those in the States and Canada who send their children to Catholic or Private School have their kids dressed up as so. So it got me thinking; is school uniform necessary in public schools?

I turned to my friend Eleanor Harrison who is a mother of three (with one in school) and who runs the popular Facebook page Fun For Kids – Western Sydney to see if I could get some feedback from the followers of that page. Of the 64 respondents when I last looked at the replies, all 64 were in favour of the school uniform, some even wished that the school their child attended had a stricter policy for the uniforms. Add to the 64 respondents the 30+ people who liked the question (implying they agree with uniform) or who liked the comments of those who responded to the question in favour without making a comment themselves, it would seem that in Western Sydney at the very least, uniform is by far more welcome than the non-uniform alternative.

One of the responders was mother of two (with one in school) Tracy Cauchi who replied this detailed response;

I like a uniform.
*Firstly it cost less
*saves their clothes for good
*no need to keep up with fashion
*no fuss deciding what to wear
*no teasing for choice of clothing
*easy to see that the children belong to the school
*shows representation
*shows unity
*conforms
*teaches children a set of standards to follow (like we do as an adult).
*looks neat

Many of those points that she mentioned were echoed in many of the other responses where there was a detailed comment left on the page. Not having to keep up with the latest fashion, no fuss deciding what to wear, no class war divisions between those who wear popular brand name clothes versus cheaper non-branded clothes, and developing a sense of pride were amongst the top comments made.

As most of my overseas friends sharing these recent back to school photos, especially with the non-uniformed children are the guys in my Dad Bloggers group, I raised the topic with them. The results were mixed between those who liked the idea of having them even if the school their children attend doesn’t have them, and those who were opposed to school uniforms.

Freelance writer Aaron Gouveia from The Daddy Files wrote;

“I would never be in favor of school uniforms in a public school. I don’t like the uniformity and I just think it’s unnecessary. A dress code (no tube tops, daisy dukes, shirts with drugs/alcohol) I get. No problem. But otherwise, let kids dress how they want. Everyone being forced to look the same seems creepy to me.”

Later in the conversation in response to a comment about the class wars of those who wear the expensive brand name clothes versus those who don’t he added;

“Kids will also always know who the haves and have not are, even with uniforms.”

And in response to clothes being a distraction;

“That’s where we differ. I think wardrobe has very little effect on classroom learning.”

Children’s author and artist Chris Routly of The Daddy Doctrines wrote;

“My kid is going to public school (tomorrow!), and part of me would love for there to be uniforms. But another part of me likes being able to dress him how I want. I’m already mourning that the “no hats” rule is going to mean he won’t get to wear his adorable cap all the time any more.”

I had to quiz him on the “no hats” rule which to many Australians would be the complete opposite to what we know in this country with the schools having a “no hat, no play” or “no hat, play in the shade” policy to protect our children from the harsh sun. It seems that in the US, the “no hats” policy is based on gang affiliation plus the notion of hats being worn inside the classroom as being disrespectful. Of course, even in Australia where we have the “no hat, no play” policy, all children take their hats off before entering the classroom so maybe the US school system could learn from the respect taught in our schools. I’m being flippant there, but it does seem crazy to me that hats would be banned.

Joining Chris in being a fan of uniforms was Mike Crider of Twin Dad Talks who is a school principal who use to teach at a school that had uniforms and he likes that better. Of those dads from the US and Canada who do have children in public schools that wear school uniforms, most were in favour and the main reason was taking away the decision of what to wear each day.

For me, there’s a bias that I have towards the accepted practice of wearing school uniform because I grew up wearing one throughout my school years. And for all those positive reasons given, that is why I am also in favour of the school uniform. Of course where I draw the line is with those schools that extend the school uniform policy to include hair. From the boy over in New Zealand who had to take his school to court to allow him to have long hair (neatly tied back at school), to the girl in the Christian School who was removed from her Year 10 class for dying her hair a natural colour, schools are taking the uniformity to a level that I don’t agree with.

And like many of the mothers who responded to the question raised on my friend’s Facebook page, I would like to see a stricter policy for the public school uniforms, but only in relation to the shirts, shorts, pants, dresses, jackets, jumpers (sweaters), blazers (where worn), socks and shoes leaving boys to be able to have long hair or no hair if they wish, and girls being able to dye their hair whatever colour they wish. Actually, I was just reminded as I wrote “or no hair” for the boys that a young girl in the US was suspended earlier this year for shaving her head. My no hair policy (if the child wants to shave their head) extends to the young ladies just as my long hair policy would be granted for the boys.

