Do uniforms make schools better?
by: Marian Wilde | Updated: January 17, 2023
For the past decade, schools, parents and students have clashed over the issue of regulating student attire. In 2007, cases involving an anti-Bush T-shirt in Vermont, an anti-gay T-shirt in San Diego, and Tigger socks in Napa, California, made their way through the courts, causing many to wonder whether this debate will ever be resolved.
Meanwhile, researchers are divided over how much of an impact — if any — dress policies have upon student learning. A 2004 book makes the case that uniforms do not improve school safety or academic discipline. A 2005 study, on the other hand, indicates that in some Ohio high schools uniforms may have improved graduation and attendance rates, although no improvements were observed in academic performance.
Why do some public schools have uniforms?
In the 1980s, public schools were often compared unfavorably to Catholic schools. Noting the perceived benefit that uniforms conferred upon Catholic schools, some public schools decided to adopt a school uniform policy .
President Clinton provided momentum to the school uniform movement when he said in his 1996 State of the Union speech, “If it means teenagers will stop killing each other over designer jackets, then our public schools should be able to require their students to wear school uniforms.”
The pros and cons of school uniforms
According to proponents, school uniforms:.
• Help prevent gangs from forming on campus • Encourage discipline • Help students resist peer pressure to buy trendy clothes • Help identify intruders in the school • Diminish economic and social barriers between students • Increase a sense of belonging and school pride • Improve attendance
Opponents contend that school uniforms:
• Violate a student’s right to freedom of expression • Are simply a Band-Aid on the issue of school violence • Make students a target for bullies from other schools • Are a financial burden for poor families • Are an unfair additional expense for parents who pay taxes for a free public education • Are difficult to enforce in public schools
Uniforms vs. dress codes
Schools and districts vary widely in how closely they adhere to the concept of uniformity.
What’s a dress code?
Generally, dress codes are much less restrictive than uniform policies. Sometimes, however, dress codes are nearly as strict, as in the case of a middle school in Napa, California. This particular school’s dress code required students to wear solid colors and banned images or logos on clothes. When a student was sent to detention for wearing socks adorned with the image of Winnie-the-Pooh’s friend Tigger, the girl’s family sued the school district for violating her freedom of speech. In August of 2007, the district announced it would relax its dress code – for the time being – to allow images and fabrics other than solid colors. The district superintendent, while admitting that banning images on clothes raises concerns about the restriction of political and religious speech, announced his intention to move soon toward implementing uniforms in the district.
Uniforms are certainly easier for administrators to enforce than dress codes. Consider two recent examples of students challenging dress codes through the courts.
In June of 2007, the United States Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s decision affirming a Vermont student’s right to wear a T-shirt depicting President Bush surrounded by drug and alcohol images. The school had suspended the student, not for the anti-Bush political statement, but for violating a dress code that prohibits drug and alcohol images. The courts, however, disagreed with the school and found that, because the images referred to Bush’s alleged past use of cocaine and alcohol, they were protected as free political expression.
In March of 2007, the Supreme Court “vacated” or set aside the decision of a lower court upholding a San Diego high school’s suspension of a student for wearing an anti-gay T-shirt. The school argued that the T-shirt was hateful and inflammatory. The Supreme Court’s action essentially struck down the school’s argument and upheld the student’s right to free speech.
In both of these cases, the schools’ attempts to protect students from drug and alcohol images or hateful speech were reversed in favor of free speech. To clarify the matter somewhat, the Supreme Court ruled in June of 2007 in favor of a school in Alaska that had suspended a student for displaying a banner reading “Bong Hits 4 Jesus.” The court ruled that the reference to drugs in this case had no political message and could indeed be seen as advocating drug use.
Check with your school to see what the dress code is, as they can be fairly specific. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, for example, the dress code prohibits:
• Decorations (including tattoos) that are symbols, mottoes, words or acronyms that convey crude, vulgar, profane, violent, gang-related, sexually explicit or suggestive messages • Large or baggy clothes (this prohibition can be used to keep students from excessive “sagging”) • Holes in clothes • Scarves, curlers, bandanas or sweatbands inside of school buildings (exceptions are made for religious attire) • Visible undergarments • Strapless garments • Bare midriffs, immodestly low-cut necklines or bare backs • Tights, leggings, bike shorts, swim suits or pajamas as outerwear • Visible piercings, except in the ear • Dog collars, tongue rings and studs, wallet chains, large hair picks, or chains that connect one part of the body to another
What’s a uniform?
One school might require white button-down shirts and ties for boys, pleated skirts for girls and blazers adorned with the school logo for all. Another school may simply require that all shirts have collars.
In Toledo, Ohio, elementary school students have a limited palette of colors that they can wear: white, light blue, dark blue or yellow on the top half and dark blue, navy, khaki or tan on the bottom half.
Toledo girls are allowed a fairly wide range of dress items, however: blouses, polo shirts with collars, turtlenecks, skirts, jumpers, slacks, and knee-length shorts and skirts. Boys have almost as many choices: dress shirts, turtlenecks, polo or button-down shirts, pants or knee-length shorts.
When Toledo students reach junior high, they are treated to one more color choice: maroon.
What research says about school uniforms
Virginia Draa, assistant professor at Youngstown State University, reviewed attendance, graduation and proficiency pass rates at 64 public high schools in Ohio. Her final analysis surprised her: “I really went into this thinking uniforms don’t make a difference, but I came away seeing that they do. At least at these schools, they do. I was absolutely floored.”
Draa’s study concluded that those schools with uniform policies improved in attendance, graduation and suspension rates. She was unable to connect uniforms with academic improvement because of such complicating factors as changing instructional methods and curriculum.
University of Missouri assistant professor, David Brunsma reached a different conclusion. In his 2004 book, The School Uniform Movement and What It Tells Us About American Education: A Symbolic Crusade , Brunsma reviewed past studies on the effect of uniforms on academic performance. He also conducted his own analysis of two enormous databases, the 1988 National Educational Longitudinal Study and the 1998 Early Childhood Longitudinal Study. Brunsma concluded that there is no positive correlation between uniforms and school safety or academic achievement.
Meanwhile, the movement toward uniforms in public schools has spread to about a quarter of all elementary schools. Experts say that the number of middle and high schools with uniforms is about half the number of elementary schools. If uniforms are intended to curb school violence and improve academics, why are they not more prevalent in middle and high schools, where these goals are just as important as in elementary schools? Because, says Brunsma, “It’s desperately much more difficult to implement uniforms in high schools, and even middle schools, for student resistance is much, much higher. In fact, most of the litigation resulting from uniforms has been located at levels of K-12 that are higher than elementary schools. Of course, this uniform debate is also one regarding whether children have rights, too!”
What do students think about uniforms?
A student discussion: pros and cons of uniforms.
Editor’s note: This video is part of our high school milestones series about communication skills. The students in this video discuss the pros and cons of school uniforms.
After a school uniform policy was implemented in three Nevada middle schools in 2008 and 2009, researchers at the University of Nevada, Reno, set out to find out what 1,350 seventh and eighth graders thought about the change. The vast majority — 90 percent of students — reported that they disliked wearing uniforms. However, other data showed more nuanced results. For instance, 54 percent of students agreed that they still had their identity while wearing a uniform, and 50 percent agreed that uniforms saved their families money. But only 41 percent of students agreed that there was less gang activity at their school after uniforms were required. However, when the researchers looked into school discipline and local police records and compared them to the prior year’s data, discipline referrals were down 10 percent, there were 63 percent fewer police log reports, and graffiti, fights, and gang-related activity were all down.
It’s a big issue
A new trend is the mounting pressure to establish dress codes for teachers. Apparently the same casual mind-set toward revealing outfits is cropping up in the ranks of our teachers.
The debate over uniforms in public schools encompasses many larger issues than simply what children should wear to school. It touches on issues of school improvement, freedom of expression and the “culture wars.” It’s no wonder the debate rages on.
The School Uniform Movement and What It Tells Us About American Education: A Symbolic Crusade, David Brunsma. Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2004.
School Dress Codes: A Pro/Con Issue, Barbara C. Cruz. Enslow Publishers, 2001.
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Reviewing School Uniform through a Public Health Lens: Evidence about the Impacts of School Uniform on Education and Health
This study uses a public health lens to review evidence about the impacts of wearing a school uniform on students’ health and educational outcomes. It also reviews the underlying rationales for school uniform use, exploring historical reasons for uniform use, as well as how questions of equity, human rights, and the status of children as a vulnerable group are played out in debates over school uniforms. The literature identified indicates that uniforms have no direct impact on academic performance, yet directly impact physical and psychological health. Girls, ethnic and religious minorities, gender-diverse students and poorer students suffer harm disproportionately from poorly designed uniform policies and garments that do not suit their physical and socio-cultural needs. Paradoxically, for some students, uniform creates a barrier to education that it was originally instituted to remedy. The article shows that public health offers a new perspective on and contribution to debates and rationales for school uniform use. This review lays out the research landscape on school uniform and highlights areas for further research.
Despite regular judicial, community, and press scrutiny, there is little consensus on the function of school uniforms, or agreement about evidence of their impact on education and health. Breaches of school uniform policy have resulted in court cases (e.g., [ 1 , 2 ]), and courts note that in focusing on the rights and wrongs of a particular uniform policy, the underlying issues driving uniform design and policy are neglected [ 3 ]. Meanwhile, at the beginning of the school year in many English-speaking countries there are numerous press articles about the cost burden to families of providing school uniforms [ 4 – 8 ], whether they are value for money [ 9 – 11 ], and whether garment design is fit for modern life [ 12 – 17 ]. Discussion seems stymied in a superficial argument about whether school uniforms are good or bad. Rarely do discussions point to empirical evidence about school uniform garment design and policy about uniform use. This situation begs questions as to availability of evidence for school uniform use, its effects on educational or health outcomes, and the underlying rationales for school uniform use.
This article applies a public health lens to review evidence about why we have uniforms and what effects they have on educational and health outcomes. A public health perspective was chosen to review evidence because it is explicitly designed to analyze impacts of broad socio-political forces and determinants of health on individual experiences. Further, public health sees education and health as mutually reinforcing and intrinsically linked. The one determines the success of the other. Consequently, much public health policy aims to optimize wider social policy settings to improve health and education [ 18 ], and encourage equitable outcomes especially for the most vulnerable populations [ 19 ]. It is also why the World Health Organization (WHO) promotes health in all government policies to improve overall population health ([ 20 ]). Therefore, attention to students’ physical and psychosocial health and wellbeing is important for enhancing educational outcomes. This includes evidence for the choice of school uniform garments and individual schools’ policy about uniform and how these affect student wellbeing. The evidence considered here suggests that uniform is of public health concern because its use and effects are prevalent, have impact and are amenable to improvement. Uniform use is prevalent and widespread globally. In their study of 39 PISA countries, Baumann and Kriskova [ 21 ] identify five main geographic/sociocultural groupings where uniform wearing is common: an Anglo-Saxon cluster (United Kingdom, NZ, Australia, United States), Asia, East Asia (South Korea, Japan), the Americas (e.g., Mexico), and Europe. These authors also note that uniform prevalence is increasing. Regarding impact, evidence shows uniforms can impact directly and indirectly on the individual and on society in equity, health and educational domains for better and for worse. The reviewed literature suggests that any harms are amenable to intervention via evidence-based action. Meadmore and Symes [ 22 ] argue that uniforms are not as frivolous as they appear and warrant systematic attention. This article applies that systematic attention through a public health lens. It explores three questions: What is the evidence for the impact of school uniform on students’ academic and health outcomes; what social, cultural and political rationales are made for uniform use; and what human rights may be affected by school uniform choice? For conciseness, “school uniform(s) garments” will be referred to as uniform(s). The practice of wearing/using/mandating a school uniform will be referred to as uniform policy.
Databases that include health and education research were searched for peer-reviewed articles in English using the key word “school uniform” in the title keywords or abstract. The date range searched was from 2000 to (present), being October 2020. The results are detailed in Table 1 .
Database searches October 2020.
Oft -cited peer-reviewed sources that did not appear in the literature searches were also included in the literature review ( n = 25), as well as texts that were found in the initial work for this review. Texts were de-duplicated, yielding 197 texts. Records were screened for relevance and excluded 79 for being out of scope because of time constraints (not in English, PhD theses, conference proceedings). This yielded 118 full text articles to be assessed, of which 26 were excluded because they were off-topic for this review (e.g., industry information about supply chains; school uniform as a basis for a thought experiment; fetishism; reports on forensics; technical information about fabric properties). 92 studies were included in this review.
Note this study examines the breadth of evidence for uniform wearing. Study quality was not part of the analysis.
Articles fell into three broad groups: surveys/studies that elicited stakeholder feedback on some aspect of garment design or policy; or experience of uniform wearing; analyses of large datasets or administrative data; and political, philosophical/ethnographic, and legal analyses of rationale and impact of uniform use.
The first group comprised empirical research that examined data on some aspect of garment design or policy or uniform wearing experience. There was a mixture purposive samples and convenience samples. Studies varied in the number of participants, the number of sites from which participants were taken. Studies elicited views from stakeholders: students, parents, teachers, administrators, social workers, school counselor. Views were gathered via survey and/or focus group. Some surveys formed part of a case study. There were also stand-alone case studies and ethnographies, an RCT and an auto-ethnography.
12 studies examined garment properties for Sun protection, safety, design. The mix of stakeholders varied: students only ( n = 15); students and family/parents/caregivers ( n = 8); multiple stakeholders (students, parents, teachers, and administrators, and/or social workers) ( n = 17). There were three randomized control trials. There were a mixture purposive samples and convenience samples. Studies varied in the number of participants, the number of sites from which participants were taken. The second group comprised analyses of large datasets ( n = 5), and one meta analysis on factors affecting educational outcomes. The third group were non-empirical studies. They included: policy summaries; legal analyses; historical commentaries on uniform’s development; socio-political analyses; political think-pieces; and one economic analysis.
Here, evidence has been arranged according to a public health lens of analysis. First, this section examines the proximate educational and health impacts of uniform garments and uniform policy on students to determine whether there are immediate health or education impacts of uniform use or policy. Second, rationales for uniform use are examined, as well as distal factors that influence student experience. This section examines the broader institutional, and socio-cultural contexts which inform uniform use.
Part 1: Literature for Educational and Health Impacts of Uniform
Does uniform influence educational outcomes.
Starting with the evidence for the impact of uniform on educational outcomes (the core in Figure 1 ), there is little convincing evidence that uniform improves academic achievement. Studies from the United States in the early 2000’s [ 23 , 24 ] note a positive correlation between uniform wearing and academic achievement (e.g., Bodine [ 25 ]). Later, in 2012 Gentile and Ibermann found a positive effect on grades and retention [ 26 , 27 ]. Stockton et al. [ 28 ] noted there was a greater perception of increased attendance and achievement after uniform was introduced. However, studies of large datasets and meta-analyses fail to find a link between uniform and academic achievement. Brunsma and Rockquemore’s (2003) response to Bodine’s assessment of their administrative data review in the late 1990’s reiterated that no overwhelming link exists between uniform wearing and academic outcomes (there were methodological disagreements about which data to choose and how they should be analyzed). Later studies by Yeung [ 29 ] and Creasy and Corby [ 30 ] noted multiple factors for academic achievement—but not uniform. In a synthesis of 800 meta-analyses on effects of all hitherto published variables of educational outcomes, Hattie [ 31 ] demonstrated negligible to no association between uniform and academic achievement itself. However, he notes that the ‘heat and impact of the discussion are as if [uniform] were obviously effective’ (p106) [ 32 ]. In a 2017 update to that study uniform was not listed among the 252 effects on educational outcomes [ 33 ].
Organization of evidence about uniform use.
Nonetheless, it appears that uniform may contribute to an environment that fosters academic achievement. Baumann and Kriskova [ 21 ] examined information from the PISA study on student experience of discipline within the classroom environment (listening, noise level, quietening/settling, schoolwork, starting work). This study involved a very large sample of students from across the globe. These researchers found a statistically significant difference related to settling to work between uniform wearing and non-uniform wearing samples. Thus, Baumann and Kriskova [ 21 ] recommend keeping uniforms where already used and introducing them where not used. Similarly, Firmin et al. [ 34 ] found introducing uniform reduced distractions. Writing about the United States, DaCosta’s [ 35 ] study of students noted improved concentration and increased security in the school where uniform was introduced. A South African study reported that uniform helped to maintain classroom discipline [ 36 ].
However, settling to work and classroom discipline are two of many facilitators of learning outcomes [ 21 ], along with class size, funding levels, homework, and, importantly, factors related to the quality of the teacher (qualifications, personality, incentives, mentoring for new teachers). Given that teacher skill and relationship between student and teacher are established as influential factors on learning outcomes [ 33 ], some argue that expecting teachers to enforce school uniform rules detracts from teaching, learning, and good relationships [ 30 , 37 ], notwithstanding the classroom management benefits of uniform-wearing described by Baumann and Kriskova [ 21 ]. Indeed, Da Costa [ 35 ] reports, the introduction of school uniform created opposition and non-compliance, distracting students and teachers from education. There are indications that uniform could create psychological barriers to education for vulnerable students, especially when it is a new phenomenon. Gromova and Hayrutdinova [ 38 ] found that for ethnic-minority newcomers to a school, uniform can simply be another strange element to get used to in a new environment.
One study argues that organisational and classroom management enhanced by uniforms may be achieved at the expense of other educational goals and values. Baumann and Kriskova’s [ 21 ] research ranks Korea and Japan highest in terms of settling to work and removing distractions. Yet Park’s [ 39 ] study found in Korea uniform was linked to stifling creativity, in spite of good academic performance. This is indicative only (a small study from one country), but highlights how much is not known about the impact of uniform on other domains of education.
Another effect of school uniform is that schools socialize students to certain explicit and implicit values and social norms and inculcate social skills that will help them get on in the world. Within that framework, school uniform provides what Vopat [ 40 ] describes as teachable moments (unplanned, yet important learning opportunities) to reflect on norms of society. There is no data that directly addresses non-academic learning outcomes from uniform. However, Vopat’s idea of teachable moments hints at why some administrators prefer a uniform [ 41 , 42 ], and a more formal one at that [ 41 ].
In some contexts, uniform is also instrumental to other goals: school security and students’ physical safety, aids student focus on learning. In South Africa, Wilken and van Aardt [ 36 ] observed that uniforms can make certain students targets of attack outside the school grounds. In South Africa and the United States uniforms are used to easily identify intruders on school premises and to reduce gang violence and theft of designer items outside of school [ 35 , 36 ]. However, in the United States one study found negligible evidence of uniform enhancing security [ 43 ], while another study found introducing uniform created only a lower perception of gang presence [ 44 ].
Overall, it appears that while uniform is a factor that removes distractions from classroom learning, thereby enhancing operational management, it has no direct impact on academic achievement and is not among factors that demonstrably improve educational outcomes. It may enhance school security, and influence schools’ broader educational and socialization goals.
Does Uniform Influence Health Outcomes?
Unlike for educational outcomes, there is a far more direct link between uniform garments and uniform policy and health outcomes. Health impacts can be divided into physical and psycho-social effects, though there is a significant overlap between the two. Physical impacts of school uniform relate to how uniforms facilitate physical activity during the day, whether uniform garments protect the wearer against known environmental hazards, whether the garments promote health and safety, and whether the garments are comfortable to wear. Psycho-social impacts are linked to fitting in (or not) with peers.
One effect uniforms have on physical wellbeing is their limitation or allowance of exercise. Encouraging regular physical activity is part of the WHO’s health promotion concept of health in all policies and settings. Globally, governments are trying increase physical activity among children and young people to reduce child obesity rates [ 45 ]. Additionally, physical activity enhances learning outcomes and improves wellbeing ([ 46 ]), therefore policies that promote planned and incidental physical activity positively influence educational and health outcomes. However, it appears that school uniform design and policy can pose a barrier to incidental exercise, particularly for girls. McCarthy et al. [ 47 ] found primary school girls were more active on sports uniform days and met government recommended daily physical activity levels on those days. Norrish et al.’s [ 48 ] study on the effect of uniform on incidental physical activity among ten-year-olds found that school uniform design could limit physical activity (measured by student self-report and pedometers). Correcting for choice of activity (ballgames, skipping vs imaginary play, verbal games), girls did significantly more activity during breaks on sports uniform days. Likewise, Watson et al. [ 49 ] and Stanley et al. [ 50 ] reported that recommended physical activity for school-aged children was not being met, especially for girls, where restrictive school uniform limited physical activity and created an explicit barrier to lunchtime play. Further, in an age of active transport policy, Hopkins et al. [ 51 ] found that school uniform style and lack of warmth was a barrier to cycling to school for some female secondary students, and Ward et al. [ 52 ] found both garment design and schools’ uniform policy hampered active transport among older teenagers. There are strong indications that uniform garments and policy about which garments can be worn directly impact on students’ physical health outcomes, for female students in particular.
While there is evidence on how uniform facilitates physical activity, there is little evidence on the psychological effects of uniforms on how students feel about doing physical activity in uniform. Unflattering or revealing (sports) uniforms may deter students from participating in sport. Focusing on physical activity, Watson’s et al.’s [ 49 ] study noted the complex social factors that affect physical activity, and how a unisex sport uniform could enhance the feeling of comfort and confidence. For instance, Pausé’s [ 53 ] auto-ethnography highlights the psychological barrier an unflattering sports uniform can pose to fat children’s participation in and enjoyment of physical activity as a good in itself (as opposed to a means to lose weight).
Physical health can be protected against known environmental health hazards by uniform garment design and policy implementation. However, school uniform policy (at national or school level) does not routinely address these hazards. In Australasia, ozone layer degradation results in high UV radiation levels in warmer months. Prolonged UV exposure results in skin damage and over the long term increased rates of moles and skin cancers across the population. Yet Gage et al. [ 54 ] found that uniformed schools had lower total body coverage than non-uniformed schools, albeit with greater neck coverage due to collared uniforms. This is despite evidence that hats with a brim and sun-safe clothing (covered arms and legs) can improve sun protection [ 55 ] while not increasing objective measures of body temperature [ 56 ]. Indeed, modeling from Australia indicates that slightly longer garments significantly alter mole patterns [ 57 ]. Of course the effectiveness of uniform garments (or indeed any garments) for sun protection depends on proper implementation of policy. For instance, in New Zealand Sunsmart is a voluntary school policy to optimize protection of children’s skin from sun damage and sunburn. However, Reeder et al. [ 58 ] found that Sunsmart policies were not consistently implemented, even among Sunsmart-accredited schools.
Uniform has also been used as part of measures to combat disease. In Thailand and other countries with endemic dengue, school uniform design, the use of insecticide-treated clothing [ 59 – 62 ], and how uniform is worn [ 63 ] have been investigated extensively in relation to dengue prevention, especially how to stop insecticide washing out of fabric. However, while the use of insecticide-treated clothing is supported by parents in these countries, willingness to pay for the uniform is linked to parental monthly income. Governmental willingness to subsidize treated uniforms is linked to overall cost, irrespective of effectiveness or potential health gain [ 64 , 65 ]. It appears that good garment design that protects against environmental hazards cannot be separated from good policy implementation and a financial subsidy if garment cost is high.
Interestingly, while environmental hazards and their impact on health were considered, no peer reviewed articles were found related to safe garment design e.g., Inflammable materials, removing strangling risks. The only information found on uniform policy and garment safety did not relate to garments but accessories (not uniform proper). It was from the United Kingdom, where the Health and Safety Executive found that schools had incorrectly applied health and safety legislation to ban certain non-uniform items of jewellery that had no link to causing physical harm [ 66 ].
