The Role of a School Uniform in Schools
Every school is in essence a learning environment. That which aids learning is acceptable, and that which hinders it should be unacceptable.
Add to this the fears of school violence and student safety and you can see why many school boards are calling for school uniforms. Supporters of school uniforms point to research that have concluded that requiring children to wear uniforms produces benefits for schools and families. School uniforms were widely used in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The need for uniforms has drawn renewed interest in the past couple of decades. Supporters say school uniforms improve student performance by eliminating unnecessary distractions over their attire. School uniforms may improve student behavior and conduct by reinforcing the academic setting.
School officials have a responsibility to provide a safe, secure, and productive learning environment. Dress and appearance play a role in doing so. Although we do not support violating the law, including the legal rights of others, we do believe that properly implemented policies and strategies around dress and appearance are within the realm of reasonable actions which can be taken by school officials to promote a positive school climate. Since the mid 1990s there has been a worldwide movement towards adopting school uniform at all age levels, partly as an attempt to avoid problems of cultural and social diversity by removing their expression in dress.
Yet the expectations for school uniforms tend to be both less and more than what they are able to achieve on their own. Uniforms do make a school population look more alike, but whether uniforms increase school cohesion depends on how they are introduced and enforced, which in turn influences the efforts staff must make to maintain the uniformity necessary to make a good impression in the wider community. This feeds back into school identity. Parent support for the uniform is vital, since they have a large part to play in a child’s appearance, especially at primary school level.
Do dress codes and uniforms violate the freedom of expression opportunities? We think that this argument is quite weak. Students are free to dress as they and their parents choose during non-school hours. They also need to realize that dress codes and uniforms are a reality of the workplace in the adult world including in professional offices, retail and food stores, delivery services, government offices and service providers such as post offices and public safety employers. The best uniform practices allow for some individual choice, offer some options in formality and styles, and provide some assistance to those from a low socio-economic background. Children at primary school age have different developmental needs than those at secondary school , and a change in the pattern of uniforms makes it evident.
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