So what do you think? Do your kids wear school uniforms? If so, do you like them wearing it? If not, would you like them to have a school uniform? Give me your thoughts…

2 thoughts on “Should Public Schools Have Compulsory School Uniforms?

  1. Since this was posted some time ago I am not sure if any one will see this, but there are a few additions or clarifications I would like to make. The first one being the difference between US and other country Public Schools. Also before proceeding, Canada does happen to have a large number of Public schools that wear school uniforms, but like the US, there are likely more Public schools not in school uniform than in uniform. The Canadian schools that do wear uniforms tend to wear more of a British or UK style school uniforms.

    The first thing we need to keep in mind is whether the school is Public, Private or a Religious school and the reason each school is there is to teach kids. Any social function should be considered a secondary benefit of attending any of these schools, but not the primary reason for attending any of these schools. Specific social events can be scheduled outside of regular classroom times to be sure classroom time is not taken away students there to learn. No “One” student should become such a distraction that they take away learning time away from other students.

    One of the main reasons why many public schools don’t have a uniform policy is because many US school children or students have a strong belief that when they wear a uniform the uniform takes away their right to free speech or expression. It can just as easily be argued that a person in uniform can express any view point or form of speech in a uniform as they would in any street clothes. This leaves us with the question do uniforms actually restrict or impede an individual right to free speech or expression?

    We also need to look at what could be termed as the “Class Clown” effect in the classroom. No school needs any student to become such a distraction by what they are wearing that the entire class is centered on a student’s clothes or attitude. Uniforms as a rule will reduce this in the classroom and also help place a sense of order in the classroom. Besides street clothes, this could apply to make-up, jewelry, hats and hair-styles which don’t need to become a distraction either.

    In the US more and more public schools are having problems in classrooms and since there is a limited number of adults on any school campus to keep order it is more important than ever for schools to try and maintain some sense of order in the schools.

    One common problem in recent years that has been coming up more regularly in schools without school uniforms is the allowing of T-Shirts and hats that have some sort of screen print message or photo that is inappropriate or controversial in school public environments. Another is T-Shirts, hats or other clothes with flags of specific countries on them. Having a very specific uniform that is worn to school would eliminate this issue and avoid problems and controversies.

    One of the problems with school uniforms today is that the word “Uniform” seams to no longer mean what it used to mean. By definition the word “Uniform” means, “All a like” or “All the same”. So if a school truly has a literal school uniform code, there would be only one uniform for the boys and one uniform for the girls. However in many of today’s schools the word “Uniform” has been stretched and now there are many options to choose from. When schools have multiple options, yet most will maintain a specific solid color or plaid color, the school is no longer maintaining a school uniform policy but a “Dress Code” policy which happens to use school uniform pieces to adhere to the school’s “Dress Code” policy. Having a “Dress Code” policy is better for schools with no uniforms at all, but when using school uniform pieces this can send the wrong message about following the rules. It signals that rules are flexible rather than set by a fixed uniform policy. Especially for children, it is better to have them start with fixed rules than to show the rules can be bent on certain occasions or situations.

    Let me also point out that many school locations have a great need for seasonal uniform changes and will have a “Winter” uniform and a “Summer” uniform. There is also the need for “Gym” uniforms which are generally worn outside the classroom for physical fitness. The key here is that many schools that have seasonal uniforms have specific times of the year certain uniform items can be worn and those items are typically one standard uniform for the entire school.

    It should also be noted that the dressier the school uniform that a school has, the students tend to be more self disciplined. Part of this is because of the school uniform requirements. Another part has to do with when kids are generally dressed up they don’t generally want to ruin or damage their nicer clothes. When most kids or adult are dressed nice, we tend to behave more disciplined. Even parents that have had children dressed up for holidays or other special occasions should have noticed this unless they don’t dress up much. As a rule, the dressier the school uniform the more disciplined the school. The more dressed down, typically the more undisciplined the school may be. I am not talking about student performance with this suggestion, as performance can vary from school to school and with different techniques used at each school location.

    About the “No Hat Rule”. There are a couple of points I would like to add to this subject area. 1. I already made my first point in relation to screen print or printed items on T-Shirts and hats above. Certain messages or flags can become a distraction in the classroom. A student does not need to become a distraction from the hat they bring in. 2. Personally I think Australia’s approach to skin and health safety in schools is a very good idea and I am glad to see that they are taking a serious approach to this issue by requiring school hats. Many British schools and UK Schools already required hats as part of their school uniform policy for many years, so I don’t think it has been as much of an issue in the UK region. Sadly though, I have seen some British and UK schools part with required school hats, when they should re-enforce them due to the skin dangers we are now noticing today. In the US many Americans are too exposed to the sun and because of nearly all schools, Public, Private & Religious have no hats as part of a uniform or dress code there is a much greater exposure to the suns rays. It would definitely not hurt for US schools to adopt some sort of sun protection hat policy in all the US schools.