Is it possible to achieve optimal uniform garment design? Researchers have examined different elements of uniform design, some related to health outcomes. There is a particularly interesting body of research emerging about properties of school uniform garments. Researchers have investigated how to standardize sizing [ 67 ], improve garment quality and durability [ 68 ], optimize materials, enhance style, include high visibility/reflectiveness for road safety, and ensure physical comfort irrespective of outside temperature [ 68 – 71 ]. This demonstrates that it is technically possible to design a uniform that meets cost imperatives, is physically safe, comfortable, and enjoyable to wear. These studies showed garment materials do not necessarily prioritize the wearer’s physical comfort. Functionality (durability, ease of care, ease of drying, stain and wrinkle resistance) is often preferred over comfort or safety (Kadolph, 2001 in 36). For example, polycotton is used instead of cotton because it is colourfast and fast-drying, despite not breathing well in hot weather.
It appears that no consensus exists on best practice for uniform design, who should be involved in design decisions, and considerations in policy development and implementation (e.g., health and educational impacts of garment design and policy, gender neutral options, non-physically restrictive garments). There is no data that discusses this point directly though some studies involve parents and students [ 68 , 71 ], and DaCosta [ 35 ] recommends involving students in co-designing the uniform, to develop a uniform that provides choice and flexibility. Gereluk proposes principles for a non-discriminatory environment [ 72 ], which provides helpful guidance on how to accommodate minority concerns into majority spaces. In doing so, he helpfully lists general elements to consider that can be applied to uniform design and policy. These are: health and safety; whether (any religious/cultural garment) is oppressive to (the wearer) or others; whether it significantly inhibits the educational aims of the school; whether (whatever item is not part of the uniform) is essential to one’s identity.
There is evidence that uniforms can be psychosocially protective of health. Uniforms remove “competitive dressing”—the pressure to wear certain (expensive) brands, colors, or styles [ 36 ]. Uniform removes most socio-economic signs of difference [ 73 ]. Wilken and van Aardt [ 36 ] and Jones (for higher socio economic status students) [ 74 ] report that school uniforms take away stress and family arguments about what to wear on school days. The positive psychological effect of removing competitive dressing probably only holds for students with a certain level of material wealth (see discussion below on equity of access to education and uniform cost). Thus, Catherine and Mulgalavi [ 75 ] found in Pakistan that school uniform had a positive effect on students’ self-esteem, particularly if they had the full and correct uniform. It seems for very poor students, school uniform requirements may simply become something else to worry about, but for others uniform removes a barrier to fitting in.
In addition to the ambivalence of wearers’ feelings, there are mixed data on the impact of uniform on bullying. In a study of one school in the United States, Sanchez et al. [ 76 ] found introduction of a uniform did not significantly change the school’s culture before and after a school uniform was introduced, though some females said males treated them better when they wore a uniform. Jones (United States) reported a reduction in bullying after uniform was introduced [ 74 ].
Indeed, Cunningham and Cunningham [ 77 ] note that while uniforms can reduce bullying, there will always be triggers such as girls choosing to wear trousers not skirts. Importantly, any dress is about more than clothing, indicating social relations, self-presentation, and formation in society, and is a sensitive topic in adolescence [ 78 ]. Indeed, Swain’s ethnography found that students who complied with uniform rules risked being socially excluded [ 79 ].
It appears that uniforms can be both protective and harmful, depending on context, how the student pushes the boundaries of uniform rules to fit in, and whether the student is part of a marginalised/socially disadvantaged group. Whatever the context, females are half of the population, and their physical and psycho-social health seems to be routinely and arbitrarily disadvantaged by uniform design.
Overall, in terms of health and education impacts it seems any psycho-social benefits will only hold if other psycho-social and physical harms to girls, and minorities are addressed. Table 2 summarizes the health and education impacts of uniform. From a health and education perspective, uniform’s biggest advantage is that it removes some distractions; it helps students to settle in the classroom and removes the worst of competitive dressing. If garments and policy are well designed, they encourage physical activity and can protect against environmental hazards. Nonetheless, poorly designed garments and uniform policies especially affect girls and minorities.
Uniform’s positive, neutral, and negative impacts on education and health outcomes.
Part 2: Exploring Social, Cultural and Political Rationales for Uniform Use
Since uniforms do not positively influence academic achievement and can have negative physical and psycho-social health impacts, what drives their use? Further, why are known problems in uniform policy and design not addressed? To answer these questions, it is important to consider the broader context in which uniform is used. The literature that addresses these questions can be divided into three groups. The first group examines the role of uniforms in institutions and the community; the second, the interaction between human rights and uniform; the third (dealt with in part 3 below) the relationship of uniforms to the idea of children as a vulnerable class of people who need special protection. Institutions, human rights laws and societal perceptions of children and childhood constitute important upstream/distal determinants of health and educational outcomes. All the above elements contribute to wider social settings that facilitate or prevent access to what people need to enjoy good health and education. Table 3 summarizes rationales for uniform use.
Implicit and explicit rationales for uniform use.
Uniforms as a Reflection of Schools and Communities
Schools are institutional extensions of overlapping communities: geographic, religious, or ethnic. Community norms reflect institutional and wider societal rules. Uniform signals internal culture to students and provides cues to outsiders about the school’s character.
Within schools, uniforms reinforce institutional culture, signaling school values to students [ 80 ], thereby identifying the wearer with objectives beyond the self. Along with school facilities and symbols [ 21 ], a well-disciplined body of students is associated with a certain type of dress. Additionally, some argue that uniforms contribute to a sense of affiliation in students, belonging [ 81 ], and pride in the school, especially after uniform has been recently introduced [ 82 ]. Affiliation is related to solidarity; yet there seems to be a tipping point when solidarity is undermined if the uniform is too expensive and excludes students [ 83 ]. Howell [ 84 ] argues that among charter school students he studied in the United States, uniform is only one element to increase participation and is far less important than other variables like family dynamics. However, claims about uniform fostering solidarity are not supported by empirical research on student feelings about belonging in the school context. Research into school belonging did not find a significant association between school uniform and a sense of belonging to the school community [ 85 ]. Instead, belonging is fostered by a supportive, respectful atmosphere and a sense of achieving.
It has been argued that uniforms communicate messages to those outside the school community. Stephenson [ 86 ] argues the main role of uniform has changed from primarily addressing poverty or removing differences marking class and gender to primarily signaling education standards, and the school’s place in the education market [ 22 , 36 ], showcasing the institutions’ disciplinary philosophy [ 27 ]. Happell [ 87 ] notes that in the United States uniform visually demarcates students and is associated with private education, improving the wider school environment [ 35 ], or maintaining the impression of strictness and safety [ 22 ]. Shao et al. [ 88 ] note that like corporate uniform, school uniform gives cues to the service environment—a more conservative uniform suggests more conservative values, higher socio-economic status, and by association higher academic achievement. Indeed, Bodine [ 89 ] notes that uniform reinforces and delineates social hierarchies and who belongs. Belonging can be inclusive, encouraging broad participation and access, or exclusive by drawing lines between people and putting up practical barriers to access, delineating who is and is not worthy of privilege [ 90 ].
Within institutions uniform is a management tool [ 21 ]. It has the veneer of solidarity, but there is no empirical evidence linking uniform to feelings of belonging to a school. Uniform also signals tradition, and communicates the place in the education market to outsiders, especially a school’s disciplinary and academic climate. The factors affecting a school’s choice to require a uniform is in turn affected by wider forces of socio-political climate and human rights.
Wider Forces: Socio-Political Climate
As illustrated in Figure 1 , the individual health and educational impacts of uniform are nestled in the broader school culture, which in turn is influenced by the wider socio-political context, influenced by the community’s values. A country’s history, power structures, and socio-economic patterns are thus played out through uniforms. Further, dominant societal values are the lens through which human rights and other implicit and explicit values are projected. Uniform wearing can be intrinsic to a greater good, or instrumental in reaching other goals. With this in mind, what data exist on the socio-political factors that influence uniform garment design and policy?
Uniform design and policy slowly changes alongside social and educational policy developments. Thus, New Zealand, uniform design has changed alongside New Zealand’s education policy and socio-political context [ 81 ]. Similarly, in China uniform has gradually incorporated more modern and Western influences in design over time [ 91 ]. In their discussion on the reasons for uniform, Meadmore and Symes argue that uniform wearing is a form of governmentality–the process of unconscious internalization of external values designed to maintain existing power structures. In this way uniform is a “disciplinary tactic” [ 115 ] embodying respectability, cleanliness, modesty, and inoffensiveness. Conformity means meeting the standards of an institution [ 92 ], explicitly in service of an ideal of equality, and implicitly to maintain the societal power dynamics expressed through institutions. Whether a form of governmentality or not, it is clear that uniform is associated with broader societal values.
In some societies, uniform wearing seems intrinsically linked to a greater societal good. Thus, Baumann and Kriskova [ 21 ] argue that high PISA scores are associated with good classroom discipline, which is intrinsically linked to wider societal values. The authors hypothesize that in South Korea and Japan, Confucian values of self-discipline and conformity to ritual inform practical aspects of daily life. Baumann and Kriskova argue that conforming to social norms is part of being a good Confucian; thus, any penalty for breaching uniform standards (a social norm) is explicitly and intrinsically linked to becoming a better Confucian.
Alternatively, uniform wearing can be instrumental in reaching other ends. Hence, when uniform use became common in the Anglosphere in the 1800’s, there seems to have been a (noble) aim of making schools islands of fairness in an unfair world. Craik [ 93 ] states that in England school uniform aimed to equalize social class, creating social camouflage through functional, reasonably priced clothing. However, this rationale ignores wider societal power structures, and that uniform wearing may be mainly instrumental to another goal. Thus, in some post-colonial contexts uniform was part of a transfer of British values and seen as a way to civilize and promote a certain ideology [ 92 ]. In New Zealand, uniforms were inspired by military dress and were intended to encourage empowerment, belonging, and pride, as well as social camouflage [ 92 ]. In South Africa, school uniforms were imposed on the black population as a means of control [ 36 ]. Australian authors have hypothesized that certain types of school uniform historically represented respectability and happiness and promoted social integration. Wearing a school uniform provided a means for migrant children (and their families) to fit in [ 94 ]. Wearing a school blazer has been described as a cultural symbol of reaching and being included in a social ideal of wealth and educational achievement [ 95 ].
Some socio-political rationales are explicit and are part of clear public policy measures to shape society. For instance, Mujiburrahaman [ 96 ] describes uniform as part of Sharia law implementation in schools in Aceh; Moser notes it is part of fostering citizenship and identity in Indonesia’s schools [ 97 ]; and Draper et al. [ 98 ] describe how uniforms that use a hybrid of traditional and modern clothing styles, materials, and manufacturing techniques are part of a cultural revitalization project in Thailand. In the United States, from the mid-1990’s school uniforms have been explicitly promoted as a means to lower danger and violence in schools and remove classroom distractions [ 99 ]. Indeed, in the United States uniforms are often perceived as more neutral than dress codes because everyone wears the same [ 100 ], as opposed to judgements being made about clothing items against a standard. Overall it appears that uniform use is often driven by goals beyond health or education as values in themselves.
Part 3: Human Rights and Uniform Use
Human rights legislation supporting equity and freedom from religious or gender discrimination and protecting the rights of children has been discussed in conjunction with school uniform. In cases of disagreement about garment design or uniform policy and where institutional policy or social norms do not provide a solution, human rights law has been invoked to help reconcile different rights and values.
Human rights are overarching, universal entitlements that preserve the dignity of humans. Theoretically, human rights are interrelated and indivisible and should not be separated from each other [ 101 ]. Practically, the experience with uniform shows that simultaneously giving effect to different human rights is not straightforward. Social context influences how human rights are interpreted and given legal standing. Looking at the United States, Ahrens [ 102 ] notes that in the 1970’s uniform was of great constitutional concern (impinging of First Amendment right of freedom of expression), whereas nowadays few legal or constitutional problems with uniform are discussed, possibly because the overwhelming concern is student safety; the importance of identifying intruders outweighs concern over freedom of expression [ 103 ].
Equality vs. Equity
The human rights notion that all humans are equal is important to school uniform policy. As noted earlier, the idea that equality of access to education is enhanced by “social camouflage” is a principal historic and current rationale for uniform [ 36 , 89 ]. Proponents of uniform argue it creates equality and emphasize the benefits of homogeneity that outweigh any negative impacts: unity, a sense of belonging (although this point has not been demonstrated empirically), and group identity. In their view, the human right to equal treatment is enhanced by removing outward signs of social differences [ 36 , 89 ]. This may explain why in Malaysia, Woo et al. found that while students thought uniform unattractive, they conceded it reduced outward markers of differing socio-economic status [ 73 ].
However, an equality focus in uniform policy sidesteps the issue of who bears the brunt of equality as “sameness”. Equality focuses on same treatment, while equity focuses on outcomes, sometimes requiring different treatment to achieve similar outcomes [ 104 ]. Data show that uniforms are not intrinsically equitable. The cost of uniforms can affect students’ rights to access education. In addition to inequity of physical activity by gender and barriers for minority groups, the cost of uniform garments themselves is a determinant of access to education, and clearly unequally felt across society. The cost barrier that uniform poses to attending school is widespread, particularly in low and middle-income countries. Using Mongolia as an example, Sabic-el Rayess et al, [ 83 ] note that in countries where the very poor cannot afford uniforms, they do not attend school. Likewise, Simmons-Zuilkowski [ 105 ] found that in South Africa enrollment rates among the very poor are lower because of cost of uniforms. In Kenya, Mutengi [ 106 ] found a statistically significant link between uniform cost and education access, and Green et al. [ 107 ], Sitieni and Pillay [ 108 ] and Cho et al. [ 109 ] describe free uniform as part of support and incentive packages for at-risk children to attend school [ 110 ]. In Ghana, Alagbela [ 111 ] and Akaguri [ 112 ] show that uniform cost creates a barrier to education for the very poor. One contradiction to this trend comes from Hidalgo et al. in one study in Ecuador [ 113 ]. The authors found that providing uniform decreased attendance. However, the authors note that the study was not conducted as anticipated; some families promised uniforms were not supplied with them, and many in the study group had already purchased a uniform (it was therefore a sunk cost), so uniform cost was not a factor that decided school attendance. Cost is also a likely concern among all parents in high-income countries. In the United Kingdom, Davies [ 114 ] examined uniform cost and supply and surveyed parents who were happiest when uniform could be sourced from a mixture of designated shops and high street/generic stores and found that uniforms were cheapest when items could be brought from anywhere. However, as in low income countries, uniform creates an unequal cost burden across the population. In the United States, Da Costa [ 35 ] highlights the economic burden on the poor of buying a school uniform. In South Korea and the United States, poorer parents spend a higher percentage of their income on uniforms [ 36 ]. In New Zealand, a survey of parents [ 115 ] found school uniform cost is a significant burden for poorer families. In Scotland, Naven et al. [ 116 ] reported how uniform cost created such a barrier to education that the state changed its clothing grant policy to help ease the financial burden on families.
Of course cost is not the only equity issue in uniform use, but it is an important one. Davies’ [ 114 ] United Kingdom report on uniform supply and cost found that garment quality was a main influence on purchasing decisions, followed by availability and cost. Surveying parents’ and educators’ attitudes to uniforms, for both groups Davies found uniforms were considered worthwhile because they are a long-term investment: generally long-lasting, infrequently replaced, and cheaper over the student’s career than non-uniform alternatives. However, Davies’ and other data (e.g., Gasson et al., Naven et al., Catherine and Mugalavai, Simmons-Zuilkowski) suggest the large initial upfront cost is a barrier for poorer families. Another reason for concern is that sameness does not result in equity or improve human rights protection. Deane [ 117 ] argues that justifications for uniform based on equity are not well considered because the mere wearing of uniform does not create equity, and does not magic away other differences [ 117 ]. In practical terms, equity through uniforms is inevitably an imperfect idea: even if uniform policy allows students to choose to wear any items from a list so long as items comply with style or color rules, expensive branded items, or other garment choices would inevitably signal differences in economic status, wearer style, and individual preferences. It seems for the very poor/marginalized in any society, uniform can be simply another barrier to education because of the focus on equality, not equity. Ironically, those most in need of education may be denied it via a mechanism that was originally instituted to remove barriers to education.
Uniform and Freedom of Religion
In addition to general rights to equal treatment, specifically protected rights are of concern when considering uniform, particularly freedom of religion and the right to non-discrimination because of gender. Uniform rules and the right to freedom of religion is an example of where courts are asked to reconcile seemingly conflicting rights with each other. For instance, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Art 14) protects freedom of religion [ 118 ]. Nonetheless, this right is not unfettered and can be limited if others’ rights are impinged, and its application depends on how individual countries legislate to support human rights.
Theoretically, uniforms should not impinge on religious freedom. Practically, the situation is not so clear-cut. Complex questions about how religion is represented and how it is recognized are often played out through uniform [ 119 ], especially in liberal democracies. For some, adhering to a school uniform policy means not observing religious requirements. In Australia, where states are required to have a uniform policy, direct and indirect discrimination on the basis of religion is forbidden. Yet there is no clarity on whether a school can have a policy that is silent on students’ religious beliefs and practices [ 120 , 121 ]. Australian courts have found that exceptions to uniform rules can be made to avoid injury to religious sensibilities, doctrines, beliefs, or principles (e.g., allowing wearing yarmulke or hijab). In England (which has a longstanding uniform tradition), the case of Begum sought to balance religious freedom to wear Sharia-appropriate clothes against the right to education, school uniform policy [ 122 , 123 ], and women’s rights. In Begum the court found that social cohesion, protecting minority rights, and ensuring religious freedom must be balanced [1 , 124 – 126 . In Begum , the judgment shows how tricky it is to reconcile all human rights in themselves, let alone apply them within the context uniform policy requirements.
Whatever the social context, outward signs of faith can challenge both uniform rules and wider societal values such as secularity in public institutions. Gereluk [ 72 ] argues for reasonable accommodation and mechanisms to redress potential unequal treatment of minorities. What constitutes “reasonable accommodation” appears to be context-dependent.
Uniform and Gender
Similarly to promoting equity and freedom of religion, human rights protect non-discrimination by gender. The discussion so far has shown that whatever the rationale, uniform garment design has a greater impact on girls, particularly on their physical health. This differential effect has been addressed by human rights legislation. For instance, The New Zealand Human Rights Commission agreed with a complaint of discrimination on gender grounds by two female-identified students [ 127 ] who argued that the requirement to wear a skirt disadvantaged them because it restricted their movement. Settlement was reached when the school added culottes (shorts that look like skirts) to the school uniform. In this example, human rights legislation allowed schools to have uniform codes for males and females, providing uniforms do not disadvantage one gender or group.
Differential treatment by gender is underpinned by historical and some current thought, though it is rarely discussed in relation to uniform. This is possibly because it is linked to deeply entrenched and normalized gender roles. Political and philosophical research addresses this point. Dussel [ 128 ] argues that school uniforms hamper, restrain, and try to domesticate girls’ bodies. Happel [ 87 ] argues that school uniform is linked to gendered performance, where school uniforms underpin sex and gender roles, because they restrict movement and confirm traditional gender identities. Happel [ 87 ] argues that because skirts allow for exposure of underwear, buttocks, and genitals, girls are taught modesty/immodesty through a garment. Girls are thus objectified because they have to curb their behavior because of another’s gaze. In this review no evidence was found of any of the above restrictions caused by boys’ uniform. Notably, girls’ uniforms tend to be more expensive [ 106 , 114 ], illustrating that even here there is a “pink tax” for female-oriented products that perform the same function as a unisex/male alternative [ 114 , 129 ]. Further, normalized gender roles affect gender-diverse students, already a group at risk of exclusion. For gender diverse students, non-inclusive uniform policies are particularly problematic [ 130 ] and affect them disproportionately [ 17 ]. Non-inclusive uniform policy relies upon the idea that clothing is an essential element of gender identity and that any fluidity or flexibility in dress rules risks undermining individual and collective gender identity. There is no evidence of gender identity being so fragile [ 131 ]. In practical terms, Henebery [ 132 ] argues that even if uniforms have unisex options, they are still split by gender, where skirts are limited to biological girls. Interestingly, Bragg [ 133 ] notes that a school uniform policy that strictly enforces male/female uniforms is in stark contrast with the broader and more fluid social understanding and representations of gender that students are exposed to, especially in Western countries.
It appears that uniforms place a physical restriction and price premium on girls, and policy does not routinely consider gender diverse students. This is driven by socio-cultural norms and negatively impinges on their human rights, despite the overarching right to equal treatment irrespective of gender.
Uniform and Children and Young People’s Freedom of Expression
Freedom of expression is another area of human rights that often clashes with uniform. The right to freedom of expression (Art 13 UNCRC [ 134 ]) can be restricted in respect of the rights and reputations of others, protection of national security, and public order. Article 12 (UNCRC, 1989) details that free expression is given weight in accordance with the age and development of the child. Some hold that school uniforms are inherently restrictive, arguing that school uniform hampers expressive rights and normal identity exploration, constitutes intrusive control of group behavior (e.g., 35), and symbolizes oppression [ 131 ]. Conversely, others argue argues that it is nonsensical to say that uniforms crush self-expression when there are many other creative outlets [ 89 ]. There is no empirical evidence on this point. Vopat takes a different approach and considers children’s moral and psychological development. Looking at expression and developmental stage, Vopat [ 40 ] separates self-expression into two categories: mere expression, and substantive expression. Mere expression is simply about what a person likes/dislikes, whereas substantive expression is an outer manifestation of deeply held values or another specific intention. Vopat [ 40 ] argues that small children lack the cognitive ability for substantive expression because they do not have the psychological capacity for it yet. Nonetheless, Vopat [ 40 ] suggests that uniform may be a learning point for students. Children need thinking time to become their moral selves. School uniforms provide explicit teachable moments, opportunities to think using different moral frameworks to examine the utility of different social attire and freedom of expression in context, and children’s understanding of and critical thinking about social appropriateness of dress [ 135 ], which enhances learning outcomes [ 40 ]. Conversely, and despite these learning opportunities, Deane [ 117 ] argues that uniform’s blindness to or suppression of difference implicitly dampens the ability think about and discuss difference; thought is constrained because uniform creates an implicit understanding that strangers should be the same as oneself, and where there is difference, there is danger. Consequently, uniform suppresses recognition and discussion about differences in ethnicity, religion, or class [ 117 ].
There is no empirical evidence either way that uniform constrains freedom of expression. There are hypotheses that uniform provides a teaching opportunity about appropriate dress, and socializes people to a particular dress standard. Other ideas suggest that uniform allows students to rebel in safe confines [ 81 ].
Children’s Rights and Minors as a Vulnerable Group
The rights of children sit alongside other rights. These rights protect children because the wider socio-political climate identifies children and minors as a vulnerable class of people who need protection.
However, there is no agreement about what rights of children exactly should be protected, and many wider concerns about children are projected onto uniform [ 89 ]. Through an institution limiting clothing choice or requiring certain clothing, Bodine [ 89 ] argues that uniform protects childhood by protecting children from sending messages with their clothing choices that they do not fully understand. However, exactly what is protected is unclear. Vopat [ 40 ] argues protection should be linked to the child’s moral development and ability to reason, balanced against Article 12 of UNCROC, which includes the duty to consider children’s voice in decisions that affect them. Some [ 87 ] argue that uniform should be done away with altogether because of harm to children’s human rights. Irrespective of children’s vulnerability and human rights, Brunsma and Rockquemore [ 136 ] argue that even if uniforms do not harm, and young children cannot yet exercise their rights, there is no justification for imposing uniforms in an educational context, especially if uniforms do not improve educational goals.
Overall, while human rights are universal, the way they are expressed in particular cultural contexts varies, driven by socio-political forces. It appears that the idea that uniform is inherently equitable is flawed. It does not level social class, and is not blind to religion, gender, and socio-economic status. It does not necessarily consider cultural and individual identity or diversity. Data on human rights and uniform show that uniform policies result in unequal impact of garment design and policy on girls and religious minorities. Data on freedom of expression is equivocal. Whatever the case, wider sociocultural issues are clearly played out through uniforms, and it appears that uniforms can become a proxy for other issues, particularly considering the special status of children and young people. Blanket approaches to uniform policy can be repressive of cultural identity/diversity and ignore entrenched power imbalances [ 22 , 131 ]. By scrutinizing the outcomes of uniform policy, it is clear that many uniform policies have neutral/minimal impact for the majority, but the minority must compromise cultural or religious values to comply with uniform rules. Females make up half the population, yet uniform design limits their ability to participate in incidental physical activity, a proven enhancer of health and educational outcomes.
