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As summer draws to a close, students and parents across the country eagerly await the beginning of a new academic year. However, for some parents, this anticipation is tinged with a sense of apprehension, as the start of term can often ignite the age-old feud between parents and teachers, over rigid school uniform policies.
Parents have the responsibility to ensure that their children's uniforms adhere to the established rules. Though this begs the question: Is there any scope for flexibility? It is also essential to understand the legal standpoint and explore potential courses of action for parents who find themselves at odds with the school's regulations.
Leanne Lim, Legal Adviser at DAS Law, tells you what you need to know…
Schools have the right to establish regulations mandating the use of a school uniform. Upon enrolment, many schools implement a home-school agreement, wherein parents and students agree to uphold the school's guidelines regarding behaviour and appearance policy. These requirements are typically outlined in a readily accessible policy document provided to both pupils and parents.
The school can discipline pupils for not complying with the school uniform rules although they are expected to consider a reasonable request to vary the uniform policy and must take care to ensure that any policy does not lead to discrimination, particularly on grounds of sex, gender reassignment, sexual orientation, race, disability, religion, or belief.
The Department for Education’s guidance strongly encourages schools to have a uniform, and in its guidance, it recommends that governing bodies should consider the views of parents and pupils as well as costs when making decisions.
Each maintained school has a behaviour and discipline policy in place. This policy will provide provisions for disciplining students who breach the school’s uniform and appearance rules. Any punishment should be in line with the published behaviour policy.
The guidance states that where there is a breach of the school uniform policy, either a headteacher – or someone authorised by the headteacher – can ask a pupil to go home to remedy the uniform breach. The school is expected to consider carefully whether this would be appropriate considering the child’s age, vulnerability, the ease and time it will take the pupil, and also the availability of the child’s parents in order to decide if this is reasonable in all the circumstances.
This is not an exclusion but an authorised absence unless the pupil continues to breach the policy to avoid school by being sent home or takes longer than necessary to make the change. The Secretary of State’s statutory guidance on exclusions provides that pupils should only be excluded for breaches of the school’s behaviour policy when they have committed a serious breach of the policy. School uniform breaches are usually considered minor disciplinary matters though in some cases of repeated and persistent failures exclusion may be justified.
Children can be disciplined for not complying with the school uniform rules. If the school uniform rules include branded items, and children do not comply with this – children may be disciplined as per the uniform policy.
The guidance for England sets out that schools have a duty to keep branded items to a minimum and to limit their use to low cost or long-lasting items. However, it does not specifically prohibit schools from disciplining children for wearing unbranded uniforms.
The guidance also states that schools should only discipline pupils for breaches of their uniform policy if the policy is "reasonable" and "proportionate". This means that schools need to be able to justify why they are disciplining a pupil for wearing an unbranded uniform. For example, a school might be able to justify disciplining a pupil if the uniform policy is designed to promote equality and prevent pupils from being discriminated against on the basis of their socio-economic background.
If a school or organisation fails to follow statutory guidance, they may not be breaking the law, but they may be open to criticism or legal action. For example, if a school fails to follow statutory guidance on the cost of school uniforms, they may be accused of discriminating against pupils from low-income families.
It is noteworthy that statutory guidance can change over time. Schools and organisations should regularly check for updates to statutory guidance to ensure that they are always complying with the latest requirements.
if a school is not found to be complying with this guidance, parents are encouraged to raise this with the school using the school’s complaints process. Where parents are not satisfied with the response from the school, they may raise this with the Department for Education (England) or the Department of Education and Skills (Wales).
When a school implements a uniform policy, it is expected to consider and accommodate reasonable requests to modify the policy. This includes requests made to meet the specific needs of individual students based on factors such as their religion or belief, ethnicity, disability, or other special considerations.
A school should have a clear and user-friendly complaints policy in place to effectively address disputes related to school uniforms. This policy enables local resolution in accordance with the school's guidelines. School governing bodies are required to establish a complaints procedure specifically for issues concerning school uniforms. It is expected that governors will consider reasonable requests for flexibility to accommodate social and cultural circumstances.
Typically, school procedures for handling complaints involve initially raising the concern with the responsible staff member, followed by escalation to the head of the department and then the head teacher. If necessary, the next step would involve submitting a written complaint to the chair of governors. In cases where the internal complaints and appeals process has been exhausted, the Department for Education can intervene to address complaints about schools.
As well as having rules on school uniforms, schools are entitled to have rules regarding appearance. Provided the rules are reasonable and don’t infringe equality legislation the school is entitled to enforce the rules in accordance with its disciplinary policy.
When pupils change their appearance during the school holidays, they need to be aware that on returning to school they will be expected to adhere to the school’s appearance policy. You may request an adjustment, however, there is no guarantee the school will allow one, especially if the policy was set out in advance.
It is a common practice for schools to establish rules regarding the wearing of jewellery, particularly during physical education (PE) lessons. These rules often mandate the removal of jewellery, which is generally considered reasonable.
To address situations where recently pierced earrings cannot be taken out for PE lessons, many schools have specific policies in place. These policies typically provide alternative tasks for students in such cases. The school's policy will usually emphasize the importance of adhering to the earring requirement, ensuring that any ear piercings align with the school's guidelines.