    4. Finally, I would like to spend a little time on one of the other important ideas behind a hat policy. Nearly a century ago the world as a rule wore hats in public all the time. It was almost considered impolite to be out in public without a hat on. Today in the US, mostly sports fans and people who play in some sort of sport generally wear hats and a few other professions. I was myself in the military for a few short years until I became medically ill and of course most militaries around the World wear some sort of hat. Wearing a hat can be a very good learning tool for learning discipline and for showing respect, especially for your seniors or something greater than yourself. And of course if that hat is part of a uniform it will also show a part of unity or belonging. Almost no schools in the US wear hats as part of a school uniform, whether it be Public, Private or Religious. In the US, most religious schools don’t wear them because of attending their chapel services, no hats are allowed in the Chapel. In private school, typically it is military academies that are about the only private schools that wear hats. And since most Public schools are non-uniform, there would be virtually none wearing any hats. Those Public schools that are in uniform, tend to for go the hat due to the hat being more of an excess uniform accessory item rather than considered a main uniform part. If hats were adopted in more schools, this would likely help students learn more discipline and respect before they get out of school. Following the military tradition of removing your hat when entering the building or classroom and making sure you have it on when your outside the building or classroom is not a negative learning experience. In fact, for those that might have an issue of forgetting or loosing their hat regularly, this could be a great tool to help parents, educators and health professionals diagnose early problems of either something that could be a mental health issue, a medical issue or even a neurological issue. Besides the learning of respect at school, this habit if continued all through school life could have good benefits further down the road of life later on.

    The final thought on this blog subject was on the possibly increased restrictions on stricter uniform policies and the loosing of the hair restriction policies. I tend to agree with the poster on stricter uniform policies would be best. In fact, schools should strive to improve their uniform standards rather than reduce them. I can see a school just starting a uniform policy needing to help the students adjust to uniforms, but after a year or two the standards to be upgraded to a dressier standard, not dress down.

    I disagree about hair restrictions. I touched on this subject in the “Class Clown” section near the beginning of this email blog. However, I will point out again that hairstyles or haircuts should not become a distraction in the classroom. There are some ways that a parent and their child / student can deal with some of these hair issues within reason. For example if the student has a medical issue or mental health issue that either requires the student’s hair to be cut out of normal school policies for their gender or keep longer than normal for their gender, then they can likely get a doctor’s note from their medical or mental health professional to be taken to the school to explain why the student needs to be out of policy. Most school’s will honor a health professionals note, especially if it is on official letterhead or a prescription form. I would say if you need your student’s hair out of school policy for religious reasons, than going to your religious leader should suffice with some sort of official letterhead. Otherwise I would say it is better for all students to stay within what ever the school uniform policy is. Of these two suggestions, both are typically considered a temporary solution and for most schools not considered a long term options.

    If Public, Private and Religious schools are not an option that works for you, but yet you like your kids in a uniformed school environment, consider starting a home school with required school uniforms. I have been working with a home school organization in SW Washington which has multiple home school locations. 5 locations currently have a required school uniform policy. A few others are considering adopting uniform policies of their own. Of the 5 home schools that do wear school uniforms, the boys all wear the same style uniform from grades 1 – 12 and the girls also wear all the same style uniform grades 1 – 12. Because our home school organization is a religious based organization our parents and member instructors decided to go not only with dressy uniforms, but the girls wear jumper dresses or pinafore style dresses for all grades. We did this for two reasons. Primarily because we wanted all grade levels of girls to be wearing the same style uniforms so no matter what age or grade they all wore the same style uniform. Two, for modesty reasons, a dress or pinafore style jumper dress covers the upper chest area. Also, it is generally easier for younger girls to wear pinafore style jumper dresses than it is to wear skirts, it was the more obvious choice for a standard uniform for the female students. We do however have Summer and Winter uniform choices, but because the schools are home schools and not regular schools the choice and timing of when to wear certain uniforms is more based on events that the home school attends and the weather expected for that school day.

    Most of the home schools are a max of 10 students or less at each home school location. This is mainly due to local regulations on how many students can be taught at any one location without exceeding occupancy requirements and bathroom capabilities for each location for the students. It may vary on where you are located and the ratio you have to an instructor. Three of our home school location operate together as one large home school, however because the three homes are far apart from each other the three instructors divide the students 3 ways. They do different trips and other school activities together mainly away from their home locations. Two of the other uniformed home schools operate as stand alone locations.

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