This review demonstrates that far from being a “trivial relic” [ 22 ], school uniform is an important yet neglected public health issue that affects all students who are required to wear it. As a preliminary review, this study maps the conceptual landscape of school uniform garment design and policy in a public health framework, and brings evidence together to show health and education impacts of school uniform use. The review shows that school uniform is important, but not for commonly believed reasons. First, there persists a belief that school uniform in itself enhances academic outcomes. This is unsupported by evidence—there is no direct link between uniform and academic achievement [ 33 ]. However, uniform does contribute to a more settled classroom environment [ 21 ], which facilitates learning. Second, some studies argue uniform can distract from a good rapport between students and teachers, which is linked to improved learning (30,37). Third, despite common belief, uniform has no empirically supported impact on enhancing a feeling of belonging to a school [ 85 ]. Notably, there is a general paucity of evidence for use and a gap between what is believed about uniform and what is supported by empirical evidence. It appears that uniform use and policy is a neglected area of research: given its widespread use there is surprisingly little empirical evidence about its use or effects at all.
Concerningly, psychological and physical health impacts of uniform have been neglected. Positively, uniform removes the psycho-social barrier of competitive dressing. Indeed, well-designed uniform garments that are comfortable to wear, do not restrict physical activity for all students, that protect against environmental hazards, plus a uniform policy that is inclusive of all students (irrespective of gender/gender identity) can enhance student physical and psychological health [ 47 , 48 , 54 ]. Neutrally, uniform can both increase and decrease bullying. Negatively, inflexible uniform policies and garment design disadvantage girls, gender-diverse students, and overweight students because they do not feel confident in participating in physical activity while wearing uniform garments (47–51,53). From a physical health perspective, empirical evidence demonstrates that girls’ physical health is particularly disadvantaged. Girls make up around half the school-aged population, so the demonstrated link between poor uniform design and worse physical and psycho-social health for girls is of concern. Physically restrictive uniforms can hamper girls’ physical and social participation in school, especially physical activity during breaks and on the journey to school. Poorly designed sports uniform may also deter girls’ and overweight children’s participation in timetabled physical education. For all students, there is no evidence of systematic consideration in uniform policy of health and safety and protection from environmental hazards that permits students to wear garments to suit the weather conditions, or that ensures garments are comfortable to wear.
Further, gender-based inequity is inherent in uniform; girls’ uniforms are more expensive and more restrictive. Inequity exists for religious minorities and gender-diverse students who have to dress to fit the uniform policy rather than dress so they feel physically comfortable. Because garment design reflects the norms of the dominant culture, religious and ethnic minorities, and gender-diverse students often have to compromise beliefs and identity to comply with uniform rules.
This review shows that uniform garment design and policy focus on equality (same treatment) at the expense of equity (different treatment to achieve similar outcomes). While uniform removes the psycho-social pressure on individuals and families of competitive dressing and outward signs of socio-economic differences between students, it does not eliminate inequity. Paradoxically, uniforms can worsen inequity. Worldwide, for the very poorest students, the cost of a uniform may be prohibitive, creating a barrier to education before the students even arrive on school grounds [ 83 , 105 – 107 , 109 – 112 , 114 – 116 , 137 ]. For some students the disadvantages will be cumulative. Using the public health lens of analysis highlights this avoidable inequity.
Why do we compel children to wear uniforms and persist with policies that detract from physical and psycho-social health, and that disadvantage poorer students? This review has highlighted that uniform has become a proxy for many issues. Financial and political economies are projected onto uniform policy and garment design. An organisation’s history, institutional stewardship, values, and traditions are often embodied in uniform, which is possibly why certain designs and materials are so enduring. Uniform signals a school’s place in the education market and gives external and internal indications of the school culture (22, 26, 36). Uniform also appears to enhance school operations (21). In classrooms it helps students settle to task and help identify intruders and improve security (36,43), or the perception of security (44).
A public health lens helps to shed light on uniforms, and their impact on health and education. The public health frame of analysis brings together and organizes data from different disciplines to illuminate questions that are important to population health, illustrating proximate factors and distal factors to individual experiences. It has also shown that uniform merits public health interest: if uniform use is prevalent, its use impacts on health and educational outcomes, and, importantly, school uniform garments and policies regulating their use are amenable to improvement, with an eye to improving equity.
This study’s principal limitation is that data is only drawn from English-language research largely focused on the Anglosphere or where articles were available in English, yet much of the world that wears uniform is not Anglophone. Potentially important data may have been missed. Further this study’s primary data are primarily peer-reviewed articles, which ensures rigor, but leaves out a depth of information from other sources. Further, articles of all types (including commentaries) were included because this research focused on evidence about uniform use, rather than the quality of that evidence. For time constraints conference proceedings and PhD theses were excluded. Note that there were variations in the types of studies done. For instance, the physical impacts of uniform use (e.g., on physical activity of wearers, protection against environmental hazards) were measured using quantitative or qualitative/quantitative mixes of design with larger sample sizes. For instance Norrish et al’s [ 48 ] work on physical activity for girls was one of the few that included objective and subjective measures of the phenomena under investigation, with a repeated measures crossover design (same group tested in two different conditions). Finally, as with other areas of inquiry, philosophical pieces or commentaries often argue against the status quo rather than defend it. It is possible that there exist more positive or neutral impacts of uniform on education and health than have been hitherto documented, especially in empirical research.
Limitations notwithstanding, this research will be of interest to those within the public health community, those involved in uniform regulation and design, and those involved in educational management. It will also be of special interest to the general public, who will be better informed about the evidence for what uniform achieves, and what can be done about making it better. Conceptually, issues related to uniform design are of interest to researchers of other populations (e.g., prisoners, military) with diminished capacity or whose choice of clothing is restricted.
This review has important implications for future research. It has highlighted gaps in knowledge about garment design and uniform policy and their impacts.
Regarding garment design, more information is required on different priorities that inform design choices: durability, serviceability, safety of materials, quality, and comfort to the wearer, particularly with an eye to protection against environmental hazards, and how to make garment styles enduring over time as well as inclusive, comfortable, and health-promoting.
Other issues like cost, value for money, environmental sustainability and ethical sourcing of materials may be of interest. Furthermore, different stakeholder (student, parent, teacher, school administrator) perspectives could be measured to further explore what factors influence garment design, how those different factors inform uniform use policy within schools, extending on multi stakeholder studies similar to that done by Wilken and van Aardt [ 42 ] or McCarthy et al [ 41 ]. Regarding uniform use policy, there is little information about how school rules are developed and what principles might look like to ensure uniform use is education and health promoting. Regarding impacts of design and policy, further studies are required with objective and subjective measures of whatever phenomenon related to uniform is being investigated. In particular, more studies are required on the health and psycho-social impacts of uniforms. For instance studies such as Hopkins [ 51 ], Norrish et al. [ 48 ] and Watson et al. [ 49 ] could be replicated in other jurisdictions and cultural settings.
In terms of public policy, there is little peer-reviewed evidence on supply chains, competition law, and profits that drive uniform costs. There is little evidence about how to reduce the cost barrier of uniforms for the poor; how different societal values are incorporated into uniform design (e.g., environmental protection and school/community tradition, or, given the impacts of uniform on health and access to education, whether any form of government regulation of upfront cost, uniform policy or garment design is required (especially for state-funded schools).
An important practical implication is making the evidence about uniform’s education and health impacts available in a form easily accessible to school administrators and governors to inform their uniform garment and policy decisions. After all, educators are experts in education, not garment design or uniform policy development, so it is unsurprizing that, left alone to organize uniform, they may not develop the most health and education-promoting garments or policies.
Uniform use is deceptively simple. It is so commonplace and ordinary, however, the questions it sparks are complex and are related to deeply held views of what is normal, traditional, and socially acceptable. Yet uniform use has real impacts on health and education, for better and for worse. This review shows that uniforms may be the right diagnosis for creating an equitable learning environment, providing cost-effective garments over a student’s learning career, and easing the psychological pressure of competitive dressing. However, this review shows the importance of getting the prescription right. The efficacy and effectiveness of uniforms as a vehicle for equitable access to education and good health depends on the right prescription for uniform policy and garment design that remove potential negative effects of poor garment design and policy.
A public health lens reveals that much school uniform garment design and use policy negatively affects the poor, girls, religious and ethnic minorities, and gender-diverse students. It is a sad irony that these are the very groups who could benefit most from the equitable access to education that uniform is supposed to facilitate. This review also shows how environmental hazards, health and safety concerns, and garment comfort are neglected for all uniform wearers. There is no natural reason why any of this should be so.
Fortunately, any negative educational and health impacts of school uniform garment design and policy are amenable to change. The clarity that this review provides about the evidence for uniform’s impact on health and education may provide a starting point to ensure uniform is as healthy and education-promoting as possible and to build on the advantages uniform offers. By examining evidence of how uniform and uniform policy impacts on students’ health and wellbeing, perhaps it will be easier to establish a common idea about school uniform’s purpose(s), with a view to improving wearer experience. If the educational and health impacts of uniform are clear it could be possible to improve wearer experience to ensure that garments are desirable, equitable, healthy, and safe [ 22 ], and that both policies and garments enable all students to learn and thrive in modern life.
The author undertook this entire project.
Time spent on this research was funded from my ordinary teaching salary.
Conflict of Interest
The author declares that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.
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School uniforms: Do they really improve student achievement, behavior?
This updated collection of research looks at how mandatory school uniforms impact student achievement, attendance and behavior as well as the presence of gangs in public schools.
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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License .
by Denise-Marie Ordway, The Journalist's Resource April 20, 2018
This <a target="_blank" href="https://journalistsresource.org/education/school-uniforms-research-achievement/">article</a> first appeared on <a target="_blank" href="https://journalistsresource.org">The Journalist's Resource</a> and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.<img src="https://journalistsresource.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/cropped-jr-favicon-150x150.png" style="width:1em;height:1em;margin-left:10px;">
Decades ago, uniforms were mostly worn by students who went to private or parochial schools. But as local school boards have focused more on improving standardized test scores and campus safety, a growing number have begun requiring school uniforms — typically, a polo shirt of a particular color paired with navy or khaki pants, skirts or shorts. Nearly 22 percent of public schools in the United States required uniforms in 2015-16 — up from almost 12 percent in 1999-2000, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).
Proponents argue that students will pay more attention to their classwork if they aren’t preoccupied with fashion, and that they’ll be better behaved. Meanwhile, school administrators say uniforms help eliminate gang-related styles and logos. They also make it easier to spot a stranger on campus.
Despite their reported benefits, mandatory uniforms are controversial because a lot of parents and students don’t like the idea of forcing children to dress alike, which they say suppresses freedom of expression. Some families complain about the financial burden of purchasing uniforms in addition to their kids’ other clothing. Years ago, parents also complained that it was difficult to find uniforms, but that ceased to be an issue after large chain stores like Target and Wal-Mart began selling them.
As public schools debate the merits of uniforms — some school boards have been bouncing the idea around for years — it’s important for journalists to know what the research says on this topic. School officials do not always consult academic research before they put a plan on the table.
To help journalists ground their reporting and fact-check claims, Journalist’s Resource has rounded up several academic studies worth reviewing. Reporters may also want to examine reports on uniform use from the NCES, which collects and reports data related to school uniforms, dress codes and book bags in public schools.
“School Discipline, School Uniforms and Academic Performance” Baumann, Chris; Krskova, Hana. International Journal of Educational Management , 2016. DOI: 10.1108/IJEM-09-2015-0118.
Summary: This study examines test scores and student behavior in the United States, Canada and 37 other countries to determine whether uniforms affect student discipline. The researchers found that the highest-performing students are the most disciplined. In addition, “for countries where students wear school uniforms, our study found that students listen significantly better, there are lower noise levels, and lower teaching waiting times with classes starting on time.”
“Dressed for Success? The Effect of School Uniforms on Student Achievement and Behavior” Gentile, Elizabetta; Imberman, Scott A. Journal of Urban Economics , 2012, Vol. 71. doi: 10.1016/j.jue.2011.10.002.
Abstract: “Uniform use in public schools is rising, but we know little about how they affect students. Using a unique dataset from a large urban school district in the southwest United States, we assess how uniforms affect behavior, achievement and other outcomes. Each school in the district determines adoption independently, providing variation over schools and time. By including student and school fixed-effects we find evidence that uniform adoption improves attendance in secondary grades, while in elementary schools they generate large increases in teacher retention.”
“Uniforms in the Middle School: Student Opinions, Discipline Data, and School Police Data” Sanchez, Jafeth E.; Yoxsimer, Andrew; Hill, George C. Journal of School Violence , 2012. DOI: 10.1080/15388220.2012.706873.
Summary: Researchers asked students at an urban middle school in Nevada what they thought of having to wear uniforms. Their public school had adopted a uniform policy after staff members became frustrated with the earlier dress code policy, which resulted in girls wearing revealing clothing and boys wearing shirts with inappropriate messages and images. The study’s main takeaway: The vast majority of students said they dislike uniforms, although some agreed there were benefits. “For example, in reference to gender, more than expected females than males indicated students treated them better with uniforms. Also, fewer females than males got detention for not wearing a uniform or for wearing a uniform inappropriately.”
“Are School Uniforms a Good Fit? Results from the ECLS-K and the NELS” Yeung, Ryan. Educational Policy , 2009, Vol. 23. doi: 10.1177/0895904808330170.
Abstract: “One of the most common proposals put forth for reform of the American system of education is to require school uniforms. Proponents argue that uniforms can make schools safer and also improve school attendance and increase student achievement. Opponents contend that uniforms have not been proven to work and may be an infringement on the freedom of speech of young people. Within an econometric framework, this study examines the effect of school uniforms on student achievement. It tackles methodological challenges through the use of a value-added functional form and the use of multiple data sets. The results do not suggest any significant association between school uniform policies and achievement. Although the results do not definitely support or reject either side of the uniform argument, they do strongly intimate that uniforms are not the solution to all of American education’s ills.”
“Effects of Student Uniforms on Attendance, Behavior Problems, Substance Use, and Academic Achievement” Brunsma, David L.; Rockquemore, Kerry A. The Journal of Educational Research , 1998, Vol. 92. doi: 10.1080/00220679809597575.
Abstract: “Mandatory uniform policies have been the focus of recent discourse on public school reform. Proponents of such reform measures emphasize the benefits of student uniforms on specific behavioral and academic outcomes. Tenth-grade data from The National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988 was used to test empirically the claims made by uniform advocates. The findings indicate that student uniforms have no direct effect on substance use, behavioral problems, or attendance. Contrary to current discourse, the authors found a negative effect of uniforms on student academic achievement. Uniform policies may indirectly affect school environment and student outcomes by providing a visible and public symbol of commitment to school improvement and reform.”
“School Uniforms, Academic Achievement, and Uses of Research” Bodine, Ann. The Journal of Educational Research , 2003, Vol. 97. doi: 10.1080/00220670309597509.
Abstract: “School uniforms are being advocated for a range of social, educational, economic, and familial reasons. In 1998, The Journal of Educational Research (The JER) published an article by D. Brunsma and K. Rockquemore that claims that uniforms correlate negatively with academic achievement, but data presented in this article actually show positive correlation between uniforms and achievement for the total sample, and for all but 1 school sector. Examination of structure of argument reveals that the erroneous claim results from misleading use of sector analysis. Simultaneous with The JER article, and on the basis of the same National Education Longitudinal Study: 1988 database, an Educational Testing Service article reported that no correlation exists between uniforms and achievement. The two articles are contrasted in this study. The effect of new communication technology in amplifying political uses of academic research is discussed.”
“Public School Uniforms: Effect on Perceptions of Gang Presence, School Climate, and Student Self-Perceptions” Wade, Kathleen Kiley; Stafford, Mary E. Education and Urban Society , 2003, Vol. 35. doi: 10.1177/0013124503255002.
Abstract: “This study attempts to clarify the relationships between public school uniforms and some of their intended results: student self-worth and student and staff perceptions of gang presence and school climate. The instruments used in the study included a questionnaire on gang presence and identity, the National Association of School Principals Comprehensive Assessment of School Environments, and the Harter Self-Perception Profile for Children. Participants consisted of 415 urban public middle school students and 83 teachers. Findings indicate that, although perceptions did not vary for students across uniform policy, teachers from schools with uniform policies perceived lower levels of gang presence. Although the effect size was small, students from schools without uniforms reported higher self-perception scores than students from schools with uniform policies. Student and teacher perceptions of school climate did not vary across uniform policy.”
“The Effect of Uniforms on Nonuniform Apparel Expenditures” Norum, Pamela S.; Weagley, Robert O.; Norton, Marjorie J. Family & Consumer Sciences , 1998. doi: 10.1177/1077727X980263001.
Abstract: “The uniform industry has grown steadily the past 20 years with increased attention from employers trying to create a professional image among workers as well as school administrators considering uniforms to curtail school violence. Although an important part of human dress for centuries, uniforms have received little attention from researchers of the clothing market. This study examines the impact of uniform purchases on household expenditures for selected nonuniform apparel subcategories based on an economic model of conditional demand. Expenditure equations are estimated using the 1990-1991 Consumer Expenditure Survey. The results suggest that, on average, consumers do not substitute uniforms for other apparel purchases. Rather, uniforms and nonuniform apparel appear to be complements in consumers’ purchases, resulting in greater household expenditures on nonuniform apparel. These results are a first step in understanding the economic effect that uniform purchases, mandated by employers, schools, or others, have on household clothing expenditures.”
Looking for more research on student achievement? Check out our write-ups on how teacher salaries , school vouchers and school shootings impact learning.
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The Pros and Cons of School Uniforms for Students
SolStock / Getty Images
Focus on education, attendance rates, discipline issues, dress code enforcement, cost for families, impact on self-esteem.
The debate over whether students should wear school uniforms has been going on for more than a decade. Some people argue that uniforms have a positive impact on the school environment by promoting inclusivity, confidence, and a sense of belonging. Others fear that school uniforms prevent kids from expressing themselves through their clothing choices.
The research on school uniforms is often mixed. While some schools have found uniforms to be beneficial, other research has found that they have little effect. Some studies have even reached the conclusion that requiring school uniforms can be harmful for students.
Let's take a closer look at some of the potential benefits, as well as the challenges, of requiring students to wear uniforms.
Some people think that school uniforms can help make schools safer for kids. When Long Beach, CA, required all students in grades K–8 to wear uniforms, reports of assault and battery decreased by 34%.
Additionally, assault with a deadly weapon decreased by 50%, fighting incidents declined 51%, and sex offenses dropped by 74%. Possession of weapons dropped by 52%, possession of drugs went down 69%, and vandalism was lowered by 18%.
The Sparks Middle School in Nevada reported a decrease in gang activity after instituting a uniform policy. They also reported a drop in fights, graffiti, property damage, and battery. Overall, there was a 63% drop in police reports.
Other proponents of school uniforms report that it prevents students from concealing weapons under clothing. And some also believe intruders would be recognized faster, making the students and staff safer in the event someone from the community tries to enter the school.
Not all studies have found that uniforms reduce discipline issues, however. In fact, a peer-reviewed study found that school uniforms increased the average number of assaults by about 14 per year in the most violent schools. The Miami-Dade County Public Schools Office of Education Evaluation and Management found that fights in middle schools nearly doubled within one year of making uniforms mandatory.
For many students, clothing can be a major source of stress. Not having certain brand name clothing or not wearing fashionable items could lead to feelings of insecurity.
Some people feel students are better able to concentrate on school when they all wear the same clothing. Researchers in Australia noted that students who wear uniforms had improved discipline and academic performance.
Not all studies have found that uniforms improve grades, however. In fact, at least one study found that school uniforms had a negative effect on achievement.
Kids may show up to school more often when they’re wearing uniforms. A study by researchers at the University of Houston found that the average attendance rate for girls in middle and high school increased by 0.3 to 0.4 percent after school uniforms became mandatory. A study by Youngstown State University also found that attendance rates increased and suspensions decreased once students began wearing uniforms.
Students may also be more likely to show up to school on time when they have to wear uniforms. If they don’t have to spend time choosing what to wear every morning, students are able to get out the door more quickly. This means fewer late arrivals.
Proponents of uniforms report that it can improve behavior in students. One school that found this to be true is the John Adams Middle School in Albuquerque, NM. When they mandated school uniforms, discipline referrals dropped from 1,565 in the first semester of the previous year to 405.
An Australian study also concluded that students wearing uniforms were more disciplined and they listened significantly better. Classes were also more likely to start on time.
Not all studies have found this, however. Some research has found that disciplinary issues and bullying didn’t decrease after instituting a mandatory uniform policy.
Many school officials spend a lot of time policing dress codes . Enforcing policies can require a lot of resources as teachers may send kids to the office, and administrators have to determine whether clothing is too baggy, inappropriate, or revealing.
Kids who violate dress codes may spend a lot of time in the office awaiting consequences, or they may receive suspensions for repeated violations. School uniforms can keep kids in the classroom more and prevent staff from wasting time trying to enforce policies.
Parents may spend less money on school clothes when kids wear uniforms. There is less pressure to buy expensive name-brand clothing, and school uniforms might be more affordable.
Opponents of school uniforms, however, say that requiring parents to buy specific articles of clothing goes against the idea that students should be given free education. When public schools force parents to buy uniforms, this could be placing a hardship on some families.
Proponents of uniforms report that they have a positive impact on student self-esteem . Wearing the same clothing as everyone else means that students don’t have to worry about whether their clothing choices will be acceptable to their peers.
But opponents argue that uniforms may have a negative impact on some students’ body image. Research conducted at Arizona State University found that students without uniform policies actually reported higher self-perception scores than students with uniform policies.
When all students wear the same clothing, they may be more likely to compare themselves to their peers as clothing fits differently on everyone’s body.
The Problem With Uniform Research
Although there are many studies that examine the potential benefits and drawbacks of uniforms, many of them revealed correlation, rather than causation. Just because grades went up or behavioral problems went down, there’s no way of knowing that the reason for the change was due to uniform policy. There are many other factors that may have influenced these issues.
A Word From Verywell
Before any school adopts a uniform policy, it may be wise to review the literature. While there certainly may be a lot of benefits to making uniforms mandatory, there are also some potential drawbacks and challenges you might face. Parents, teachers, and administrators may want to weigh the pros and cons before instituting any type of clothing policy for students.
Stanley S. School uniforms and safety . Educ Urban Society. 1996;28(4 ): 424-435. doi:10.1177/0013124596028004003
Nevada Today. College of Education researchers conduct study on impacts of school uniforms .
Granberg-Rademacker JS, Bumgarner J, Johnson A. Do school violence policies matter? An empirical analysis of four approaches to reduce school violence . Southwest J Criminal Justice . 2007;4(1):3-29.
Sun Sentinel. 9 more schools to have students wear uniforms .
Baumann C, Krskova H. School discipline, school uniforms and academic performance . Int J Educ Manage . 2016;30(6):1003-1029. doi:10.1108/IJEM-09-2015-0118
McBrayer S. The school uniform movement and what it tells us about American education: A symbolic crusade, by David L. Brunsma . J Catholic Educ . 2007;11(1). doi:10.15365/joce.1101122013
Gentile E, Imberman S. Dressed for success? The effect of school uniforms on student achievement and behavior . 2011. doi:10.3386/w17337
Draa VAB. School uniforms in urban public high schools . Dissertation: Youngstown State University; 2005.
Lumsden L, Gabriel Miller G. Dress codes and uniforms . Research Roundup: National Association of Elementary School Principals . 2002;18(4):1-5.
Wade KK, Stafford ME. Public school uniforms: Effect on perceptions of gang presence, school climate, and student self-perceptions . Educ Urban Society . 2003;35(4):399-420. doi:10.1177/0013124503255002
By Amy Morin, LCSW Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.
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School uniforms: What does the research tell us?
