Uniforms are a fact of life in British schools, with almost every secondary school (98%) and the vast majority of primary schools (79%) requiring students to wear them 5 days a week. It is a tradition that dates back to the 13th century in Britain, and a trend that has been exported to many countries around the world.
Although schools are not legally required to enforce a uniform policy, it is something the Department of Education ‘strongly encourages’ schools to impose believing that they play a ‘valuable role in contributing to the ethos of a school and setting an appropriate tone’. The DofE has also found increasing evidence that schools which strictly enforce uniform policies experience fewer incidences of bullying, as potential bullies find it harder to identify their targets, who often are those children who do not fit in. It has been suggested uniform levels the playing field. Not only does it remove the pressure on children to wear the latest fashion or designer labels and trends, but can also reduce perceived inequalities between students from different socio-economic or family backgrounds.
Comparably, in the United States where fewer than a quarter of schools enforce a uniform policy, preferring instead to implement dress codes, more than 160,000 children miss school every day due to bullying and other classroom intimidation. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services being bullied is a way of life for 28% of American students.
Teachers are overwhelmingly in favour of school uniforms as they have the greatest understanding of classroom politics and the cliques that can develop among pupils. They are also up close and personal with social interactions between their students, and perhaps see behaviours that children would not want to share with their parents. Over 80% of teachers see uniforms as contributing to a happy school community, as well as 95% of teachers believing wearing uniform helps students ‘fit in’ with their peers. It would also seem parents largely agree with teachers, with more than half of UK parents believing that wearing a school uniform reduces the incidences of bullying in their children’s schools. It is no surprise that, if given the option, children would prefer to wear their own clothes to school, with over half of 6-15 year olds voting against wearing uniforms. However, survey results do suggest that children believe uniforms can help reduce the risk of bullying. Nearly 70% of children believe wearing a school uniform helps them to fit in, and almost half think a school uniform makes bullying less likely to occur.
The popular consensus held by children, parents and teachers is that enforcing a school uniform can play a role in helping students to ‘fit in’, which may help reduce bullying.