Recently, the Scottish Government issued a consultation on national school uniform guidance that they are planning to issue. The main stated aims of the new guidance will be to reduce costs for families, and to comply with equal obligations.
The guidance is to apply to all schools in Scotland, whether local authority schools, independent schools, or grant-aided schools.
For a consultation document, it already has some very clear ideas about what the proposed guidance will, and will not contain.
So, we know that the guidance will not:
- require the adoption of specific school uniform items;
- be a national school uniform policy – instead it will help schools and education authorities to come up with their own policies;
- abolish school uniform altogether.
And, we know that the guidance will cover:
- the affordability of school uniform;
- equalities considerations, aligned to protected characteristics;
- clothing and equipment for PE, physical activity and sport; and
- the use of exclusion as a compliance measure.
Finally, there are a set of draft principles, which the consultation document invites comments on. The section begins “national school uniform policy should ..” – which is odd, since the same document has already assured us “It is not intended that there will be a national school uniform policy which is applied in all schools – therefore this is not the subject of this consultation and is not in scope.”
Anyway, the draft principles are that the national school uniform policy should:
- Be informed by the views of children and young people
- Apply to education authorities, grant-aided and independent schools
- Seeks to reduce the cost of school uniforms for families. Supports equity in relation to school uniforms
- Promotes equality, including recognizing specific matters to religion and belief, relating to disability, sex and gender
- Applies to all uniform uses, including PE and senior phase
- Recognizes the need for practicality, including in relation to seasonal needs
- Reflects sustainable approaches to school uniform
- Continues the position of no legal requirement upon pupils to wear school uniform
- Considers appropriate response for persistent non-wearing of uniform, recognizing ethos and culture of promoting attendance and reducing absences
- Recognizes and builds upon current good practice within schools
- Does not introduce unnecessary barriers to school uniform policies and practices.
The launch of the consultation prompted the Daily Telegraph to speculate that “Scottish pupils could be told to wear gender-neutral school uniforms” despite there being no mention of this at all. The article also claims that “SNP and Greens reveal plans for a national uniform policy to cut costs for parents and promote equality in classrooms”. In fairness, as we’ve discussed above, the consultation document is sending mixed messages on whether there is to be a national uniform policy or not. The article is worth looking at for the photo of Fettes School’s pink striped blazers alone.
I have respondents to the consultation in brief, and a summary of my thoughts are as follows.
National guidance to assist schools in making sure that they can comply with their equal duties would, no doubt, be helpful. Guidance to assist schools in reducing the cost of school uniforms is also to be welcomed. I agree that it would not be appropriate to have a nationally mandated school uniform.
There is mention of “the use of exclusion as a compliance measure” as being within the scope of the guidance. I can only hope that this means that the guidance will make it clear that it is never appropriate to use exclusion as a means of ensuring compliance with a school uniform policy.
In the national exclusions guidance (Included, Engaged & Involved Part 2, 2017) it is made clear that this would include sending pupils home. Therefore, the implication should be made clear that pupils should not be sent home to change in the event of not wearing school uniforms – especially in the state sector.
There seems to me to be a fundamental discrepancy between two of the principles listed.
On the one hand, there is a statement that there is “no legal requirement upon pupils to wear a school uniform” while at the same time considering “appropriate responses for persistent non-wearing of uniform”.
If it is not a legal requirement, then there ought not to be punitive measures for a breach of the uniform policy. If there are punitive or disciplinary measures set out in national guidance for a failure (persistent or otherwise) then it is misleading to suggest that there is no legal requirement to wear a school uniform.
Hopefully, what is intended here is that the “appropriate responses” referred to are supportive measures, rather than disciplinary ones.