There is little evidence that school uniforms remedy behavior problems or boost academic performance. And while uniform policies might have a slight, positive impact on school attendance, we need to consider the downside: For some kids, uniforms may have a negative effect on well-being.
Proponents have argued that school uniforms are a good thing for morale and community spirit. Some people have also claimed that uniform policies cause improvements in school attendance and academic achievement. And it’s easy to appreciate the reasoning.
If everyone wears the same thing, it might foster a sense of group identity, and help conceal socioeconomic differences between individuals. In addition, uniforms eliminate “competitive dressing,” which ought to reduce levels of conflict and distraction. As a result, kids are less likely to misbehave, and more likely to focus on learning.
These claims have intuitive appeal. But does the evidence back them up? In many cases, the answer is no.
No compelling evidence that uniforms improve a school’s social climate
“Observe a school, introduce uniforms, and then look for improvements.”
It seems like a sound approach for testing the effects of a school uniform policy. But it isn’t. Not by itself.
For example, back the 1990s, the Long Beach Unified School District in California reported substantial reductions in student criminal behavior after allowing its member schools to adopt uniform policies (Yeung 2009). But this change didn’t happen in isolation. Schools often implemented other reforms at the same time. How can be we sure that improvements in student discipline were triggered by the wearing of uniforms? We can’t.
So while some people became convinced that uniforms were the cause of the behavioral improvements in Long Beach public schools, they shouldn’t have been. When researchers have taken a careful look at the data, they’ve found little or no evidence that uniforms had any lasting, positive effects on students (Yeung 2009; Brunsma 2006).
There was, at best, indication some middle school and high school students — particularly girl students — had slightly better attendance rates when they wore uniforms. But how much difference did it make? Just half a day more attendance over the entire school year (Gentile and Imberman 2012).
It’s not a very inspiring outcome, and a recent study — of kids attending public and private schools throughout the United States — tells a similar tale.
In this new study, Arya Ansari and his colleagues tracked the progress of more than 6300 children over time, from kindergarten to the fifth grade.
Each year, teachers provided data about children’s behavior problems and social skills. And when the kids were in the fifth grade, researchers interviewed the children directly. They asked the kids if they were experiencing symptoms of social anxiety, and if they had ever been targeted by bullies. They also asked the kids questions about social belonging. Did they feel close to their teachers? Close to their fellow students?
With this information collected, Ansari’s team performed statistical analyses to see if student behavior varied depending on a school’s uniform policy.
The outcome? When it came to teacher’s reports, there was no evidence of a link between uniforms and student behavior.
Kids who attended schools with a uniform policy were just as likely as other children to suffer from emotional problems. They experienced similar rates of depression. Similar rates of aggression, defiance, and property destruction. Children’s social skills were basically the same, regardless of whether they wore uniforms or not.
Likewise, the children themselves reported comparable experiences with social anxiety and bullying. And social belonging? That was the one area in which uniform-wearing children reported significantly different outcomes, and it didn’t favor uniforms.
Kids who were required to wear school uniforms tended to feel less close to teachers and classmates.
So — for these 6300 kids — school uniforms didn’t seem deliver any substantial psychological benefits. And that was true whether kids attended public or private schools. The single, positive outcome was a very small advantage observed for a subset of students: In low- income schools, uniforms were linked with slightly higher attendance rates — a difference amounting to less than one day over the course of the school year.
Do school uniforms reduce distractions in the classroom? Do they help kids learn?
It sounds plausible, doesn’t it? And there is evidence in support of the idea. For instance, in their large, international study of secondary schools, Chris Baumann and Hana Krskova found that students wearing school uniforms tended to listen more attentively to their teachers (Baumann and Krskova 2016).
Listening attentively to teachers is obviously a good thing. Moreover — as the researchers noted — students in this study tended to perform better in classrooms where attentiveness was the norm. So Baumann and Krskova have suggested that all schools consider adopting a uniform policy, on the grounds that it “might enhance discipline and allow for better learning” (Bauman and Krskova 2016).
But as we’ve already seen, other studies have failed to confirm the hypothesis that uniforms reduce behavior problems. And when researchers apply rigorous methods, they haven’t found any compelling evidence that uniform policies actually boost academic achievement (e.g., Hattie 2009; Gentile and Imberman 2012).
So, despite claims to the contrary, it isn’t clear that school uniforms benefit students socially or academically. And that should make us stop and reflect before imposing a uniform policy. Because it isn’t simply a question of taking a gamble on the benefits. There are also potential costs to consider.
What can go wrong with school uniforms?
We’ve already seen one possible downside. In the study led by Arya Ansari, kids who school uniforms were less likely to feel socially connected with teachers and fellow students. Why? The researchers can’t be sure. But, in this interview at Ohio State University , Ansari speculates that it might have something to do with the quashing of individuality:
“Fashion is one way that students express themselves, and that may be an important part of the school experience. When students can’t show their individuality, they may not feel like they belong as much.”
Johanna Reidy — a public health researcher based in New Zealand — has identified several additional areas for concern (Reidy 2021).
School uniform policies can create cultural conflicts, as when members of a religious group are asked to dress in a way that is inconsistent with their beliefs or practices. And gendered uniforms can present a host of difficulties. Reidy notes that girls’ uniforms tend to be more expensive. In addition, the design of girls’ uniforms may make it harder for girls to engage in athletic activities (Nathan et al 2021). And some students may object to the very idea of wearing clothing that is differentiated by gender.
Then there is the question of affordability. What if the cost of a school uniform is burdensome to low income families? This problem has been documented in countries throughout the world, including affluent countries like New Zealand, South Korea, and the United States.
And of course uniforms must serve the basic function of protecting students from the elements. In principle, well-designed uniforms should protect kids from cold, heat, and sun-related skin damage. In reality, uniforms aren’t always well-designed (Reidy 2021).
Does this mean that school uniforms are pointless…or worse?
Definitely not. All of the studies cited here fall short of the “gold standard” of scientific research — randomized, controlled experiments. If and when researchers finally conduct such experiments, we might discover that uniforms benefit students in important ways.
But for now, it doesn’t appear that school uniforms have any direct and substantial impact on socioemotional development or academic achievement.
To date, studies support that notion that some people perceive schools as safer or more disciplined when students wear uniforms (Yeung 2009). We have the report that teens tended to listen more attentively to their teachers (Bauman and Krskova 2016). And it looks as though uniforms may increase school attendance, if only very slightly. But these observations fall short of bold claims about school morale, community spirit, and academic performance.
School officials may come up with other reasons to implement a uniform policy. But they can’t justify it on the basis of conclusive research about school climate and student achievement. If there’s a single message that arises from these studies, it’s that school uniforms aren’t likely to have much impact on either behavior problems or academic outcomes. If we really want to help students in these areas, we need to do much more than redesign their clothes.
More reading about children and schooling
For more information about ways that we can help kids excel in school, see these Parenting Science articles:
Student-teacher relationships: Why emotional support matters
Spaced learning: Why kids benefit from shorter lessons — with breaks
Choosing books for beginning readers: Sometimes less is more
Disruptive behavior problems: 12 evidence-based tips for handling aggression, defiance, and acting out
How to stop bullying in school: An evidence-based guide to interventions that work
References: The research on school uniforms
Ansari A, Shepard M, and Gottfried MA. 2022. School uniforms and student behavior: is there a link? Early Childhood Research Quarterly 58: 278.
Baumann C and Krskova H. 2016. School Discipline, School Uniforms and Academic Performance. In Int J Educ Manag 30(6): 1003–29.
Brunsma D L. 2006.Uniforms in public schools: A decade of research and debate. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Education.
Gentile E and Imberman SA. 2012. Dressed for success? The effect of school uniforms on student achievement and behavior. Journal of Economics 71: 1-17.
Hattie J. 2009. Visible Learning: A Synthesis of over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement. Routledge.
Nathan N, McCarthy N, Hope K, Sutherland R, Lecathelinais C, Hall A, Lane C, Trost S, Yoong SL, Wolfenden L. 2021. The impact of school uniforms on primary school student’s physical activity at school: outcomes of a cluster randomized controlled trial. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 18(1):17.
Reidy J. 2021. Reviewing School Uniform through a Public Health Lens: Evidence about the Impacts of School Uniform on Education and Health. Public Health Rev. 42:1604212.
Yeung R. 2009. Are School Uniforms a Good Fit? Educ Pol. 23(6):847–74.
image of children in uniform by Raw Pixel / shutterstock
Content last modified 1/5/2022
Pros and Cons of School Uniforms
Debating the Effectiveness of Uniforms
ThoughtCo / Chloe Giroux
- School Administration
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- Issues In Education
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- Becoming A Teacher
- Assessments & Tests
- Elementary Education
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- M.Ed., Curriculum and Instruction, University of Florida
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They come in soft yellow polo shirts. They come in white blouses. They come in plaid skirts or jumpers. They come in pleated pants, navy or khaki. They are all made of durable fabric. They come in all sizes. They are school uniforms. And despite their name, uniform , which means "remaining the same in all cases and at all times," school uniforms can still look different from one student to another.
Over the past twenty years, school uniforms have become a big business. In a 2019 study, the National Center for Education Statistics found that during the school year 2015–2016, approximately 21% of the public schools in the United States required uniforms. That same school year, annual school-uniform sales (including parochial, private, and public schools) totaled an estimated $1 billion.
School Uniforms Defined
Uniforms used at schools can range from the formal to the informal. Some schools that have implemented them have chosen what one usually thinks of in connection to private or parochial schools: nice trousers and white shirts for boys, jumpers and white shirts for girls. However, most public schools are turning to something more casual and more acceptable to parents and students: khakis or jeans and knit shirts of varying colors. The latter appears to be more affordable too because they can be used outside of school. Many school districts that have implemented uniforms have provided some sort of financial assistance for families that can not afford the extra expense.
Pros of School Uniforms
“Uniform of a soldier and uniform of a student both are equally needed for the nation.” ― Amit Kalantri, (author) Wealth of Words
Some of the reason offered to support school uniforms are the following:
- Preventing gang colors, etc. in schools
- Decreasing violence and theft because of clothing and shoes
- Instilling discipline among students
- Reducing need for administrators and teachers to be 'clothes police' (for example, determining whether shorts are too short, etc.)
- Reducing distractions for students
- Instilling a sense of community
- Helping schools recognize those who do not belong on campus
The arguments for school uniforms hinge on their effectiveness in practice. Anecdotal information from administrators in schools that have implemented uniform policies point to the fact that they do have a positive effect on discipline and the school. Note that all of the following were from middle schools.
The first public school in the nation to require K-8 school uniforms was Long Beach Unified School District, 1994. In 1999, officials found that criminal incidents at the district's schools had decreased 86%. Test scores and grades rose and absenteeism, failures and discipline problems declined. However, administrators point out that uniforms were only one of several reforms made, along with class size reduction, core courses, and standards-based pedagogy.
More recently, a 2012 study found that after a year of having a uniform policy at a middle school in Nevada, school police data showed a 63% decrease in police log reports. In Seattle, Washington, which has a mandatory policy with an opt-out, school administrators saw a decrease in truancy and tardies . They had also not had a reported incident of theft.
As a final example from Baltimore, Maryland, Rhonda Thompson, an official from a middle school that has a voluntary policy noticed a "sense of seriousness about work." Whether any of these results can be directly linked to school uniforms is hard to say. However, it can be said that something has changed to make the officials take notice. We can not discount the coincidence of school uniforms with these changes either. If you would like more information about schools that have implemented uniform policies, see the Department of Education's Manual on School Uniforms .
Cons of School Uniforms
“[On school uniforms] Don't these schools do enough damage making all these kids think alike, now they have to make them look alike too?" -George Carlin, comedian
Some of the arguments made against uniforms include:
- Students and parents argue that uniforms violate their freedom of expression.
- Some students might choose to express their individuality through other means such as body piercing which is harder to regulate.
- Parents raise concerns about the cost.
- Because uniforms single out students as being from one school, this might lead to trouble with students from other schools.
- Families fear it might interfere with religious clothing like yarmulkes.
- A new policy for school uniforms can be time-consuming and difficult to enforce.
There are concerns that uniforms are often associated with low-income, urban school settings. The Institute of Educational Science National Center for Educational Statistics noted that in 2013–14:
A higher percentage of schools where 76 percent or more of students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch required school uniforms than did schools where lower percentages of students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.
Other concerns have been raised by David L. Brunsma , an associate professor of sociology at the University of Missouri-Columbia. He analyzed data from schools nationwide, and published research with co-author, Kerry Ann Rockquemore that concluded that 10th-grade public school students who wore uniforms did no better than those who did not in attendance, behavior, or drug use.
The effectiveness of uniforms will be a subject of continuing research as more schools look for solutions to socio-economic problems of attendance, discipline, bullying, student motivation, family engagement, or economic need. And while a school uniform may be only a small part of the solution for all of these ills, they do solve one major issue, the dress code violation. As Principal Rudolph Saunders explained to Education Week (1/12/2005) that before school uniforms, “I would spend 60 to 90 minutes a day on dress-code violations."
Of course, there are always those students who will try to alter a uniform for individuality. Skirts can be rolled up, pants can be dropped below the waist, and (inappropriate?) messages on T-shirts can still be read through issued button-down shirts. In short, there is no guarantee that student wearing a school uniform will always meet the dress code standard.
Supreme Court Rulings
In Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School (1969), the court said that a student's freedom of expression in school must be protected unless it would seriously interfere with the requirements of appropriate discipline. In the dissenting opinion written by Justice Hugo Black, he said, "If the time has come when pupils of state-supported schools ... can defy and flout orders of school officials to keep their minds on their own schoolwork, it is the beginning of a new revolutionary era of permissiveness in this country fostered by the judiciary."
Students are still protected under Tinker . However, with an increase in school violence and gang-related activities, the political climate seems to have turned more conservative, and the Supreme Court has begun to return many decisions back to the discretion of the local school board. The issue of school uniforms itself, however, has not yet been dealt with by the Supreme Court.
Schools must educate students in a safe environment. Over time, education has often slipped away as the main focus of schools. As we have unfortunately seen, school safety is such an enormous issue that it is hard to come up with policies that truly work without turning a school into a prison camp. After the mass shootings at Columbine High School in 1999 where students were singled out partially for what they wore, and after numerous thefts and murders over designer shoes, it is obvious why many school districts want to institute uniforms. We must realize that learning cannot take place without some sense of decorum and discipline. Possibly instituting school uniforms might help bring back that sense of decorum and allow teachers to do what they are hired to do: teach.
Parent and Student Support for Uniforms
- Many schools have in fact made the choice to have students wear school uniforms. Until the Supreme Court rules otherwise, this is entirely up to the school district. However, they do still have to follow state and federal anti-discrimination laws when they make their polices.Following are some ideas to make the use of uniforms easier to accept by students and parents:
- Make uniforms more casual - jeans and a knit shirt
- Allow students an outlet for their own expression: buttons to support political candidates, but not gang related paraphernalia
- Provide financial assistance to those parents who can not afford the uniforms
- Accommodate students religious beliefs. This is required by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
- Make your program voluntary if community pressure is too large
- Institute an 'opt-out' provision. Not including this would probably cause a court to rule against your program unless there is proof that lesser measures are ineffective.
- Make uniforms an integral part of the school safety program.
Musu, Lauren, et al. " Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2018 ." NCES 2019-047/NCJ 252571, National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education, and Bureau of Justice Statistics, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Washington, DC, 2019.
Blumenthal, Robin Goldwyn. "Dress for Uniform School Success ." Barron's , 19 Sept. 2015.
Austin, James E., Allen S. Grossman, Robert B. Schwartz, and Jennifer M. Suesse. " Long Beach Unified School District (A): Change That Leads to Improvement (1992–2002) ." Public Education Leadership Project at Harvard University , 16 Sept. 2006.
Merchant, Valerie. " Dress for Success ." Time Magazine , 5 Sept. 1999.
Sanchez, Jafeth E. et al. " Uniforms in the Middle School: Student Opinions, Discipline Data, and School Police Data ." Journal of School Violence , vol. 11, no. 4, 2012, pp. 345-356, doi:10.1080/15388220.2012.706873
Fried, Suellen, and Paula Fried. " Bullies, Targets, and Witnesses: Helping Children Break the Pain Chain ." New York: M. Evans and Co., 2003.
Brunsma, David L. and Kerry A. Rockquemore. " Effects of Student Uniforms on Attendance, Behavior Problems, Substance Use, and Academic Achievement ." The Journal of Educational Research , vol. 92, no. 1, 1998, p. 53-62, doi:10.1080/00220679809597575
Viadero, Debra. " Uniform Effects? Schools cite benefits of student uniforms, but researchers see little evidence of effectiveness ." Education Week , 11 Jan. 2005.
- Private School Uniforms and Dress Codes
- 10 Pros and Cons of Being a School Principal
- The Pros and Cons of Allowing Cell Phones in School
- Pros and Cons of Teaching
- Pros and Cons of Year-Round School
- 10 Essential Policies for Your Student Handbook
- 11 Pros and Cons of Using Movies in Class
- The Pros and Cons of Block Schedules
- Field Trips: Pros and Cons
- What are the Pros and Cons of Charter Schools?
- What Are Some Pros and Cons of the Common Core State Standards?
- Parents Guide to the Pros and Cons of Homeschooling
- Pros and Cons of Using a Traditional Grading Scale
- Factors that Limit School Effectiveness
- Examining the Pros and Cons of Standardized Testing
- School Issues That Negatively Impact Student Learning
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Uniforms: The Pros and Cons
The prevalence of uniforms in public schools continues to rise in the United States, as parents and school administrators exert efforts to create safe environments in our schools. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, nearly 20% of all public schools have adopted uniform mandates. Approximately 22% of elementary schools, 19% of all middle schools, and 10% of high schools currently require uniforms, and this trend continues to accelerate.
Although uniforms have been a mainstay of private schools, public schools didn’t jump on the bandwagon until 1994, when the Long Beach California School District integrated school uniforms to address safety issues challenging the district. According to the school district data, within one year after the implementation of uniforms, the fights and muggings at school decreased by 50%, while sexual offenses were reduced by 74%. Across the country, similar statistics abound; for example, at Ruffner Middle School in Norfolk, VA, the number of discipline referrals decreased by 42% once uniforms were enforced.
Fueled by these statistics, more schools across the country are requiring uniforms in their public schools, naming school safety as their primary motivation. Even with these compelling statistics, however, there are other statistics that argue that uniforms are not as beneficial as school administrators and parents are encouraged to believe. Opponents cite research that shows a lack of individualism and comfort among students, working to actually decrease student learning and success. Thus, the question still remains: are public school uniforms good for your child?
The Benefits of Public School Uniforms: Safer Learning Environment
Many school administrators and parents believe that uniforms create a better learning environment at school. First and foremost, many administrators claim that students are not as distracted by how they look, and therefore, spend more time learning at school. The peer pressures of stylish dressing with the “best” brands are alleviated, especially when students may not wear any uniform pieces from name brand companies. This allows students to focus more on their schoolwork, rather than social appearances. Furthermore, the socioeconomic differences present among students are minimized when all students must wear the same school uniforms, no longer feeling the pressure to “fit in” with the right clothing choices.
This video from the Today Show discusses the uniform issue.
According to school-reported statistics and the School Administrator, the mandate of uniforms on campuses has reduced tardiness, skipped classes, suspensions, and discipline referrals among students. In addition, with the visual uniformity present across all students, the instance of school pride has increased. Similar to athletic team uniforms, proponents argue that dressing cohesively increases pride, unity, and a renewed commitment to the school. With uniforms, a more professional tone is set in a school, encouraging students to take their studies more seriously.
Uniforms at school also reduce the prevalence of violence, which is a major concern for many public schools. Outsiders who do not belong on campus are easily identified, and thus, do not pose a great threat to the students. Additionally, uniforms reduce the prevalence of “cliques” and gangs on school campuses as students are required to only wear specific colors and uniform pieces. A school may only allow green or yellow polo shirts and khaki bottoms, for example, preventing students from wearing the traditional gang identifying colors of red and blue. Accessories such as bandanas, another distinguishing gang clothing characteristic, can also be eliminated from the school dress code. When it is more difficult to identify members of gangs in school, the fights and violence between rival gangs decrease.
Disadvantages: Denial of Self-Expression and Comfort
The opponents of public school uniforms, as outlined by the ACLU’s argument for the First Amendment, argue that uniforms stifle a student’s need for self-expression. By denying students the opportunity to fully express their unique personality through the clothing they select, individualism is unable to develop to its fullest capacity. When children select their own clothing, they are able to develop confidence and independence, characteristics vital to personality development and adult success. Denying students the ability to express individualism and belief in a sub-culture, whether preppy, hip-hop, punk, or jock, could stymie the students’ transition from childhood into adulthood. Controlling the socialization process could harm the student as an adult, as they are not prepared for the real world, where they will indeed be judged by their appearances.
Proponents of uniforms argue that they will bring conformity among students, resulting in increased safety, but when students are limited through what they may wear, they will find other ways to react against authority and the limits uniform policies place on their individual nature. Without the outlet of expression in their clothes, students may turn to other avenues of self-expression that may be viewed as even more inappropriate than clothing, such as nontraditional hairstyles or make-up or more importantly, acting out against school and parental authority through the decisions they make and behaviors they exhibit.
In addition, opponents argue that uniforms may not be comfortable for all students, which will limit learning as students worry about their appearance. Student comfort is important in order to maximize learning outcomes, and uniforms may stymie academic focus. For example, the uniform standard may require students to wear polo shirts that are tucked into khaki slacks. Students who are overweight may feel very self-conscious about their bodies. Additionally, female students may feel insecure about their bodies and feel that having a tucked in shirt will bring attention to their developing figures. When students do not feel comfortable in the required school uniform, their focus will shift from learning. Children, especially those in middle and high school, are constantly concerned about their appearance, and wearing a school uniform will not alleviate this concern.
Addressing the Issue of Decreased Violence among Gangs
An additional argument put forth by those in favor of uniforms advocates that they decrease violence among students involved in gangs because there will be less chance of identifying gangs members through the clothing colors they wear. Though students may be limited in wearing a particular color, they will find other ways to identify their participation in gangs, from the hairstyles they select to how they wear the required uniform. For example, students in gangs may all choose the same type of belt to show their unity or shave their hair in the same fashion.
The Mixed Response from Parents: Cost-effectiveness of Wearing Uniforms
Whereas some parents believe that uniforms are more cost-effective than purchasing the latest stylish clothes, other parents argue that the cost of uniforms is steep. Typically, uniforms are more expensive up-front, as the parent must invest in all of the staples at the beginning of the school year, for example, there are collared or polo shirts of various colors, khaki or black pants, black or brown belts, and shoes, and solid colored sweaters. Though this is an expense at the beginning, there are only small expenses that need to be made as the school year progresses. On the other hand, many parents argue that uniforms are not economical as they must purchase both a school wardrobe and a casual wardrobe as children do not want or may not be permitted to wear their uniform clothes outside of school.
Unfortunately, the decision of requiring school uniforms among children is not as transparent as it might first appear. Many factors must be taken in to account, from overall school safety to the lack of self-expression students may encounter with their implementation. The arguments are best summed up by Dr. Alan Hilfer, a senior child and adolescent psychologist, who states, “Uniforms do eliminate competition, pressure, and assaults perpetrated by kids on younger kids for their sneakers and possessions. They also allow some kids to focus better, especially in the lower grades… [However], clothes are a source of expression for children, and as kids get older, they become increasingly resentful of uniforms.”
Deciding whether uniforms are right for your child depends upon individual circumstances. If your child has a high need for self-expression and personal comfort in her clothing, then uniforms may create unhealthy resentment and result in negative behaviors from your child. On the other hand, if you believe that your child needs to focus more on academics than physical and social appearances, then uniforms may help level the social pressures associated with independent dressing. Understanding what elements are most important for you and your child will help you determine if school uniforms are a right fit.
