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Consistency vs chaos - the false arguments about school uniform

Why do we have school uniform? From experience as headteacher, teacher and parent I support secondary schools having a uniform - it reduces bullying around the purchase of clothes for a start. Many walks of life have dress codes for employees, sometimes for safety, often to give a positive impression - schools are no different.

School uniform attracts strong opinions. From my experience of trying to change the uniform rules of a school, parents/carers often (wrongly) equate a strict uniform code with the quality of education at the school. School staff often say that if battles are being fought and won over uniform infringements then bigger issues "fall into place". Another way that is sometimes said is that if students are rebelling over minor uniform rules then they aren't rebelling over more major things. I think that those are erroneous arguments.

I have always operated on the basis that if I can't explain the reason for a rule then we shouldn't have it and that applies to uniform. Deliberately picking arguments with students over minor uniform matters seems a poor model for adult life. Safety, yes - hooped earrings can be dangerous to the wearer in a crowded school environment, long hair is unsafe in science labs if not tied back. Sensible consistency, yes - if the school policy is a black jumper then a black hoodie is not the same - as I said, many companies operate a dress code (as do most schools for staff).

These matters become a particular issue when students have individual needs - for example sensory needs or high anxiety. Some students with autism cannot bear the feel of certain materials, for example. Over the past few weeks I have come across a case of a student being refused entrance to a school for a one hour reintegration session with an individual member of staff away from other students because he would not remove his hoodie. That is a bizarre sense of priorities - get the student into school, get them re-engaged with education and then address the uniform issue as they go back into mainstream classes.

As usual it is helpful to go back to the original guidance. Governing bodies (or trust boards) are responsible for uniform policies and the government guidance is here. Sensibly it says

Even when a policy has been agreed, schools should be willing to allow for some individual variations to their uniform policy, where necessary to avoid indirect discrimination. For instance, reasonable adjustments must be made, as appropriate, for pupils with a disability.

So, for students with a diagnosis of autism it is relatively straightforward - reasonable adjustments must be made. Of course there is a debate about what constitutes a reasonable adjustment and there is a lot of guidance (and debate!) online.

What about adjustments when your child does not have a diagnosis that would lead to them being identified as disabled (and therefore subject to the provisions of the Equality Act 2010)? It is important to note something from the reasonable adjustments blog from the DfE - it gives an example of reasonable adjustments as "adapting your school uniform policy for pupils with allergies or sensory needs". So I would be arguing that if your child has a medical diagnosis which mitigates against the wearing of standard school uniform that the school should make appropriate adjustments.

Why would a school fight this? I really don't get it. Young people understand exceptions to rules and, if the young person concerned is struggling to thrive and it isn't just a matter of personal choice, then I do not understand the argument about consistency. The school is making an exception because of an individual's established need - no argument. That it is a sign of strength, of attention to the individual, of the kind of school community we should all aspire to create or belong to.

As always, I am happy to discuss these issues with anyone and to offer help and support to any parent or carer whose child is struggling to thrive in secondary school. Just have a look at , email or message 07767142877. I look forward to hearing from you.

James Harris

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