Whether you like it or hate it, if you go to school in Wales, you probably wear a school uniform. School uniform was in the news a lot last summer during the long heat wave. Some girls complained because their school uniform meant that they had to keep on wearing tights even when it was very hot. At other schools, boys complained that they were too hot in trousers, and wanted to be able to wear shorts in the same way that girls at their school could wear skirts (without tights!). In some places, boys went to school in skirts to make the point!
This isn’t the only thing that has been controversial about school uniform in Wales. Some people say that they are too expensive, or that it is difficult to buy what the school requires. In some schools, different sexes and genders have to wear different items of uniform – for example girls have to wear skirts, and boys have to wear trousers – and this could be discriminatory on grounds of sex or gender identity.
What is the law on school uniform in Wales?
There’s no specific law in Wales about school uniform or ‘appearance’ at school (things like hairstyles, makeup and jewelery). Every school has a governing body, and the governing body has responsibility for the ‘conduct of the school’ which includes rules about the school uniform and your appearance at school.
Why is school uniform a good idea?
The Welsh Government thinks school uniform is a good idea for lots of reasons. Having a school uniform can
- make everyone at school feel part of the school community
- help with good behaviour and discipline in school
- put pupils in the right frame of mind for learning
- reduce pressure on pupils to wear the latest fashions and styles
- stop some bullying
- help identify pupils who are truanting from school
- keep school safer
Most schools that decide to have a uniform usually do so for these types of reason.
How do schools decide what the uniform should be?
When a school decides to have a uniform, or decides to change part of the uniform, it has to think about a lot of different things. The Welsh Government published guidance in July 2011 to help school governing bodies decide their school uniform policy. It reminded schools that school uniform shouldn’t discriminate against pupils at the school, for example on grounds of race, religion, sex or disability. It also reminded schools that they should consider the cost of school uniform.
What is going to change?
The Welsh Government wants to introduce new ‘Statutory Guidance’ on school uniform and appearance policies. Because the new guidance will be ‘statutory’, it will have a basis in law, and so schools will have to follow it when they bring in a school uniform, or plan to change school uniform. The guidance published in July 2011 is ‘non-statutory’, which means that although schools could take it into account, they weren’t necessarily obliged to follow it.
Before it makes the new guidance, the Welsh Government has opened a ‘consultation period’ so that anyone in Wales who wants can comment on what the new guidance should look like.
A lot of what is in the guidance hasn’t changed very much, and still makes sure that schools take account of laws that prevent discrimination. The new guidance also reminds schools that they should consult with the school council on school uniform and appearance.
Alongside the things that stay the same, the government is proposing some important changes, which would mean that schools will have to make sure that:
- the school uniform is affordable, as well as considering the cost of the school uniform, and how easy it will be for pupils and their parents/carers to buy uniform items
Under the old guidance, schools had to consider the cost of school uniform but not whether it was ‘affordable’ or not
- the planned school uniform should not have different items of clothing specified on the basis of sex/gender
The new guidance updates the existing guidance to cover sex and gender identity discrimination. The old guidance refers to ‘Sexual/gender discrimination’. It says that any differences in school uniform between sexes and genders will have to be justified in the school uniform and appearance policy.
- there is a sensible and flexible approach to school uniform that can take account of extreme weather
The existing guidance does not mention anything about how a school should respond to extreme weather conditions. The new guidance includes a requirement on schools to take a ‘sensible, flexible’ approach which could mean relaxing policies to make sure pupils are comfortable at school.
Have your say on school uniform in Wales
The Welsh Government is currently asking for anyone who is interested to give their views on the changes to the guidance by 21st February 2019.
Anyone and everyone can respond to the consultation. You can read the full version of the consultation and the draft statutory guidance, or the ‘easy read’ version, and respond to the questions that the Welsh Government is asking
If you don’t want to reply to the consultation yourself but don’t want to submit your own response, the Children’s Legal Centre Wales will be responding to the consultation and we can include your responses with our own. For more information, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.