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35 Pros and Cons of School Uniforms
School uniforms in public schools are considered essential for teaching children to obey rules and develop a sense of community in many countries, including the UK and Australia. But public schools in other countries like the USA and Canada rarely enforce mandatory school uniforms.
It is, however, far more common for private schools to enforce school uniforms no matter the country in question.
This article takes a deep dive into the pros and cons of school uniforms, showing that there are positive arguments on both sides of this debate.
Overview – 10 Top Pros and Cons of School Uniforms
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Pros of School Uniforms
Many schools intentionally choose uniforms that are very basic, such as “white polo shirt and grey shorts”, so that parents do not have to pay exorbitant amounts of money on the uniforms. Many low-cost clothing stores also make the effort to produce and distribute these typical uniform-conformant clothes at low cost during back-to-school sales.
A typical 5 pack of basic white polo shirts that students can wear to school as a uniform is likely to be significantly cheaper than an outfit a child would wear otherwise.
Furthermore, while children in schools without uniforms would feel pressure to change up their outfits regularly (adding to costs), the forced repetition of wearing
Related Article: 17 Surprising School Uniform Statistics, Facts & Data
2. Hand-me-Down Options
It is regular practice at schools with school uniforms for parents to offer uniforms for free as hand-me-down outfits once their children grow out of the uniform. This has the effect of helping poorer families to access uniforms for their children without cost.
There tends to be an over-supply of uniforms – both new and second-hand – because of the sheer number of children growing out of their uniform every month. As a result, parents in desperate need of uniforms are often able to source uniforms for free.
Many schools have a hand-me-down bin in their front office, allowing parents to drop-off pre-loved uniforms, and other parents to arrive and request free shirts and pants discretely.
3. Visible Poverty is Reduced
If all children are dressed the same, the poorer children whose parents cannot afford brand-name clothing are not as visibly singled-out. They will be wearing the same clothes as the wealthier children.
This can have the effect of reducing chances of bullying based on a child’s family’s levels of wealth. But it also enables children who are poor to feel as if they are no different from others. It helps to start all children off on a level playing field, and makes them feel more secure that they’re just another student – neither better or worse than other students who are of higher or lower wealth.
4. Students may Focus and Listen Better
In this study by Chris Baumann and Hana Krskova, published in the International Journal of Educational Management , it was found that children wearing school uniforms tend to listen more intently and for longer periods of time than children without uniforms.
As a result, they found that teachers also spent less time disciplining students and waiting for students to give their attention to the teachers. This leads to more engaged working time in the classroom.
One potential reason behind this finding is that the conformity in dress reduces distractions for students.
However, there are plenty of other studies that have found no significant difference in academic achievement by parents, so in my opinion the jury is still out on whether this is true. More research is required.
5. Ensures Appropriate Sporting Outfits
Even schools that do not have mandatory school uniforms often have sports uniforms for physical education lessons. This is for several reasons, including both conformity and practicality.
Firstly, there are unique pros and cons of sports uniforms that differ from those of school uniforms. Namely, teams in sports need to have a sense of camaraderie and unity that the uniform can help achieve. Wearing the same colors can instil team spirit that helps with the team’s performance.
Secondly, a team uniform is useful in sports for helping to quickly identify team members to pass the ball to or seek support in the fast pace of a game.
Thirdly, a sports uniform is specifically designed and loosely fitted so students are comfortable while engaging in physical activity, which may include physical contortions, stretching, sprinting, and other actions not usually undertaken outside of the sporting arena.
6. Increases Physical Activity During Physical Education
A study by Nathan et al. in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity found that children who wear dedicated sporting uniforms during sports lessons tend to do more physical activity than children who do not.
This was a sizeable study – with 42 schools and over 3000 children studied – making these findings some of the more reliable results within the school uniforms literature.
Logically, this also checks out.
Firstly, if all children are wearing a pre-approved sporting outfit that is fit for purpose and can be comfortable during physical activity, they will have less clothing distractions and have one less potential barrier preventing them from participation in lessons.
Secondly, another logical rationale for this is that the students know they can change out of the uniform after the lesson (into either their regular uniform or non-uniform clothing), giving them the sense that they can sweat and get the uniforms dirty without suffering negative consequences for the remainder of the day.
Thirdly, it could be argued that the act of putting on the sporting uniform can help students psychologically prepare for the physical activity. The uniform is a psychological signal to the students that it’s time for them to do exercise.
7. Less Bullying
School uniforms could remove one more thing that children can be bullied over. If all children are dressed the same, then children will not bully one another for their fashion choices.
And high school students seem to agree that bullying will be decreased if mandatory uniform policies are introduced.
However, empirical evidence does not always support this widely-held belief. This study , for example, found no difference in disciplinary issues before and after a school uniform was introduced at one particular school.
It is possible that bullying will happen regardless of uniforms, and that making all children wear uniforms does nothing to actually teach kindness. A bully will be a bully – targeting things other than dress codes if need be – unless the bully is actively taught not to do so.
8. Confidence and Self-Esteem
A study by Sanchez et al. interviewed 604 middle school students found that the students reported increased confidence and self-esteem while wearing uniforms. The primary hypothesis for this growth in confidence is that students didn’t feel so self-aware about the way they dressed.
However, it’s possible that some students may also develop increased confidence by expressing themselves through their uniforms. By trying out new clothes, children learn to develop a unique identity and get more practice dressing in ways that make them feel good about themselves.
9. Improves the School’s Image in the Community
A school with a cleaner uniform where students appear well-dressed may have a better image in the community than a school without a uniform, or even with an outdated or simple uniform.
And a study by the National Association of Elementary Schools Principals (NAESP) shows that this is a key concern for school principals. 83% of principals in the study reported that they believed the uniforms improved their school’s image in the community.
Here, the main concern of the school principals is the message the uniform sends and not and actual tangible effect. Given there are several studies highlighting that there is no academic benefit of a uniform, this seems like a vanity metric.
Nevertheless, the symbolism of having well-dressed students can have the effects of attracting new parents to the school and having parents and the community value and respect the school and its students more.
10. School Spirit
School spirit includes pride and sense of belonging within a school. Wearing a uniform may help with this. If all the students are wearing the same clothing, there’s a sense that they’re “a team” and “working together” rather than being individualistic.
The NAESP study named above also looked at principals’ perceptions of whether uniforms improve school spirit. 77% of school principals in schools with uniforms believed that uniforms did help with school spirit.
11. Saving Time in Mornings
Many parents also like schools that have uniforms. It’s simply easier to get ready in the morning if children know exactly what to wear. There is no back-and-forth choosing and changing outfits or arguments between parents and children about what is acceptable to wear.
And in fact, the NAESP study found that 92% of parents believe it’s easier to get their kids ready in the morning if they have a school uniform. Similarly, 93% of parents believe that a uniform policy saves time in mornings.
Significantly, the parents cited less wardrobe battles as the key reason time is saved.
12. Safety and Identifiability on School Grounds
If all students are wearing school uniforms, it’s easier to identify people on the school grounds who do not belong there. Those people would not be wearing uniforms.
This is why (as this study shows) parents and teachers tend to perceive uniforms as positively impacting school safety, while students don’t believe uniforms make them more safe.
Of course, there is one big hole in this argument.
It would only make it easier to identify children or teenagers who do not belong. Parents who do not belong could easily be confused for a teacher seeing as most schools don’t have uniform policies for teachers.
And of course, one big threat to school safety is adults coming onto the grounds impersonating teachers.
Which begs the question: why do children have to wear uniforms and teachers don’t? If the argument is children on school grounds need to be identifiable by their uniforms, then shouldn’t teachers also have to wear uniforms so they’re identifiable? It seems like adult hypocrisy to me.
13. Age and Gender Identification
Uniforms may also be useful to schools for age identification of children. This would require different year levels to have different uniforms. For example, the infants could wear one color while the older children can wear another.
This would allow schools to police movement through the school. If a younger child is in a part of the school reserved for the older children, they could be easily identified and sent to their dedicated space (which may also help with safety).
This identification could also work across gender lines, where different genders can wear different uniforms. For example, if there are two private schools side-by-side where one is all-girls and one is all-boys, then this could work well to ensure the two genders remain separated, as per the private schools’ policies and ethos.
14. Reduction of Prejudice
It could be argued that, if all students dress the same, then there is less chance of prejudice by students and teachers.
For example, if a child wears a particular religious dress that a teacher dislikes, the teacher may treat them differently. But if all children dress the same, then the teacher is less likely to be prejudiced toward that child.
However, there is an obvious flaw in this argument. It doesn’t reduce prejudice because it is potentially prejudicial to tell some children they’re not allowed to dress in ways that accord with their culture or religion.
15. Identification during Excursions
School excursions to busy places can be stressful for teachers. The teacher needs to keep an eye on all the students in the class while there are also many other members of the public in the same space.
Uniforms are very useful in these situations. The teacher can count-off all the people in uniform to easily ensure all the students are there and ready for their next instructions.
16. Learning to ‘Dress Appropriately’
All cultures have rules around acceptable forms of dress. Usually, these have to do with not wearing sexually provocative clothing and not wearing clothing with insulting or provocative signs on them.
A uniform gives students a set of guidelines about what is considered acceptable and unacceptable to wear.
And it seems parents and school administrators often cite this as a key reason for mandatory school uniforms, particularly in religious schools .
However, this also raises concerns about exclusionary dress. Different people have different ideas around what is and is not appropriate. If you’re attending a school that has more conservative values than your family, you may feel particularly constrained by an arbitrary dress code that doesn’t conform with your own values.
17. Protects and Extends Childhood
Most people believe that sexuality and sexualization should not be associated with childhood. By enforcing a school uniform, children are discouraged from wearing sexually evocative clothing that most of society would consider inappropriate at a young age.
Thus, by enforcing a uniform, children feel less pressure to focus on their outfits, ‘looking good’ for the opposite (or same!) sex, or thinking about sexually provocative clothing.
18. Truancy can be Identified
I grew up in a school where we all wore uniforms. Police would often approach students walking around town in uniform during the school day. They would ask if we were supposed to be at school (and sometimes even call the school).
If students were found to be truanting, the police would drive them back to school.
Thus, uniforms can also be a useful way for the whole community to oversee where children of school age should be at all times.
Of course, children can simply get around this by bringing a change of clothes, which would in-turn make it easier for them to truant if the police are looking for people in school uniform!
19. They Teach Gender Norms
Many conservative parents want their children to grow up conforming to society’s gender norms. Boys are raised to be leaders and girls are raised to be ladies.
And while in today’s age, gender norms are increasingly considered to be bad for society and children, some parents still desire this for their children.
So, for those parents, uniforms could be a positive. Girls are taught to wear skirts and dresses, while boys are taught to wear shorts. Even these uniform requirements send a message – it’s harder to do rough and tumble activities in a skirt than shorts!
By raising children from a young age to wear gender-conforming outfits, the schools are showing the children how to ‘act their gender’.
I personally consider this to be a negative, but many parents see it as a positive, so I’ve placed it here for them!
20. Protection of a School’s Religious, Cultural, or Social-Class Identity
Public schools usually do not have religious, cultural or social-class identities that diverge from the mainstream.
However, many private schools have particular affiliations, such as:
- Affiliation with a religion.
- A desire to appear upper-class.
- Affiliation with a particular cultural group (such as international schools).
For these schools, uniforms can act as signals about the school’s values. An upper-class school might enforce the wearing of blazers with school crests on them.
And some religious schools may have rules about wearing traditional or conservative clothing.
This can help create a unified sense of the school’s identity.
21. Prevention of Gang-Related Color Schemes
In areas where gangs are active, school uniforms can help ensure gang-related colors are not worn on school grounds. This can help make schools gang-free zones and help prevent student recruitment into gangs.
Without the visible signs of gangs at school, the gangs’ influence and perceived power is reduced. It can also help minimize chances of rival gang groups from targeting one another on school grounds based on the clothing the students are wearing.
Furthermore, students who have no affiliation to gangs could be made to feel safer if the visibility of gangs is reduced. The intimidating insignia of gangs would not be visible to them at school each day. Read more about the relationship between gangs and school uniforms here .
22. Uniforms make Plain Clothes Dress Days Fun!
Let’s finish up with a fun one. In Australia we used to have a thing called “mufti day”. We would have this day about twice a year. And it was a day where you could wear whatever you want!
In the lead-up to mufti day, we would all be on our best behavior so it would go ahead. The day was, after all, a reward for good behavior.
On mufti day, everyone would be very excited. We would plan out and wear our favorite outfits.
This gave the teachers extra leverage to get the students to behave. And it gave the students something fun to look forward to!
Cons of School Uniforms
23. there is no impact on grades.
Several studies have found no changes in academic achievement between groups of students who wear uniforms and those who do not. If there is no clear academic benefit of a uniform, it can be argued that the uniforms are pointless.
It seems that the true benefit of wearing a uniform is in the hidden curriculum – that is, in teaching things at school that are not in the academic curriculum. That includes things like discipline and conformity. Whether it’s the role of schools to teach these things, however, is open for debate. Should schools just focus on grades and not on reinforcing conformity and discipline?
24. Lack of Freedom of Expression
There are some who question the legality and constitutionality of enforcing school uniforms in public schools in the United States. The First Amendment protects freedom of speech , which may also protect free dress.
However, to date, the Supreme Court has not made any comment on the constitutionality of uniforms. In 1969 , it got close, but upholding students’ rights to wear black armbands to protest the Vietnam war.
Overall, the key argument here is that a dress code restricts creative expression. If we want our education system to build-up creative, critical, and free-thinking people, a uniform seems inappropriate.
The uniform literally makes people uniform , in the sense that ‘uniform’ means ‘the same’.
Do we really want schools to be making us all the same? Isn’t that exactly the problem with the education system today?
25. Visible Diversity can be a Good Thing
People who argue for school uniforms say that it prevents bullying. It stops children from teasing each other because of what they wear.
But if we want a multi-cultural world, isn’t school the perfect place to start talking about our diversity and how it’s a good thing?
But making all children wear uniforms, we’re hiding (“sweeping under the rug”) diversity. We’re preventing conversations about it and celebration of it.
Thus, uniforms are arguably outdated in a world where diversity should be something that is visible, celebrated, and discussed – especially in schools.
26. Lack of Choice of Dress Codes
Another key problem with school uniforms is that children often don’t get a chance to have a say about what the dress code should be. Many uniform dress codes are decades old , and the children currently wearing the uniforms just wear what they’re told to wear.
But, you would think that a fair and democratic school would let the children wearing the uniform to choose what it looks like.
Unfortunately, it is usually the teachers, administrators, and parents who make these decisions. Even worse, sometimes it’s an outside company that is hired to select the uniform. Children are rarely consulted.
What does that say about what sort of people we’re raising in our schools? Do we want to raise compliant sheep, or creative people who are active participants in community decision-making, especially when it comes to decisions that directly affect them?
Related: 31 School Dress Code Examples
27. Uniforms can be Ugly
This may seem like a very superficial point, but it’s also serious. We’re forcing children to wear clothing that the children themselves might consider to be ugly. It seems a little unfair to tell people to wear something that they consider to be unattractive.
You look around at some schools and they have color schemes that include browns, mustards, and greys, that most people wouldn’t choose to wear if they had the choice!
Of course, this isn’t the most serious of points. But, for the children, it may be a very serious one indeed. They have to deal with it every day!
28. Violation of Religious Expression
This is one of the most serious problems with school uniforms. There are religions that have very strict dress code rules. These include having to wear certain colors, hair coverings, and even ceremonial knives (for some Sikhs).
By enforcing a strict uniform policy, you may be violating religious liberty.
When I was in school, we had one girl at the school who was a Muslim and who wore a Hijab. Her parents had to negotiate with the school principal about what uniform she could wear, seeing as the school didn’t have approved hijabs in the uniform code.
At the end of the day, her mother made her a hijab that was in the school colors, and everyone was happy. But, it still required some negotiation because of differences between religious requirements and school uniform policy.
29. Uniforms Require Parental Cooperation
Uniforms can cause conflicts between the school and the parents. I remember one girl I went to school with who would sometimes come to school out of uniform. She would get into trouble and not be allowed to play at lunch.
The problem was that it wasn’t her fault. Her parents often wouldn’t wash her uniform for her, meaning she didn’t have a choice but to wear a non-uniform outfit.
Here, my classmate was getting into trouble even though it wasn’t her fault – it was her parents!
We can see that parents need to cooperate and consent to the uniform policy. They have to make sure their child wears the uniform, and if enough parents don’t participate, the mandatory uniform policy falls apart.
30. Gender Expression Issues
In today’s day and age, we’re learning that enforcing gender norms in schools could be a violation of the gender expression of children. Some girls don’t want to wear dresses . And sometimes this isn’t even an issue of gender selection. It’s simply the fact that some girls don’t want to wear dresses!
Here, a uniform could be considered a violation of a child’s gender expression. Conservative old people are telling kids what to wear, even though perhaps their values are outdated for today’s world!
In fact, this became a big issue in a state in Australia where it was found many private schools forced girls to wear dresses . The state government had to intervene, with a government commissioner saying the schools were “stuck in a different age”.
31. Erases Cultural Differences
While school uniforms are seen as a positive for helping to erase visible social-class differences in schools (rich vs poor), they also have the negative effect over erasing cultural differences.
Children of all different races, cultures, and ethnicities attend modern schools. But, at least in Western schools, they must all adhere to a western dress code that doesn’t allow for cultural expression.
Forcing children to wear the clothes of a culture that is not their own is most visible (and, perhaps, offensive) when it comes to religious objections. However, even without the religious element, forcing children to wear uniforms can be seen as a form of cultural assimilation. It denies people their chance to practice their culture in the public sphere.
32. Difficulty in Finding the Uniform
When a school decides to enforce a uniform policy, it needs to take into account how easy it would be for parents to find the uniform.
Many public schools with uniform policies intentionally make this easy. They will be okay with a plain white or blue polo shirt.
But more prestigious schools will often develop uniforms that are very specific – with complex logos or designs on them. These uniforms often need to be bought straight from the school uniform shop or a small number of pre-approved nearby stores.
At the start of the school year, it can be find to get your hands on a uniform. All the parents are trying to get them at the same time!
This can also lead to price gouging where shops raise the price because they know demand is higher than supply.
33. They Promote Social-Class Identities
If you look at different schools’ uniform policies, you quickly see that some schools have very posh policies while other public schools that serve working-class communities have simple bland polo shirts.
In fact, some elite private schools require ‘white collared’ dress shirts, while public schools will require ‘blue collared’ shirts you’d more commonly see being worn by a construction worker.
These differences in dress codes from so early on reveal something unfair about the school system: wealthy people have the choice to go to elite schools where they’re raised for high-powered, high-paid white collar jobs (lawyers, etc.). Many public schools, as seen by the sorts of uniforms provided, are more humble and appear to be raising people in comfortable clothes that you’d expect to be worn for manual labor jobs.
In other words, uniforms don’t just train people to embrace gender norms. It also trains people to embrace social-class based identities.
34. It’s Another Thing for Teachers to Police
Mandatory school uniforms are just one more thing for teachers to have to worry about. In a world where teachers are over-worked and under-paid, it might be better for teachers to simply not have to worry about what their students wear.
Furthermore, for teachers who are on a power trip, it gives the teachers an excuse to get children into trouble. A small and minor problem, such as having an untucked t-shirt , could lead a child to get into trouble.
Here, rather than the school focusing on education, it may focus on nit-picking and bullying of students (as a teacher, I have a real issue with how often I see teachers bullying students based on things irrelevant to their education).
35. Upfront Costs
While it is arguable that school uniforms can be a more affordable choice than non-uniform outfits for children, some still argue that mandating school uniforms adds a cost burden for parents. Parents need to buy everyday clothing for their children regardless of whether they’re at school. Children need something to wear on weekends and during school holidays, after all!
So, at the start of the school year, often parents do need to fork out money they hadn’t planned to, and all at once.
For example, this report from the London School of Economics, points to one case study where a parent in England had to pay £310 for her children’s uniforms at the start of the school year. The woman was under particular financial strain as she was living on subsistence from the government, which was £556 a month. In this instance, uniforms took up more than half the family’s income for the month.
Clearly, there are many pros and cons of school uniforms. But, one thing I did realize when researching for this article was that there are a lot of differing opinions within the research. Some research papers (such as the one by NAESP that I cited several times) appear very biased toward school uniforms. And some academic studies found conflicting information, particularly around whether uniforms increased grades.
In other words, it seems like a lot of these arguments are philosophical and hypothetical. People can land on either side of the mandatory school uniforms debate depending on their own values, opinions, and backgrounds.
Another thing I found really interesting personally was that my friends who didn’t wear uniforms as kids looked at uniforms negatively – they saw them as tools for suppression of creative expression and even referred to them as looking a little communist! By contrast, my friends who wore uniforms as kids were much more positive toward them.
For me, this shows just how much our backgrounds and experiences have conditioned us to sit on one side of the debate or the other. So, I’d encourage you to genuinely think about the other perspective and see if you can come to the debate with as neutral and open a mindset as possible (if that’s possible at all!).
Scholarly Sources and Studies Cited
Baumann, C. & Krskova, H. (2016). School discipline, school uniforms and academic performance. International Journal of Educational Management , 30 (6), pp. 1003-1029. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJEM-09-2015-0118
Firmin, M., Smith, S. & Perry, L. (2006). School Uniforms: A Qualitative Analysis of Aims and Accomplishments at Two Christian Schools, Journal of Research on Christian Education, 15(2), 143-168. https://doi.org/10.1080/10656210609485000
Gregory, S. L. (2013). Perceptions of High School Students of the Impact of a School Uniform Policy . PhD Dissertation. University of Arkansas. https://scholarworks.uark.edu/etd/592
Han, S. (2010). A mandatory uniform policy in urban schools: Findings from the school survey on crime and safety: 2003-04. International Journal of Education Policy and Leadership , 5 (8). https://doi.org/10.22230/ijepl.2010v5n8a253
Mahling, W. (1996). Scondhand Codes: An Analysis of the Constitutionality of Dress Code in the Public Schools. Minnesota Law Review, 80 (1): 715. https://scholarship.law.umn.edu/mlr/2492
Morris, E. (2005). ‘Tuck in That Shirt!’ Race, Class, Gender, and Discipline in an Urban School. Sociological Perspectives. 48(1): 25-48. https://doi.org/10.1525%2Fsop.2005.48.1.25
Nathan, N., McCarthy, N., Hope, K. et al. (2021). The impact of school uniforms on primary school student’s physical activity at school: outcomes of a cluster randomized controlled trial. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity , 18 (17). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12966-021-01084-0
National Association of Elementary School Principals. (2013). The Right Fit: Principals on School Uniforms. Communicator , 36 (12). https://www.naesp.org/resource/the-right-fit-principals-on-school-uniforms/
Sanchez, J. E., Yoxsimer, A., & Hill, G. C. (2012). Uniforms in the Middle School: Student Opinions, Discipline Data, and School Police Data. Journal of School Violence , 11 (4), 345-356. https://doi.org/10.1080/15388220.2012.706873
Velder, J. (2012). An Analysis of the Implementation and Impact of School Uniforms on Graduation and Discipline Rates in a Unified School . PhD Dissertation. Northwest Missouri State University). https://www.nwmissouri.edu/library/ResearchPapers/2012/Velder,%20Jessica.pdf
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Educ 300: Education Reform, Past and Present
an undergraduate course with Professor Jack Dougherty at Trinity College, Hartford CT
Controversy: The True Effectiveness of School Uniforms
In history, students were not always required to wear a school uniform. When the school system started, most students were only required for students clothing to be appropriate for the learning environment, meaning no sexual, gang-related, or distracting clothing. If students did have to wear a uniform, they did not attend a public school. For many years now, it has been an argument of whether or not school uniforms should be options or should be removed out of schools. Many advocates think that school uniforms allow students to stay safe in schools, reduce crimes, increase attendance, and improve students performance in the classroom. Many people who are opposed to school uniforms are saying by putting kids into school uniforms, we are allowing them to have limited ways to express themselves. Low-income parents are concerned with trying to pay for these uniforms that can be very pricey. Despite this, school officials and school boards believe that uniforms are golden. When and why did school uniforms become widespread in public schools, and did they deliver the results that advocates promised?
The school uniform movement began a lot of cases that were set on student were wearing. Then a local community school in Long Beach, California became what advocates looked like an example school; however, the movement became more popularized after Bill Clinton gave his State of the Union address in 1996. Advocates, school official and school boards, hope that by having school uniforms would decrease in distractions, leveled socioeconomic barriers, and less student worried or concerned that they do not have the best clothes. Over time, school officials saw the change in students; however, researchers do not see the same correlation across many school districts.
In 1969, there was a supreme court case Tinker v Des Des Moines Independent Community School District. This case was a very important case for U.S school system. In this case, some students of the Des Moines school wanted to protest the Vietnam War, and they did this by wearing black armbands. The principal of the school learned about what was going to happen, and she required students to be removed from the schools if they are wearing the armbands. Students would also be suspended and would not be able to attend school until they agreed to not wear the armband. The Tinker family had a big issue with that because they felt that the school violated their first amendment right. They sued the school district saying that violation. The school simpled argued that they are violating school policies. According to Dress Code in Public Schools: Principals, Policies, and Precepts, “But, a closer look at Tinker may reveal less support for an expansive view of students’ rights to wear any clothing of his or her choice”( DeMitchell, Todd A.; Fossey, Richard; Cobb, Casey 35 ). The Tinker case is how we see school officials dictating what students wear.
There was a public school, Jackie Robinson Academy, in Long Beach, California that President Clinton recognized for wearing school uniforms. After leaving the school, he recalled a conversation that he had with his wife about school uniforms. He recalled her mentioning to him that school uniforms would make things better in school in terms of student behaviors. He made Jackie Robinson Academy the face for school uniforms in 1994. There begins to be a large wave of school districts in Long Beach that turns over to school uniforms being the solution to their problems, “uniforms [became] mandatory for all 58,500 students in its elementary and middle schools”(Mitchell “Clinton Will Advise Schools on Uniforms.” ). The school district found that by enforcing students wear polos and blue pants or plaid skirts decreased crime in schools by 36 percent. Many people argue that it takes away from children individuality. He defined advocates by stating
“‘I think these uniforms do not stamp out individuality among our young people,” he said at the rally.”Instead, they slowly teach our young people one of life’s most important lessons: that what really counts is what you are and what you become on the inside, rather than what you are wearing on the outside’” (Mitchell).
In this, the President is recognizing the problems that are going on; however, he is making it clear that adding uniforms will make things easier and more practical for school boards.
By January 23, 1996, President Bill Clinton became the first president to mention anything about school uniforms in the United States State of the Union address. When talking about the state of our public school system, Clinton stated “I challenge all our schools to teach character education, to teach good values and good citizenship. And if it means that teenagers will stop killing each other over designer jackets, then our public schools should be able to require their students to wear school uniforms” (Clinton “State of the Union Address”) It was surprising to having the president mention something like this during his address; however, it sparked up some conversation. The New York Times article talks about how the President stated that he believed incorporating school uniforms will better the community of the school, “ If it means that the schoolrooms will be more orderly, more disciplined,” Mr. Clinton said, “and that our young people will learn to evaluate themselves by what they are on the inside instead of what they’re wearing on the outside, then our public schools should be able to require their students to wear school uniforms” (Mitchell). Despite his ideas, he left it up to the school officials on that change.
In 1997 there was the case of an appeal, Phoenix Elementary School District No. 1 v. Green, that had parents stating that they did not agree with the previous ruling in March of 1995 that they would be enforcing school uniforms all over,
“Testimony was presented at trial that the uniform policy reduced clothing distractions, increased campus safety, improved school spirit, leveled socioeconomic barriers, ensured that students dressed appropriately, and reduced the staff and faculty time required to enforce the dress code. The court concluded that the dress code was reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical purposes, including promoting a conducive learning environment and securing campus safety”(Geddis “School Uniforms Reduce Distractions, Aid Safety).
The statements that they address as improvements were also improvements that advocates wanted as well. The biggest improvement that they wanted to see decreased in distractions to promote academic achievement, leveled socioeconomic barriers, and less student worried or concerned that they do not have the best clothes. This is something that the researcher is looking into to see if there were actually any growth on any of these topics.
An Education Weekly article, “Uniform Effects?”, covered how the researcher, as well as school officials, felt about some of the pros and cons surrounding school uniforms. There are many different arguments that school officials at Stephen Decatur Middle School give about school uniforms; nonetheless, researchers dispute what the school officials are saying. David L. Brunsma is a researcher at the University of Missouri-Columbia. He spent time studying the effects of school uniforms in school using the National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988 and the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study. He made sure to look at the effects that uniforms had on the whole school and the individual students. He found that about 27 percent of elementary school by 2000 had some type of school uniform rule. Majority of those school are in areas with minority or disadvantaged students, which are like the students in Stephen Decatur Middle School.
School Official verse The Researcher
The principal of Stephen Decatur Middle School, Rudolph Saunders, stated that the student tends to behave better when they have on a uniform,” ‘It’s like night and day,” Saunders says. “We have ‘dress down’ days, and the kids’ behavior is just completely different on those day” (Viadero “Uniform Effects?”). Although these school districts are convinced that uniforms have an impact on students’ discipline, Brunsma findings showed that “uniform policies don’t curb violence or behavioral problems in schools”(Viadero ). In fact, his research shows how dermal having a uniform can actually be to students. The school is just based on what they are seeing without making sure this is really the cause. This is a factor of correlation does not imply causation. This is shown even clearer when Betty Mikesell-Bailey, “the school-improvement resource teacher at Decatur”(Viadero ), says that test scores have increased since the school required students to wear uniforms. However, Mikesell-Bailey could not prove how this was a correlation. Despite this, she still claimed that “[s]he’s fairly certain, though, that the policy has cut down on the teasing to which middle school children subject one another.” Brunsma made it clear that there was no correlation between uniforms and test scores. Brunsma further his argument by saying that uniforms do not “cultivate student self-esteem and motivation [or] balance the social-status differences”(Viadero). Uniforms actually cost a great deal of money, and kids can still bully other kids over the smallest thing, such as a hole in a shoe or even the type of pants they are wearing compared to others’. Brunsma argued that the uniform industry has been taken over by large clothing names like Land’ End Inc, which lead the school uniform industry since 1997, and French Toast, which Decatur middle school got their uniforms from. Students were clearly not a big fan of uniforms. They are arguing these uniforms can be uncomfortable and the have students lost individuality, “‘People can’t be who they are if they have to wear the same thing every day,’ says Alexis Richardson, who’s also in 7th grade”(Viadero). Despite this, school officials would say that uniforms help with being togetherness and recognizable to the school. Mikesell-Bailey stated that it was easier to recognize their students when they are outside, “‘When I see the uniform, I always stop, because I know it’s one of my children,” she says”(Viadero). Brunsma argues that the school should take into account the students’ point of view. He believes that if they looked into the history of uniforms, you can see how students would feel less than other kids without uniforms, “Some of his historical research suggests, for example, that school uniforms originated in England in the 16th century as a way to signal the lower-class status of some children”(Viadero).
They looked into a school with an optional school uniform policy in New Hampshire, the school, Highland-Goffe’s Falls Elementary School, stated that the few students that did not wear uniform, had a harder time being able to transfer the students into other schools where they could wear what they wanted, “We had seven very negative parents out of 454 families,” says Paul. “Those seven children never wore uniforms, which, from my point of view, kind of derailed us” (Viadero ). The school had to stop wearing school uniforms, even though it decreases the about of bully going on in the school. Brunsma was very unsure as to how these facts were even put out. He felt that the school district’s arguments were very problematic for two reasons. He felt that it was wrong for them to look at just one school district because some schools can be the outlier. Furthermore, he believed that the school failed to mention the dynamics changed that happened in this school, “Brunsma says newer case studies looking at uniform-adoption efforts in schools in Baltimore, Denver, and Aldine, Texas, a suburban Houston district—all of which also point to positive effects—have an additional shortcoming”(Viadero). These were some of the schools that he was able to look at in his research.
Overall, it could be said that school uniforms work for different schools. In some school, we see that school uniforms changed what advocates hoped that they would. In other schools, we don’t quite see the correlation. Because there is not a clear answer, researcher and advocates disagree on this topic all the time. The key ideas that they disagree on are uniforms are less costly for low-income households, uniforms promote academic achievement, and having uniforms does not hinder student views on themselves. We see these ideas being pushed at the forefront when President Clinton gave his address and school began to look into the effects it had on their school. Nonetheless, research like Brunsma looks across school districts. This big difference that has been shown here is how over time, who are school districts focused on and who researcher focused on.
Clinton Bill “State of the Union Address.” National Archives and Records Administration , National Archives and Records Administration, 23 Jan. 19996, clintonwhitehouse2.archives.gov/WH/New/other/sotu.html.
DeMitchell, Todd A.; Fossey, Richard; Cobb, Casey. “Dress Codes in the Public Schools: Principals, Policies, and Precepts,” Journal of Law & Education vol. 29, no. 1 (January 2000): p. 31-50. HeinOnline, https://heinonline.org/HOL/P?h=hein.journals/jle29&i=41 .
Geddis, Carol. “School Uniforms Reduce Distractions, Aid Safety – Education Week.” Education Week , https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2005/03/02/25letter-1.h24.html. Accessed 3 May 2019.
Mitchell, Alison. “Clinton Will Advise Schools on Uniforms.” The New York Times , 25 Feb. 1996 NYTimes.com , https://www.nytimes.com/1996/02/25/us/clinton-will-advise-schools-on-uniforms.html.
“Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District.” Wikipedia , Wikimedia Foundation, 18 Apr. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tinker_v._Des_Moines_Independent_Community_School_Distrit.
Viadero, Debra. “Uniform Effects?” – Education Week.” Education Week , Jan. 2005. Education Week , https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2005/01/12/18uniform.h24.html.
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- The advantages of school uniforms
- The disadvantages of school uniforms
For those of us that were educated in the UK, school uniforms were the norm. Whether you were used to donning a blazer, school jumper or tie, wearing a school uniform was and still is standard practice in the UK. There has been a lot of research conducted into whether school uniforms make a difference to a student's learning. Keep on reading to find out the pros and cons of our good old fashioned school uniforms.
The tradition of wearing a school uniform is still very much alive in the UK. School uniforms are worn in over 90% of schools in the UK. For the rest of the world, however, a school uniform is not always the done thing. In the majority of European countries, children are free to wear what they want to school. In the States, uniforms are usually reserved for private schools. So why do we still insist on our children wearing school uniforms? 🤔
What are the advantages of school uniforms?
While uniforms are a create equaliser when it comes to things like economic background and social status, they’re also becoming more and more gender-neutral. In recent years, there has been a rise in young people coming forward as transgender or gender fluid. In fact, in a survey conducted by the Equality and Human Rights Commission , it was found that 1% of the population identifies as gender fluid. While not all UK schools offer gender-neutral uniform options, it is on the rise in response to more open discussions about gender. This highlights just how inclusive school uniforms can be, levelling the playing field for students from all walks of life. 🤝
✅ Clearly defined rules
The fact that uniforms encourage cohesion and equality goes hand in hand with other benefits. Uniforms mean dress code equality. Children won't have to spend time worrying about whether their chosen outfit is acceptable for school. With school uniforms, the rules about what to wear are clearly defined and easy to follow. There is also reduced potential for bullying . With everyone wearing the same thing, children are unable to make fun of one another based on their clothing choices. 💕
Another benefit of school uniforms is just how convenient they are. We know how chaotic the mornings can be when you’re getting your little one ready for school. School uniforms are at least able to eliminate stress about what to wear. School uniforms are often designed with practicality in mind. Uniforms ensure that children are dressed in a way that is appropriate for a day of learning. 👍
While school uniforms are a great equaliser, they also provide a sense of community. This has many physiological benefits. Children that wear the same uniform will feel a stronger sense of belonging. This is especially relevant for students starting at a new school. Their school uniform will really help them feel the part. A uniform can also help a child to feel more motivated to learn . Because children only wear their uniforms in school, they’ll know that these clothes are specifically for learning and potentially be more productive in the classroom. 🤓
While all of the above points make a great case for the necessity of school uniforms, there are, of course, some downsides.
What are the disadvantages of school uniforms?
❌ distracting .
While it’s true that the practicality of school uniforms can save time in the mornings, it can also be argued that far too much emphasis is placed on uniform rules over education. Some schools enforce such strict dress codes that students are more occupied with how they’re dressed than their studies. School uniforms potentially act as a distraction when it comes to dealing with more important issues such as school improvement and academia. 📚
While they may be practical, school uniforms can often be on the pricey side. Some school uniforms in the UK feature high-quality items like blazers, kilts, and sports kits. A report by The Children’s Society showed that families with children at secondary school are paying an average of more than £300 per child, per year in school uniform costs. What’s more, 95% of parents believe they are expected to pay an ‘unreasonable’ amount. So while they may indeed level the playing field in terms of how children look, school uniforms fail to take into account the socio-economic status of the parents having to pay for them. 💸💸💸
One of the best parts about being a kid is being able to play around with your identity. You can be as free and creative as you want. Unfortunately, school uniforms restrict individual identity and limit students’ self-expression . Some students may feel much more comfortable and ready to learn if they are permitted to wear their own clothes. Uniforms can cause kids to feel restricted and anonymous as they look the same as everyone around them. Some schools even enforce rules when it comes to hair length, jewellery and shoes. Kids shouldn’t have to waste time fretting about whether their hair is too long, especially when it isn’t affecting their learning. 🎨
Whether you’re for or against school uniforms, there are evidently strong arguments on both sides. But love them or hate them, we’re pretty sure school uniforms aren’t going anywhere any time soon.
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12+ School Uniform Pros and Cons (For and Against Debate)
Have you ever wondered why some schools require uniforms while others let you wear whatever you want?
It's a hot topic, and people have been arguing about it for a long time. Today, we're not just talking about whether uniforms look cool or not, but we're diving into the psychological impacts they can have on students.
Your school clothes might be doing more than just covering you up; they might be affecting your brain in ways you didn't even think about.
School uniforms are not just about what you wear; they can also influence how you think! In this article, we'll talk about:
- How uniforms can make everyone feel more equal but also less special
- Why they might make it easier to choose what to wear but harder to show who you are
- What psychologists and research tell us about this big school debate
So, put on your thinking cap—uniform or not—and let's explore what experts and studies say about the pros and cons of school uniforms.
School Uniform History
Around the 16th century in England, the first school uniforms weren't even for everyday students like most of us. They were made for charity schools, which were for kids who didn't have much money.
The uniforms were there to help everyone know which kids were from those schools. They were simple and plain, and they made sure everyone looked the same. But as time went on, more and more schools started using uniforms, not just the charity ones.
By the 19th century, the uniform trend had caught on in many other places, including the United States. But the reasons for wearing them started to change.
Schools started thinking: "Hey, if everyone's wearing the same thing, then no one can make fun of someone else's clothes." Or: "If everyone looks neat and tidy, then it's easier to focus on studying." It was around this time that schools began to see uniforms as a way to help students feel more equal and keep distractions away.
Now, fast forward to today. The idea behind school uniforms is kind of like a big salad with lots of ingredients. Some people think they're super helpful for keeping schools safe. Others believe they make it easier to get dressed in the morning without fussing over what to wear. And some just like how they look.
But not everything is rosy. Some folks argue, "Hey, I want to show who I am with my clothes. Why should I wear the same thing as everyone else?" This is especially visible in the way different cliques fit into stereotypes , such as the popular kids wearing bright colors and the goths wearing all black.
Others worry about how much these uniforms might cost, especially for families that might not have a lot of money.
As you can see, the school uniform journey is full of twists and turns, like a wild roller coaster ride. But one thing's for sure: it's not just about fashion; it's also about feelings, thoughts, and how we see ourselves and others.
The whole debate about uniforms also has some big brain stuff behind it. For example, psychologists—those are people who study how our minds work—have had a lot to say about how uniforms might make us feel. Some think they help create a team spirit, while others think they squash our creativity.
No matter which side of the fence you're on, there's no denying that the simple school uniform carries a lot of weight. From its early days in old England to its role in modern schools, the uniform has been a source of comfort for some and conflict for others. As we dig deeper into the pros and cons, we'll uncover even more about this age-old debate.
School Uniform Pros
1) psychological equality.
First on our list is the idea that uniforms can make everyone feel more equal. When you see a whole bunch of kids wearing the same thing, it's tough to know who's got the coolest or most expensive clothes.
Dr. David Brunsma, a sociologist who has written extensively about school uniforms , suggests that this kind of equality can help lower the chances of kids getting picked on or bullied for what they're wearing.
Imagine you're playing a team sport. If everyone's wearing the same jersey, you're all focused on the game, not on who's got the flashiest gear. This is sorta what uniforms do in schools. They can help students focus on what really matters, like learning and making friends, instead of worrying about who's wearing what. This could make it less likely for students to get bullied for their clothes.
2) Reduced Decision Fatigue
Next up is a psychological idea called " decision fatigue ." Ever felt tired from just picking your outfit in the morning? Well, psychologist Roy F. Baumeister talks about how making too many decisions can actually make your brain tired . Having a uniform takes away one choice you have to make, helping you save that brainpower for more important things like schoolwork.
3) Sense of Belonging
Here comes a heartwarming point: uniforms can make you feel like you're part of a team.
Dr. Angela Wright, who has studied the psychology behind uniforms, says that this sense of belonging can make students feel more connected and secure in school. Some research even shows that when kids feel like they fit in, they're more likely to be nice to each other and do well in their classes.
4) Fostering Discipline and Focus
Last but not least, let's talk about discipline. Dr. Alex Rentz, who has researched how uniforms impact student behavior, believes that wearing a uniform can help students focus better. It's like when a firefighter puts on their uniform; they know it's time to get serious and do their job. The same can go for students. That uniform is like a signal to your brain saying, "Hey, it's time to learn!"
So there you have it! These are some of the top reasons why people think school uniforms are a win. But hold your horses! It's not all sunshine and rainbows. In our next section, we're gonna look at why some folks think school uniforms are not so great.
School Uniform Cons
It's time to switch gears and talk about the reasons some people and experts give school uniforms a big thumbs-down. Trust us, it's not just about wanting to wear the latest fashion trends; it's a lot deeper than that, and it has a lot to do with how we think and feel.
1) Suppressing Individuality
Let's kick things off with one of the biggest arguments against school uniforms: they can squash your individuality. Dr. Christopher Lubienski, an education expert, says that uniforms can make it harder for students to express their unique personalities.
When you're stuck wearing the same thing as everyone else, you can't show off your personal style or let the world know a little bit about who you are.
2) Financial Strain
Next, we have to talk about money. Uniforms can cost a lot, and for families that are already tight on cash, this can be a big burden.
Dr. Elaine Schwartz, an economist who has looked into the financial aspects of school uniforms, points out that some families might struggle to pay for these mandatory clothes. And let's not forget about growth spurts; kids can outgrow uniforms quickly, leading to more expenses.
3) Contradicts Freedom of Expression
Now, let's get into some serious business: freedom of expression. This is something that psychologists like Dr. Alan Hilfer have talked about. He says that being able to choose your clothes is a way to express yourself and your opinions. In a country that values freedom, making everyone wear the same thing can feel like a big step backward.
4) Potential for Rebellion
Last on our list, believe it or not, is that uniforms can actually make some students act out. Dr. David L. Brunsma, who we mentioned earlier, also points out that some studies show wearing uniforms can make students feel like they're being controlled too much. And when people feel controlled, they sometimes do the opposite of what's expected, just to show they can.
So there you have it! These are some of the key reasons why some people aren't so hot on the idea of school uniforms. As you can see, it's a debate that brings out strong feelings and arguments from both sides.
Up next, we'll dive into what some important studies and theories have to say about all this.
School Uniform Theories
Let's move on to some studies and theories that have tackled the school uniform debate. These studies help us understand the nitty-gritty of why uniforms can be good or bad.
1) Social Identity Theory
First up, let's talk about something called Social Identity Theory . This was developed by psychologist Henri Tajfel, and it explores how people identify with groups.
When students wear uniforms, they're all part of the same "group," at least in appearance. This can create a sense of unity, but it can also make students feel like they're just one of many, losing their personal identity.
This theory helps us understand the balance between belonging and individuality that uniforms bring into play.
2) Self-Determination Theory
Another important theory is the Self-Determination Theory by psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan.
This theory explains that people need to feel some control over their actions to be happy and successful. For some kids, being told what to wear every day might go against this need for personal control, which can lead to feeling unhappy or even acting out in rebellion, like Dr. David L. Brunsma mentioned in the previous section.
3) Empirical Studies
On the research front, there have been many studies, but let's focus on one by Dr. Jafeth Sanchez and Dr. George Mitchell. They conducted a study on school uniforms and concluded that uniforms didn't seem to significantly impact academic performance, but they did note some improvements in school climate, like fewer fights and less bullying.
4) Cost-Benefit Analyses
Last but not least, economists have done what's called cost-benefit analyses, where they weigh the good and bad sides of uniforms.
Economists like Dr. Elaine Schwartz, who we mentioned earlier, have said that the financial strain of buying uniforms might not always be worth the benefits they bring, especially for low-income families.
So there you have it, folks! From theories that dig deep into our need for belonging and control, to studies that look at how uniforms actually play out in real life, the uniform debate is chock-full of interesting angles. What we've learned is that there's no easy answer. Like a seesaw, the pros and cons keep tipping the scale back and forth.
School Uniforms According to Kids
It's good to know the formal theories, but let's hear from the real experts—kids themselves! After all, they're the ones wearing these uniforms day in and day out. What they say may surprise you!
They Like Being Treated Equally
Many kids actually like wearing uniforms because it levels the playing field. They say it stops "clothing competition" where some kids might show off expensive or fashionable items. In a way, uniforms can act as a great equalizer, making everyone appear the same at first glance.
But it's important to remember that while uniforms might match, accessories or technology, like iphones and laptops, might not. So uniforms don't completely eliminate competition.
They Want to Show Their Style
On the flip side, a lot of kids feel uniforms cramp their style. They want the freedom to show who they are through their clothes. For them, being made to wear the same outfit every day feels like their personal identity is being stifled.
Let's not forget about comfort! Many students point out that some uniforms are just not comfortable to wear for a whole school day. Whether it's stiff collars or itchy fabric, comfort is a big deal when you're sitting in class, trying to focus on learning.
A Mix Would Be Nice
Interestingly, some kids propose a compromise: uniforms on some days and casual clothes on others. They think this would blend the best of both worlds—maintaining a sense of equality and discipline while allowing room for personal expression.
It's clear that kids have a lot to say on this topic, and their voices are an important part of this ongoing debate. After all, school is for them, so shouldn't they have a say in what they wear there?
School Uniforms in Media
You can't talk about school uniforms without mentioning how they're portrayed in movies, TV shows, and even books. These media portrayals can shape our views, and they tell us a lot about how society feels about this hot-button issue.
The Classic Image
Think about classic movies or TV shows that feature private schools; you'll probably recall scenes of students in crisp uniforms. This image often portrays uniforms as a symbol of privilege, discipline, or academic excellence.
Shows like " Gossip Girl " or movies like " Dead Poets Society " have ingrained this view in our minds.
The Rebel Stereotype
Then there's the rebellious student, often seen trying to "hack" their uniform. Whether it's by rolling up their skirt, loosening a tie, or adding flashy accessories, this portrayal taps into the idea of uniforms stifling individuality.
It's like the media is saying, "You can't keep young people from expressing themselves."
A Tool for Storytelling
In literature and film, uniforms can serve as a powerful storytelling device. Take "Harry Potter," for example. The Hogwarts robes do more than just enforce equality; they signal belonging to houses and help create the magical atmosphere of the wizarding world.
In some instances, media uses uniforms to make a statement. Shows or movies that depict uniforms in a dystopian setting may be commenting on issues of conformity or loss of personal freedom. These portrayals often reflect societal concerns and fuel discussions about the role of uniforms in schools.
Reality TV Insights
Don't forget reality TV! Shows that focus on schools or young people often highlight the uniform debate. Whether it's students discussing their likes or dislikes, or parents grappling with the costs, these shows give us a real-world look into the practical challenges and benefits of uniforms.
The media, through its varied lenses, gives us a rich tapestry of perspectives on school uniforms. It adds another layer to the complex emotional and psychological landscape we've been exploring.
School Uniforms Around the World
The debate about school uniforms isn't just happening in one place; it's a hot topic all around the world. Different countries and regions have their own unique views and rules, and trust us, it's pretty interesting to see how diverse opinions can be.
In the United States, the issue of school uniforms is mostly a local decision. That means individual school districts or even single schools make the choice.
While some schools swear by uniforms, saying they improve discipline and equality, others champion a student's right to self-expression.
Hop across the pond to the United Kingdom, and you'll find that school uniforms are much more common. In fact, they've been a tradition for centuries. Psychologists like Dr. Angela Wright, who we mentioned before, point out that the British generally see uniforms as a way to foster a sense of community and discipline.
In Japan, school uniforms are not just clothes; they're deeply rooted in culture. Uniforms are a social norm .
The uniforms aim to instill a sense of discipline and are often seen as a rite of passage. Dr. Hiroshi Ota, an expert on Japanese education, notes that the uniform practice in Japan aims to prepare students for a society that values conformity and group harmony.
Down under in Australia, uniforms are pretty common in both public and private schools. The debate there often centers around comfort and the appropriateness of certain uniform items in various weather conditions.
Researchers like Dr. Michaela Pascoe have discussed how the physical comfort of uniforms can impact a student's ability to focus and learn.
France takes a different approach. Uniforms are generally not required in public schools, reflecting the country's emphasis on individual liberty and personal expression. French psychologists often point to the importance of allowing students the freedom to choose as a way to develop their identity.
Whether it's promoting equality, fostering discipline, or encouraging personal freedom, each country has its own reasons and experts weighing in on the matter.
School Uniform Trends and Future Directions
Now that we've taken a good look at the pros, cons, theories, and global perspectives, let's talk about what's trending. Are schools moving toward or away from uniforms? And what cool new ideas are people coming up with?
Trending Toward or Away?
Interestingly, the trend seems to be a bit of both. In the United States, more public schools have started to adopt uniforms, especially in urban areas.
They're following the lead of private schools, which have often required uniforms. But there's a growing voice for more freedom of expression too, which has led some schools to move away from strict uniform policies.
Uniforms with Options
One of the coolest new trends is something called "uniforms with options." This is basically a middle-ground approach that allows students to pick from a range of approved clothing items.
For example, a school might have a color scheme and let students choose any shirts or pants that fit within those colors. Dr. Michelle Birkett, a researcher who has looked into the psychological impacts of such choices, says this allows students to adhere to a standard while still expressing a bit of personal flair.
Yes, you heard that right. In some countries, schools are experimenting with uniforms that have tracking devices for safety reasons. However, this has opened up debates on privacy and autonomy.
Dr. Shoshana Zuboff, an expert on surveillance capitalism, warns that this might go against the principles of personal freedom and privacy.
Dress Code Reforms
There's also a trend toward reforming dress codes to be more inclusive, especially for students who don't identify with traditional gender roles.
Schools are starting to allow more flexibility, like letting girls wear pants or boys wear skirts, to be more accommodating. Psychologists such as Dr. Kristina Olson, who studies gender diversity, say this can have a positive impact on mental health and inclusion.
So, the future of school uniforms is anything but dull. With new ideas and trends popping up, it seems like we're headed toward a more balanced and thoughtful approach to what kids wear to school.
One thing's for sure: the debate about school uniforms isn't a simple one . Whether it's psychologists discussing the impact on our minds, or economists weighing the costs, or even kids and parents sharing their everyday experiences, there are a lot of opinions to consider.
What have we learned? Well, for one, uniforms can help with equality and focus, but they can also stifle individuality and put a financial burden on families. Different countries have their unique views, and the future is shaping up to offer more balanced options for students to express themselves while maintaining some level of uniformity.
The conversation about school uniforms is far from over, and it's a debate that will likely continue to evolve. But no matter which side of the fence you're on, it's crucial to keep listening and learning from each other. Because in the end, the goal is the same: to create an environment where every student has the chance to shine, both in and out of their school clothes.
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The pros and cons of school uniforms
Do rules around clothing promote discipline and inclusion or are they a pricey constraint on individuality?
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1. Pro: promotes equality and inclusion
2. con: imposes extra financial burden, 3. pro: promotes discipline and focus, 4. con: curbs freedom of expression, 5. pro: could save time and money overall, 6. con: continued gender issues.
School uniform has long been a hot topic of debate among students, parents and teachers alike.
Pegasus Primary School in Birmingham has been forced to backtrack on plans to make pupils wear a branded sweatshirt or cardigan, following an angry reaction from some parents.
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Vince Green, chief executive of the Summit Learning Trust, which runs the school , told BBC Radio 4 ’s “Today” programme that the logo was important because it provided “that sense of belonging, that sense of family – just as it does if you play for a sporting team”.
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According to research conducted by The Children’s Society in May, parents in the UK spend on average £422 a year on secondary school uniforms, and £287 for primary school pupils. One in eight families have had to cut back on food to afford uniforms from specific suppliers. “For too many families, uniforms cost way too much money,” Mark Russell, chief executive of the charity, told “Today”.
One reason the question of school uniforms is “so explosive”, said Will Hazell for the inews site, “is because it touches on children’s home lives and parental supervision”. The Week takes a look at some of the pros and cons.
Uniforms should be a “social leveller”, Green told the “Today” programme. Wearing the same clothes “fosters a sense of inclusion and equity in school students”, said Education Times , and can help with “laying the foundation of an equal society”.
Supporters say a uniform can help build “a sense of identity and cohesion”, said Hazell. Mark Lehain, founder and first headmaster of Bedford Free School, told the news site that he was “taken aback by the enthusiasm” for uniforms among parents. A 2007 study from Oxford Brookes University found that uniforms often “directly contributed to a feeling of school pride”.
A Hull councillor has called for a uniform subsidy to help struggling families, saying parents were “having to choose between school clothes and essentials, like food and rent”, said BBC News . “Demand for help has doubled compared to last year,” Labour’s Jessica Raspin told the broadcaster.
While some supermarkets offer cheaper options such as plain trousers or white shirts, “many schools demand logos on clothing that is sold at only one supplier”, said The Times .
Despite Department for Education guidance that schools keep branded items to a minimum, The Children’s Society poll showed that the average pupil was expected to have three, while 29% of secondary school pupils were required to have four or five.
About 22% of UK parents told the charity that their child had been given a detention for breaching uniform policies, due to being unable to afford the correct uniform, according to Schools Week .
Uniforms became more common in the US in the late 1980s “with the promise that they would curb gang violence and crime”, said The Washington Post . Uniforms, teachers say, “have become a no-nonsense way to stave off distractions” and focus on learning.
It is a variation on the “broken windows” theory of law and order, said Hazell for the inews site: “if schools clamp down on sloppy dress and incorrect clothing, it makes clear to pupils that the teachers are in charge”.
However, a study by the Education Endowment Foundation , which was set up by the government to evaluate initiatives, found there was “no robust evidence” that a uniform alone would “improve academic performance, behaviour or attendance”.
The growing support for school uniforms in the US is “one of the great surrenderings of liberty in modern history”, said Mark Oppenheimer for The New Yorker . Uniforms are “yet one more way that the surveillance of the un-powerful – the poor, people of colour, and that great unheard group of the young – has become increasingly acceptable”.
At university, “I can wear whatever I feel fit and it has by no means interrupted my learning”, student blogger Emily Moor wrote for HuffPost . It is “unrealistic” to expect students to “grow to make their own decisions when they are not even allowed to choose their own trousers”.
Uniforms can even be “a kind of instrument of control”, deputy headteacher Alistair McConville told the inews site, which cuts against society’s need for individuality.
Conversely, uniforms might help families who are struggling financially, according to Dame Rachel De Souza, chief executive of the Inspiration Trust, which runs 13 schools in England. “There is no peer pressure on students to have the latest trainers,” she told the inews site.
Parents say “they’re changing how they shop for the school year”, according to The Washington Post. “There are fewer late-summer buying sprees for everyday clothes.”
A uniform could also make the morning routine run more smoothly for hassled parents.
A 2018 survey from Plan International UK found that a third of British girls said they were sexually harassed while in their school uniforms. Of course, there is no real evidence that they would have been safer out of school uniform.
But Labour MP Emma Hardy, also a former teacher, has raised concerns about how schools seemingly police female students’ uniform to a greater extent than they do with boys, particularly with regards to modesty rules.
In Wales, guidance now encourages schools to introduce gender neutral uniforms, said Hazell.
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Harriet Marsden is a writer for The Week, mostly covering UK and global news and politics. Before joining the site, she was a freelance journalist for seven years, specialising in social affairs, gender equality and culture. She worked for The Guardian, The Times and The Independent, and regularly contributed articles to The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The New Statesman, Tortoise Media and Metro, as well as appearing on BBC Radio London, Times Radio and “Woman’s Hour”. She has a master’s in international journalism from City University, London, and was awarded the "journalist-at-large" fellowship by the Local Trust charity in 2021.
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18 Significant School Uniforms Pros and Cons
Many agree that educational opportunities should be available to every child. No matter what their gender or socioeconomic status may be, children deserve every chance to succeed. The benefit of requiring school uniforms in a learning environment is that it reflects this equality. Instead of having children focus on the brands they wear or the fashion they can afford to create cliques, they can focus on their learning environment instead.
The disadvantage of requiring school uniforms is that it puts a cost on parents, guardians, and school districts that is often considered to be unnecessary. Not only do the students need “regular” clothes, but there must also be “school” clothes. Even with subsidies and discounts, the cost of one school uniform could be $20-$50. Here are some of the additional school uniforms pros and cons to consider as well.
What Are the Pros of School Uniforms?
1. There is no pressure on the student to decide what they should wear each day. Because a school uniform limits the options a student has for clothing, there is less pressure to get through the morning routine. This often allows students to sleep a bit more because less time is required to get ready. Many school uniform policies still allow for individual taste, allowing for different colors or outfits, such as the inclusion of skorts or jumpers in addition to pants.
2. The costs of uniforms can be managed. Although the cost of a uniform can be difficult on some families, it can often be managed. Many schools which require one specific daily uniform can purchase clothing in bulk, saving money for disadvantaged families. PTA buy-back programs, fundraisers, crowdfunding, and community supports are often in place to help with the costs as well.
3. Student attendance is better in schools with uniform policies. When there is a mandatory school uniform code in place, statistics show that student attendance rises. This is because classrooms become more disciplined and orderly, allowing students to evaluate themselves instead of evaluating how they compare to their peers. The uniformity that is created lessens tensions, bullying, and violence that can occur in schools, which improves attendance.
4. It becomes easier to identify trespassers. When students are required to follow a specific dress code, it becomes much easier to identify people who may not be allowed on campus. If an intruder is wearing something different that the school uniform, they stick out like a sore thumb when surrounded by students and teachers who are following the dress code.
5. It’s easier to find children when a class is off-campus. If a class is on a field trip, then it becomes easier for teachers and school administrators to quickly identify the children who are with the group. It’s also a useful tool to locate children that may leave a school campus without permission for some reason. This lessens the risk of having a child go missing.
6. School uniforms create an automatic age identification. School uniforms automatically identify children as being a student. This is useful for older students who may be trying to take advantage of them in some way. It is more difficult to serve minors alcohol or allow them to purchase cigarettes when they are wearing a school uniform.
7. They can be used as a method of discipline. Many teachers have “challenging” children in their classrooms. There is often a lack of discipline at home, which means a child from such an environment will struggle to independently follow rules, guidelines, and expectations. Having a school uniform policy with strict rules gives teachers and administrators an opportunity to begin teaching the discipline these students will need later on in life. Having a shirt untucked creates a teaching opportunity.
8. It provides a sense of self-esteem. Adults often dress up in some way to go to work every day. Even if the environment is casual, adults tend to put on their best outfits. They do so because they want to feel confident and leave a positive first impression to others. It is a boost to the self-esteem. School uniforms do the same thing for students, helping them to feel like a “professional” just like their parents or guardians.
9. Uniforms limit family in-fighting when it comes to school clothes. The summer surge for new school clothes can be intense. Favorite characters, football jerseys, and designer jeans can become arguments within families very quickly. School uniforms lay out a set of rigid expectations that everyone must follow, which means the shopping process becomes pretty simple and straightforward.
10. Optional items can allow students to still express themselves. Allowing students to wear jewelry, hair ties, and other optional items can still offer students a chance to express their individuality.
What Are the Cons of School Uniforms?
1. It may lessen competition and teasing, but it doesn’t eliminate it. There are several top brands that produce school uniforms today. These brands, when identified, can show off the socioeconomic status of a student even if their outward appearance looks the same as everyone else. Schools can put in a policy to limit branding on the clothing, but kids still know if someone is wearing something new from Volcom or French Toast instead of a $1 recycled hand-me-down from the PTA.
2. School uniforms are almost always an annual cost. Most children need 3-5 different school uniforms in order to make it through the week. Because kids will be kids, you can expect to be replacing at least one pair of pants that were torn at the knees during the year, as well as a paint-splattered uniform shirt or two. Additional shoes may also be required, which is another added cost. This means an added expense that some families may feel is completely unnecessary.
3. It can give a specific school a bad reputation. When students are caught getting into trouble while wearing a specific uniform from a school, then the reputation of that student becomes the reputation of that school. If there are enough incidents that involve students from the same school, parents may opt out of sending their child there, taking advantage of school waiver or voucher programs instead.
4. In an effort to create equality, school uniforms can create segregation. There can be a lot of politics involved in the creation of a school uniform policy. Girls might be allowed to wear skirts, but boys might be required to wear pants only. On the other hand, boys might be required to wear ties and girls might not be required to wear anything around the neck. This creates a difference in gender equality in the minds of some students and parents, which eliminates the benefits of “sameness” that a school uniform policy attempts to make in the first place.
5. It eliminates a form of student individuality. Students who wear school uniforms may be more likely to pursue an education that is freer from peer pressure, but it also eliminates one form of their identity. It is difficult to express your individuality through fashion when you are forced to wear the same thing as everyone else is wearing to school every day.
6. Most kids hate wearing school uniforms. If you ask the average child who attends a school that requires a uniform to be worn, you’ll receive statements like this. “I don’t like it because I have to wear the same thing every day.” Or “You really can’t do anything for yourself when wearing your uniform.” It becomes even worse when students are required to follow a specific uniform code, but their teachers can wear whatever they want to wear in the classroom. “Why do I need to wear a uniform when my teacher does not?”
7. School uniforms often look pretty lousy. Many school uniforms involve stripes, bright colors, and school branding in some way. They’re often made from canvas materials that are designed to be tough, but don’t feel great to wear. Most kids are not going to want to wear their school uniform clothing unless they are going to school. They get home, change into “regular” clothes, and then go on with their day.
8. Kids still get teased when they wear school uniforms. This is especially true in school districts where only one or two schools out of several require a uniform code. The goal of the uniform might be to reduce teasing and this might happen on school grounds, but once the kids leave school for the day, those who don’t need to wear uniforms will often tease those who do need to wear them.
These school uniforms pros and cons show that when implemented with compassion and a lack of politics, it can potentially provide an environment of equality that allows a student to focus on their studies instead of fashion. On the other hand, it is the kids who need to wear these uniforms on a daily basis and most of them, if honest, will say that they hate wearing them. That has to count for something too.
School Uniforms: Information and Resources for Research Papers, Reports, Essays, and Speeches
Historically, the concept of school uniforms is familiar to many European schools and private schools within the United States. However, much more attention to the controversy over school uniforms arose when a significant movement began in the 1980's to introduce dress codes within public schools in the United States.
We looked at A LOT of literature about the pros and cons, for and against, school uniforms and heard a lot of opinions. Both sides of this issue have valid arguments.
We have to admit that it is hard NOT to see a few general overall concepts when thinking about the pros and cons of school uniforms. Some concepts have a tendency to stand out. Before we get into the arguments for and against the implementation of school uniforms, we will list some general, overall main concepts that keep appearing throughout much of the literature written about school uniforms.
- There is quite a bit of concern (mention) of gangs. There appears to be a significant amount of gang activity affecting many, many schools, especially urban schools. A number of articles and comments stress how important school uniforms are in addressing gang issues and safety in schools.
- A main overall concept FOR school uniforms is the idea that school uniforms promote a safe, fearless, less violent, conflict-free, focused, learning environment. However, some schools implement school uniforms for very specific reasons. For example, some schools, especially urban schools, implement school uniforms to help identify gang members and intruders. Some schools create dress codes to help prevent conflict between some students because of jealousy over designer clothes. Some schools do not have an alarming degree of violence to contend with, but see school uniforms as a device to encourage a more team-oriented, academically-inclined, and focused learning environment to help their students achieve.
- A related concept to the safe learning environment is that this safe learning environment helps students achieve . The idea is that students can concentrate on studying and learning rather than thinking about competing for purchasing designer's clothes or fear violence in some form. Therefore, the students achieve better grades because the school uniforms were instrumental in maintaining a safe learning environment with fewer distractions.
- There is a lot of anecdotal evidence/information that school uniforms provide a better environment for learning. For example, it makes sense that school uniforms make it easy to identify intruders or gang members who should not be on the school grounds unless they are students. It makes sense that there would be less competition for wearing designer clothes IF all students wear the same school uniform. The key word is " anecdotal ."
- Although there is plenty of anecdotal evidence, there are only a few scholarly studies and statistics providing data about how effective school uniforms are, ESPECIALLY when it comes to ACHIEVEMENT. What is fascinating about the few studies is that both sides of this issue will use the same studies to prove their arguments OR they will dispute the accuracy of each other's research studies. It is kind of funny (kind of). You look for experts to provide the research necessary to determine if school uniforms affect achievement, and the experts argue about each other's results.
After looking at A LOT of literature on both sides of the school uniform controversy, it seems like each side has valuable arguments. Like so many argumentative issues, it is questionable if there really is a "right" answer to this controversy. It seems like if there is a winning answer, it would be that whether a school should adopt a dress code or not, depends on the specific circumstances that is faced at each individual, specific school. Each school, student body, staff, and community is different. Each school may have to decide if a dress code really is an answer to whatever issues that they face.
We believe that you will find enough support for whichever side of the school uniform debate that you are on. Following are some of the popular resources and arguments for and against implementing school uniforms/dress codes in schools. Both sides of the issue are presented on this very long web page. PLEASE SCROLL DOWN THE PAGE or click on one of the links in order to see both sides of the issue .
The Pro Side of School Uniforms | The Con Side of School Uniforms
The pro side of school uniforms (reasons for school uniforms):.
The overall, general concept for implementing school uniforms is to create a safe, academic environment for learning.
- School uniforms are good for discipline. Students take school more seriously. Students will focus more on learning rather than clothing or fear of violence because of other issues.
- Reduces jealousy and fighting over designer clothes.
- Prevents members of gangs displaying offensive materials. Prevents gang members from identifying each other and then fighting each other in school.
- School uniforms can be cheaper than regular, non-designer clothes. School uniforms last longer.
- Helps with school spirit and values. Helps with self-image. There is a feeling of belonging.
- Helps identify who belongs at the school and who doesn't. School uniforms can help to quickly identify intruders.
A possible introduction with thesis statement for a "pro" paper on school uniforms might go something like this:
Historically, the concept of school uniforms is familiar to many European schools and private schools within the United States. However, much more attention to the importance of school uniforms arose when a significant movement began in the 1980's to introduce dress codes within public schools in the United States. As more and more public schools implemented dress codes, more and more parents and students questioned the real value of school uniforms as a tool to curb violence in schools and promote achievement. Both sides of this controversy can present valid arguments for their respective views. However, school uniforms are a real solution to many of the issues that schools face. School uniforms help produce a safe academic learning environment which helps students achieve. School uniforms reduce competition among students for designer clothes; identifies intruders; reduces tension due to gang-related clothing; and creates a sense of team spirit and respect. (We placed the thesis statement in BOLD for instructional purpose only to give you an idea of a what a thesis statement looks like.The following sentence after the thesis statement "School uniforms reduce competition among students for designer clothes; identifies intruders; reduces tension due to gang-related clothing; and creates a sense of team spirit and respect" may not technically be part of the thesis statement but this type of sentence impresses the teachers. The sentence gives the reader/teacher an idea of the issues that you will write about in the BODY of your paper, or essay, to prove your thesis statement (argument.)
Here is a possible outline for the PRO paper FOR school uniforms:
I. INTRODUCTION WITH THESIS STATEMENT
II. HISTORY OF SCHOOL UNIFORMS
III. LESS COMPETITION FOR DESIGNER CLOTHES
IV. REDUCED CONFLICT OVER GANG-RELATED ISSUES
V. RECOGNIZE INTRUDERS
VI. SCHOOL UNIFORMS ARE CHEAPER THAN CASUAL CLOTHES AND LAST LONGER
VII. CREATES A FEELING OF TEAMWORK, TEAM SPIRIT, AND RESPECT
VIII. FOCUSED SAFE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT TO HELP STUDENTS CONCENTRATRE ON ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT
Following are some resources in books, magazines, journals, and websites that can help support the pro side of the school uniform debate.
List of resources.
All books and periodical articles are cited according to The MLA Handbook Eighth Edition, 2016 as a PRINTED source (source in print form). Some of the following sources can be found online for free, but if you use the online source, you will have to cite the source as an ONLINE source UNLESS your professor allows you to cite the online source as a PRINT source/citation. The final authority on how you cite something in your paper is YOUR TEACHER . Please remember to double-space citation and use "hanging indentation." We are VERY familiar that many teachers want recent "scholarly, credible" sources for supporting your research paper or speech, such as books and journal articles.. School uniforms is a tough topic for finding recent scholarly sources. We suspect that there is NOT a lot of research being done on this. As you can see by the following sources, conclusive evidence is hard to find on both sides of this debate. We list a combination of older information and some newer materials.
There are not many books devoted to the pros and cons of school uniforms. Here are just a few that you can see if you local library owns. Most libraries have a free interlibrary loan service if your library do not have these books. If your library cannot obtain these books and you still need these books, then you may want to purchase the book new or used on Amazon.com .
Hamilton, Jill. Dress Codes in Schools . Greenhaven Press, 2008.
Cruz, Barbara C. School Dress Codes: A Pro/Con Issue. Enslow Pub, 2001.
Journal, Magazine, and Newspaper articles
Bodine, Ann. "School Uniforms, Academic Achievement, and Uses of Research." Journal of Educational Research, vol. 97, no. 2, 2003,
This scholarly journal article takes a little explanation. The following few articles by Bodine and Brunsma are very good examples of the controversy over the statistics involving school uniforms. If you do the research on the topic of school uniforms, it is likely that you will read about a scholarly research study by David L. Brunsma and Kerry Ann Rockquemore. There are NOT many scholarly research studies on the subject relating school uniforms to school violence, school achievement, safe learning environment, or other common issues associated with school uniforms. However, the research study by Brunsma and Rockquemore is one of the more important and cited studies on this matter. Brunsma and Rockquemore's study indicates that there is NO positive correlation between school uniforms and students' achievement. In fact, some of the statistics from their study show some negative aspects to implementing a school uniform policy.
Ann Bodine's article disputes (to put it mildly) the findings and methodology of Brunsma and Rockquemore's research. Bodine argues that the statistics show that there IS a positive correlation between school uniforms and academic achievement. Bodine's article is a "PRO" school uniform article. A REPLY to Bodine's article by Brunsma is listed next:
PLEASE NOTE that Brunsma's articles have a tendency to come and go from the Web. If your library does not have the articles, then you can try using Google to find the titles.
Brunsma, David L. and Kerry Ann Rockquemore. "Statistics, Sound Bites, and School Uniforms: A Reply to Bodine."
Journal of Educational Research, vol. 97, no. 2, 2003, pp. 72-77.
This article is a reply to the Ann Bodine's article. Brunsma and Rockquemore stand by their study and continue to say that the statistics show that school uniforms "will not increase academic achievement." This specific article is a "CON" article on school uniforms.
Brunsma, David L. "School Uniform Policies in Public Schools." Principle , vol. 85, no. 3, 2003, pp. 50-3.
In this January/February 2006 article, David Brunsma continues to write about research that indicates that school uniforms do not do what they are suppose to do. Brunsma gives information on why he thinks schools adopt school uniform policies. This is a "CON" article giving explanation on how ineffective school uniforms are.
Brunsma, David L., and Kerry Ann Rockquemore. "Effects of Student Uniforms on Attendance, Behavior Problems,
Substance Abuse, and Academic Achievement." Journal of Educational Research, vol. 92, no.1, 1998, pp. 53-62.
This is the original scholarly journal article where Brunsma and Rockquemore explains their findings that school uniforms do not have quite the positive effects on academic achievement that many people think. This is a "CON" article. This is the research study that Ann Bodine disputed in her article listed above. This "CON" article by Brunsma and Rockquemore can be found on the Internet at:
Boutelle, Marsha. "Uniforms: Are They a Good Fit?" The Education Digest, February 2008, pp.34-7.
The author covers a number of pro issues for school uniforms such as promoting school safety, reducing gang-related issues, reducing tension between the haves and have-not students. There are a number of really good quotes from school officials for a number of issues involving school uniforms. Overall, this is a very good "PRO" school uniform article.
Firmin, Michael, Suzanne Smith,and Lynsey Perry. "School Uniforms: A Qualitative Analysis of Aims and
Accomplishments at Two Christian Schools." Journal of Research on Christian Education, vol. 15, no. 1/2, 2006, pp. 143-68.
This is a GREAT pro and con research study that can be found in the Spring/Fall 2006 issue of the scholarly Journal of Research on Christian Education . Administrators, faculty, staff, students, and parents give their views on school uniforms within two private schools. The results are very interesting in that the students differ on some main issues of school uniforms than what parents and school officials believe. For example, the parents and school officials believe that school uniforms eliminate competition, but several students felt this way:
"I never felt like I experienced peer pressure in the first place. So, uniforms haven't really changed that either."
"The cliques, the popular people, have like American Eagle stuff and wear tighter stuff and things like that."
This journal article offers plenty of PRO and con quotes/perspectives to support both sides of the school uniform debate. There are over 20 pages of good information within this article.
"These corrections are very important as evidenced by the fact that while most prior work has found uniforms to have insignificant to negative impacts, we find that uniforms have a positive influence on student attendance in secondary grades. Attendance rates in grades 6 through 12 increase by 0.3 to 0.4 percentage points after a school adopts uniforms. On the other hand, we find little evidence that uniforms have lasting impacts on achievement, grade retention, or the likelihood of students switching schools or leaving the district for all genders and grade levels. On the other hand, we find little evidence that uniforms have lasting impacts on achievement, grade retention, or the likelihood of students switching schools or leaving the district for all genders and grade levels. In terms of discipline we also find little evidence of uniform effects. This article can be found online for free at: http://www.nber.org/papers/w17337
This is NOT a research study, but this article gives a very good summary of the pros and cons of the issues with school uniforms / dress codes. Here is an excerpt from this article: “No large scale studies have demonstrated a conclusive link between school dress codes or school uniforms and student achievement. However, several small scale studies and anecdotal report from principals, teachers and students indicate that the imposition of dress codes – including uniforms – is related to higher morale, reduced disciplinary referrals, improved school safety and a “learning-focused” school climate.”Advice is given on how to create and implement a dress code. This article can be found free online at: http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED537953.pdf
King, Keith A. "Should School Uniforms Be Mandated in Elementary Schools?" The Journal of School Health , vol. 68, no. 1, 1998, pp. 32-7.
This January 1998 journal article is a little old, but gives a lot of very good pro and con information about school uniforms. Part of the article covers " The Case For Uniforms " and part of the article covers "The Case Against Uniforms." The article helps support both sides of the controversy. Keith writes about gang violence, a safe and disciplined learning environment, and Long Beach Unified School District as well as more examples. "The Case Against Uniforms" is a very good "case." For example, "While Long Beach Unified School District claims that mandatory school uniforms resulted in decreased school crime and violence, other steps to improve student behavior - such as more teachers patrolling hallways during class changes - were implemented at the same time as the school uniform policy." Keith gives some other very good insights in the case against school uniforms that can help support the "CON" side of this controversy. I have to say again that this IS A VERY GOOD article on this subject.
McCarthy, Martha. "Dressing Down." Principal Leadership, vol. 6, no. 4, 2005, pp. 49-53.
One of the major issues that the "CON" group argues against is that school uniforms is a violation of First Amendment rights such as freedom of expression. This 2005 article does a very good job explaining the legal issues of school uniforms. Both sides have won in the courts over this issue. Overall, it appears that the judicial system allows schools to be restrictive when it comes to freedom of expression for the sake of creating a safe and productive learning environment. Basically, what takes place WITHIN the school is one thing and what takes place OUTSIDE the school is quite another matter.
McCarthy, Martha. "Restrictions of Student Attire: Dress Codes and Uniforms." Educational Horizons, vol. 79, no. 4, 2001, pp.155-157.
This is another good article by McCarthy giving examples of how the courts have treated school uniforms.
"This study investigated public middle school students' opinions on the benefits of wearing a school uniform. A review of related literature is provided along with results of the opinions obtained from 604 seventh- and eighth-grade middle school students attending a public school in Nevada that had recently initiated a school uniform policy. Improvements in discipline data and school police data were also examined. Results highlighted the perceived benefits (i.e., decreases in discipline, gang involvement, and bullying and increases in safety, ease of going to school, confidence, and self-esteem) of wearing a uniform to school, as reported by students through a survey instrument. The results focus on gender, grade level, and racial/ethnic differences in students' responses. Few significant differences were found. One benefit was found between genders, six benefits between grade levels, and three benefits related to racial/ethnic groups."
This is a doctoral dissertation that can be located for free on the Web at: http://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1532&context=doctoral
"This causal-comparative study examined the relationship of school uniforms to attendance, academic achievement, and discipline referral rates, using data collected from two high schools in rural southwest Georgia county school systems, one with a uniforms program and one without a uniforms program. After accounting for race and students with disabilities status, School A (with uniforms) had significantly better attendance and somewhat fewer minor behavior infractions, but trended lower in standardized math scores and more intermediate and major behavioral infractions than School B (without uniforms) . These findings failed to demonstrate an unambiguous advantage of school uniforms , consistent with the mixed results across reports in the published literature. Implications and suggestions for further research are detailed."
Walmsley, Angela. "What the United Kingdom Can Teach the United States about School Uniforms."
Phi Delta Kappan, vol. 92, no. 6, 2011, pp. 63-6.
In this March 2011 journal article, Angela gives her perspectives about school uniforms from her British experience with school uniforms. Angela believes that school uniforms can "create a more respectful atmosphere for learning and ease the burden on parents." Angela mentions the cost of uniforms, uniforms and high-poverty schools, and ideas to help students adjust to the implementation of school uniforms. The author touches on the fact that school uniforms may not be a solution for all schools. She touches on a subject that is not seen in a lot of the literature, but is something to consider when she writes that we have to be careful about "creating a culture where parents think that a public school where children wear uniforms is an unsafe place to send their child." After all, some schools only implement a school uniform policy to help cut down on violence within the school while other schools implement dress code policies because they truly believe that school uniforms help students achieve success.
West, Charles K., Diane K. Tidwell, Anne K. Bomba, and Patsy A. Emore. "Attitudes Of Parents about
School Uniforms." Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, vol. 91, no. 2, 1999, pp. 92-96.
This is a journal article with some statistics. Although the main focus of this scholarly journal article covers the attitudes of parents on school uniforms, this article does provide information on some of the common issues involving school uniforms. The majority of views by the parents are positive for school uniforms.
Wingert, Pat. "Uniforms Rule." Newsweek, 4 Oct. 1999, pp. 72+.
This is an older magazine article, but it does have some nice pro and con tidbits of information that can help support each side. School uniforms can "eliminate the baggy gang-inspired look that makes it easy for students to smuggle in weapons, drugs and other banned items." A study is mentioned that states that students in uniforms "felt more like a team." However, Wingert writes about some cons of school uniforms such as the fact that some research shows that school uniforms do not improve student's behavior or grades. Another interesting issue with school uniforms is that some teachers believe that by allowing students to dress the way they want "gives teachers insights into what's happening with individual students. If we see a big change in the way a student dresses, that sends up a signal and tells us we need to address the person."
“The article discusses the issue of implementing policies mandating school uniforms by school districts in the U.S. with particular focus on the federal case Frudden v. Pilling, in which the plaintiff Mary Frudden, a mother of third-grade and fifth-grade children, alleged that the mandatory school uniform policy instituted by the Roy Comm Elementary School in Reno, Nevada violated the children's First Amendment freedom of expression. Several questions related to this case are also discussed.”
“The courts generally leave school uniform policymaking considerations to local school boards and their administrators. In making such decisions, the usual professional procedures apply, such as (a.) examining the experience of other comparable districts; (b.) surveying the parents and other constituents; (c.) having a balanced committee make recommendations to the schoo l board or school leadership; and (d.) holding a public meeting before reaching a final decision.” “Similarly, if the decision is in favor of adopting mandatory school uniforms, practical administrative wisdom suggests the need to provide ample time and well-planned procedures for implementation. As a legal matter, the key is keeping the policy reasonably clear and content-neutral, with special cautions regarding any written or particular messages on the required uniform, and the wording and application of any exemptions or exceptions.”
Psychological / Child Development Argument
Another strategy to argue FOR school uniforms is to argue the psychological / child development argument. Individual and social child development includes the idea of self-concept and self-esteem. During middle childhood, children start evaluating themselves in comparison to others. There are studies that show that children who are not accepted or rejected by their fellow students are at high risk of dropping out of school, engaging in delinquent behavior and have emotional and psychological problems. The following studies / journal articles suggest this issue. It could be argued that school uniforms can reduce the stress between the haves and the have nots. School uniforms and dress codes may allow a more friendly environment with peer cooperation.
The Con Side of School Uniforms (Reasons AGAINST School Uniforms):
A general, overall picture of many of the arguments against school uniforms involve the concept that school uniforms is just a quick fix or band-aid attempt to solve real issues that cannot be solved by JUST establishing a school uniform/dress code policy.
- There is quite a bit of concern over gangs. The pro argument for school uniforms is that school uniforms will avoid gang colors or affiliations. However, school uniforms are about aesthetics. School uniforms will not change the mentality or gang-related behavior of the gang members that attend school.
- A common argument for school uniforms is that they reduce the chance of the "have not" students becoming jealous over designer clothes that other more financially well-off students can afford to purchase. However, how far do school officials need to go to reduce the tension between the haves and have-nots? Should jewelry, watches, and make-up be banned? How about expensive perfume or body deodorant? Should cell-phones and laptops be banned from entering schools, after all, some of these devices are more expensive than others? Should there be restrictions on how much money a student can have on them inside the school to pay for lunch or snacks? Should there be restrictions on the type of vehicle that the student, who has a driver's license, can drive to school? Is the implementation of school uniforms the REAL answer to conflict over designer clothing or is some type of educational/social instruction the better answer? Can schools actually try to teach students about proper behavior? How can society and schools teach people about diversity if school uniforms and some of the ideas behind the implementation of school uniform policies help hide diversity?
- Lack of creativity, expression, and students losing their identity are common reasons against using school uniforms. Some feel that school uniforms promote self-esteem, but it is hard to see this argument when students are forced to look alike. Psychologically-speaking, the adolescent years are a time for youth to express themselves and create their own identity.
- There are practically no scholarly research studies that show evidence that clothes has a relationship to learning/achievement. Although there is plenty of anecdotal evidence, there are only a few scholarly studies and statistics providing data about how effective school uniforms are or are not, ESPECIALLY when it comes to ACHIEVEMENT. What is fascinating about the few studies is that both sides of this issue will use the same studies to prove their arguments OR they will dispute the accuracy of each other's research studies. The one major study by Brunsma and Rockqemore is the main study that opponents of school uniforms can use to argue that school uniforms are not a significant factor in helping students learn and achieve.
- Some proponents of school uniforms feel that school uniforms present a more conducive environment for learning. However, there are many children that are living with more serious circumstances that prevent them from learning than just being worried about what other students are wearing. Let's face it, a lot of students have to be concerned about where their breakfast or next meal will come from. Some students live with some type of abuse or neglect. Some students need more teaching/tutoring than what overcrowded and under funded schools can provide. Jealousy over designer clothes for many, many students is not the biggest obstacle to learning or preventing violence.
- School uniforms are not cheap. Some school districts have attempted to provide free school uniforms based on donations. However, in these very difficult economic times, there are not many associations that can afford to provide school uniforms for free. It is important to remember that students need more than just one school uniform to get them through the school week. One argument is that school uniforms are cheaper than "regular" clothes. However, for many parents, that is hard to believe. It is hard to believe that school uniforms are cheaper than basic, regular clothes that can be found at Wal-Mart, Goodwill, or some other general store.
A possible introduction with thesis statement for a "con" paper on school uniforms might go something like this:
Historically, the concept of school uniforms is familiar to many European schools and private schools within the United States. However, much more attention to the importance of school uniforms arose when a significant movement began in the 1980's to introduce dress codes within public schools in the United States. As more and more public schools implemented dress codes, more and more parents and students questioned the real value of school uniforms as a tool to curb violence in schools and promote achievement. Both sides of this controversy can present valid arguments for their respective views. However, school uniforms are not the solution to many of the issues that schools face. A school uniform policy does not have a significant influence on producing a safe learning environment and helping students achieve. The haves and the have-nots will not be fooled by school uniforms; creativity and self-image suffers; gang members will continue to display gang-like behavior; uniforms are not cheap; and studies show that school uniforms are not a direct connection to achievement. (We placed the thesis statement in BOLD for instructional purpose only to give you an idea of a what a thesis statement looks like.The following sentence after the thesis statement: "The haves and the have-nots will not be fooled by school uniforms; creativity and self-image suffers; gang members will continue to display gang-like behavior; uniforms are not cheap; and studies show that school uniforms are not a direct connection to achievement" may not technically be part of the thesis statement but this type of sentence impresses the teachers. The sentence gives the reader/teacher an idea of the issues that you will write about in the BODY of your paper, or essay, to prove your thesis statement (argument.)
Here is a possible outline for the CON paper about school uniforms:
This is the original scholarly journal article where Brunsma and Rockquemore explains their findings that school uniforms do not have quite the positive effects on academic achievement that many people think. Brunsma and Rockquemore's study indicates that there is NO positive correlation between school uniforms and students' achievement. In fact, some of the statistics from their study show some negative aspects to implementing a school uniform policy. This is a major and significant CON research study . This article can be found on the Internet at:
Firmin, Michael, Suzanne Smith, and Lynsey Perry. "School Uniforms: A Qualitative Analysis of Aims and Accomplishments
at Two Christian Schools." Journal of Research on Christian Education, vol . 15, no.1/2, 2006, pp. 143-68.
This is a GREAT pro AND con research study that can be found in the Spring/Fall 2006 issue of the scholarly Journal of Research on Christian Education . Administrators, faculty, staff, students, and parents give their views on school uniforms within two private schools. The results are very interesting in that the students differ on some main issues of school uniforms than what parents and school officials believe. For example, parents and school officials believe that school uniforms eliminate competition, but several students felt this way:
This journal article offers plenty of pro and con quotes/perspectives to support both sides of the school uniform debate. There are over 20 pages of good information within this article.
King, Keith A. "Should School Uniforms Be Mandated in Elementary Schools?" The Journal of School Health , vol. 68, no.1, 1998, pp. 32-7.
This January 1998 journal article is a little old, but gives a lot of very good pro AND con information about school uniforms. Part of the article covers "The Case for Uniforms" and part of the article covers "The Case Against Uniforms." This is a very good article that helps support both sides of the controversy. Keith writes about gang violence, a safe and disciplined learning environment, and Long Beach Unified School District as well as more examples. "The Case Against Uniforms" is a very good "case." For example, "While Long Beach Unified School District claims that mandatory school uniforms resulted in decreased school crime and violence, other steps to improve student behavior - such as more teachers patrolling hallways during class changes - were implemented at the same time as the school uniform policy." Keith gives some other very good insights in the case against school uniforms that can help support the "CON" side of this controversy.
McCarthy, Martha. "Dressing Down." Principal Leadership, vol . 6, no.4, 2005, pp. 49-53.
This 2005 article does a very good job of explaining the legal issues of school uniforms. Both sides have won in the courts over this issue and McCarthy gives examples. Overall, it appears that the judicial system allows schools to be restrictive when it comes to freedom of expression for the sake of creating a safe and productive learning environment. Basically, what takes place WITHIN the school is one thing and what takes place OUTSIDE the school is quite another matter. HOWEVER, there are exceptions.
McCarthy, Martha. "Restrictions on Student Attire. Dress Codes and Uniforms." Educational Horizons, vol. 79, no.4, 2001, pp. 155-157.
This article can be found online for free at: http://www.tolerance.org/magazine/number-43-spring-2013/buttoned-down . It is a magazine article. “Advocates of school uniforms will tell you that they keep students out of trouble, both in the classroom and off campus— but there is little proof, other than anecdotal evidence, that uniforms positively alter student behavior. In fact, studies illustrate the opposite. A 2009 University of Houston study based on more than 10 years of data from a large urban district found an increase in disciplinary infractions within uniform schools, specifically for boys.”
In this March 2011 journal article, Angela gives her perspectives about school uniforms from her British experience with school uniforms. Angela believes that school uniforms can "create a more respectful atmosphere for learning and ease the burden on parents." Angela mentions the cost of uniforms, uniforms and high-poverty schools, and ideas to help students adjust to the implementation of school uniforms. The author touches on the fact that school uniforms may not be a solution for all schools. She touches on a subject that is not seen in a lot of the literature, but is something to consider when she writes that we have to be careful about "creating a culture where parents think that a public school where children wear uniforms is an unsafe place to send their child." After all, some schools only implement a school uniform policy to help cut down on violence within the school while other schools implement dress code policies because they truly believe that school uniforms help students achieve success. You can get some very good ideas from this article to help support the CON view.
This is an older magazine article, but it does have some nice pro and con tidbits of information that can help support each side. School uniforms can "eliminate the baggy gang-inspired look that makes it easy for students to smuggle in weapons, drugs and other banned items." A study is mentioned that states that students in uniforms "felt more like a team." However, Wingert writes about some cons of school uniforms such as the fact that some research shows that school uniforms do not improve student's behavior or grades. Another interesting issue with school uniforms is that some teachers believe that by allowing students to dress the way they want "gives teachers insight into what's happening with individual students. If we see a big change in the way a student dresses, that sends up a signal and tells us we need to address the person."
How to Cite this Web Page According to The MLA Handbook Eighth Edition, 2016
Double-space the lines. Use hanging indentation with the second line (if needed) and is indented about 7 or 10 spaces. The title of the web page is "School Uniforms: Pros and Cons Information and Resources". There is no official author so place the title first and in quotes as seen above. The official website is called The Research Paper Center and is placed in ITALICS. 6 August 2011 is when the web page was created, BUT it was UPDATED November 20, 2016. Type, or cut and paste the URL. After this, provide the date that you accessed the web page, such as 27 Nov. 2016.
This web page was created August 6, 2011, BUT UPDATED November 20, 2016.
Kansas City Public Schools won’t arm officers in elementary schools after community pushback
In response to mass school shootings like the one in Uvalde, Texas, Kansas City Public Schools administrators began talking about adding armed officers to elementary schools. But many parents opposed the idea, citing research showing that officers would only increase expulsions and criminal referrals.
Applause broke out at a Kansas City Public Schools advisory committee meeting on Wednesday when an employee announced the district was moving away from a proposal to add armed officers to elementary schools.
In the end, district administrators heard too much opposition to putting more guns on school grounds — even in the holsters of people in uniform.
Shana Long, the district’s chief legal officer and a member of its Moving Forward Together safety committee, said the decision showed the district listens to parents.
“We want to make sure that you all believe and trust us when we say we’re listening to you,” she said. “This isn’t just us coming to you with a predetermined solution and then just telling you about it.”
Long also said that the district had considered hiring its own officers to carry firearms — not contracting a private security firm.
The decision comes as the district tries to show it’s involving the community, particularly parents, in decisions that affect schools.
District officials were already reeling when their proposal to close 10 schools caught the public off guard last fall and provoked angry opposition even though they had sought feedback in advance.
After scaling back the school closures — it only closed two — KCPS launched its Moving Forward Together effort to improve engagement.
When administrators, motivated by mass school shootings like the one in Uvalde, Texas, started to talk about adding armed officers to elementary schools, they brought the idea to the Moving Forward Together safety committee. After that, they took it to a broader group of parents.
Ashley Johnson, a parent, community organizer and District Advisory Committee vice chair, said the risk of mass shootings doesn’t top the list of concerns for many parents. Rather, she said they’re more concerned about meeting students’ basic needs for stable housing and food security.
“The feedback that we got … was really robust,” she said. “If we have issues involving gun violence, it’s not at a mass shooting level.”
She hopes the decision means the district can now focus on solutions to real problems.
Pros and cons
Decisions about school safety should factor in data rather than emotions, personal worldviews or wishful thinking, Vaughn Baker, president of security company Strategos International, said during a presentation at a KCPS discussion session.
But some parents who spoke at the recorded meeting or submitted comments to an online platform questioned whether, in presenting statistics about the timing of deaths during mass shootings, Baker had made a data-based case that armed officers would help keep students safe.
Parents came prepared with statistics from scholarly articles that cast doubts on whether armed guards would help during a mass shooting and expressed concerns that their daily presence might hurt students.
A smaller number disagreed, saying they thought armed officers would make schools safer and that students would understand they were protectors.
Melvin Livingston, an associate professor at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health, said in an interview that schools are in a tough spot because they have to weigh potential harms — such as evidence that police officers assigned to schools increase expulsions and criminal referrals — against uncertain benefits.
Livingston’s research didn’t reach a conclusion on the impact of officers during shootings.
“If there’s an effect either way, it’s not strong enough that it shows up in the data,” he said. That means the range of plausible estimates, he said, “goes anywhere from ‘yeah, this could help’ to ‘this could hurt.’”
Benjamin Brown, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, said research on arming officers in elementary schools is particularly scarce because it’s not as common as stationing officers in high schools or middle schools.
“Ordinarily, the school police are not there just to deter an outside threat,” he said.
Those attacks, he said, are just too rare to measure officers’ impact on safety.
And even when officers are instructed to stay out of normal student discipline, they can have mission creep, said Denise Gottfredson, a professor emeritus from the department of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Maryland.
“They’re trained to recognize certain behaviors as potentially illegal,” she said, and administrators can come to rely on them. In response to what used to be seen as “normal kid behavior” deserving a less formal response from the school, “kids end up being expelled or arrested or both.”
Gottfredson isn’t aware of any studies focused on the specific impacts in elementary schools but said there’s been a push to add police officers to elementary schools since the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012.
KCPS already has a security force, with sworn officers hired directly by the district and licensed through the Kansas City Police Department. Some of those officers are unarmed and based in specific school buildings while others are armed patrol officers. Separately, several armed KCPD officers are assigned to the school district.
All KCPS middle schools and high schools already have armed officers, said Derald Davis, deputy superintendent, and he knows of other local districts that have added them to elementary schools: North Kansas City and Fort Osage.
Johnson, the DAC vice chair, said she appreciated that the district consulted with the community before following those districts.
“It all came with actually listening to the parents, listening to the community members and stakeholders, that this is not what we want,” she said.
This story was originally published by the Kansas City Beacon , a fellow member of the KC Media Collective.