School uniform in Wales has been in the news recently. The Welsh Government has introduced new guidance to schools planning on introducing a school uniform, or changing the school uniform that they already have. The guidance must be followed from 1 September 2019.
So what are the changes to school uniform in Wales? And what do the changes to school uniform in Wales mean for you if you’re at school.
What does the new guidance say about school uniform in Wales?
When a school is bringing in a school uniform for the first time, or changing the school uniform it already has, it will have to look at the new guidance that has been introduced by the Welsh Government, and take it into account when it makes any decisions.
The new guidance explains how the school governors and head teacher at a school should make decisions about school uniform, and sets down a number of principles about school uniform. In the past, guidance about school uniform was ‘voluntary’ and schools didn’t have to pay attention to it. The new guidance is ‘statutory guidance’ which means schools will have to take it into account.
Pupil participation in decisions about school uniform
The School Council should be involved in decision making about school uniform, in consultation with all the pupils at the school. This means that if your school is bringing in school uniform, or is changing its school uniform, you should have a say in that.
Equality and school uniform
The new statutory guidance on school uniform in Wales makes it very clear that schools must make sure that uniform policies don’t discriminate against any pupils. This means not treating someone differently – and badly compared to others for a reason like sex, gender, race, religion or disability.
The guidance particularly looks at
- Discrimination because of your race religious belief
Schools have to think about how a uniform policy might affect you because of your religion. It might mean, for example, that you can wear a particular item of clothing because of your religion, it must be in the school colours.
- Discrimination because of your disability
If you’ve got a disability, you shouldn’t be disadvantaged by a school uniform or appearance policy. The school needs to make sure that it makes ‘reasonable adjustments’ if something about the uniform policy makes things difficult for you.
- Discrimination because of your sex or gender identity
School uniform shouldn’t treat pupils differently on grounds of sex or gender identity, so uniform needs to be ‘gender neutral’. School uniform policies shouldn’t restrict some items of clothing to either girls or boys: for example ‘trousers can only be worn by boys and skirts can only be worn by girls’.
Cost and affordability of school uniform in Wales
Schools have to think very carefully about the cost and affordability of school uniform and make sure that these factors wouldn’t put people off applying for a place at their school. They should do things such as making sure people have the choice of where to buy uniform items from, avoiding high cost items like blazers and making sure items of clothing are easily washable.
Schools have to think carefully about whether to have separate summer and winter uniforms, but need to be flexible if there is a period of extreme weather to make sure pupils are able to be comfortable in school. A school might say that if it is very hot, pupils can wear PE kit.
What else does the new guidance cover?
The new guidance on school uniform and appearance looks at coats, home to school travel, PE kit, makeup and jewellery, health and safety issues and medical conditions – which might not fall within ‘disability’ but where uniform could still cause a problem.
The guidance also looks at what a school can do if a pupil doesn’t follow the uniform and appearance policy. It’s up to the head teacher to take action if a pupil isn’t wearing the correct school uniform. The guidance is clear that he or she has to try and understand why the pupil isn’t wearing the correct uniform.
What does this mean for you?
For a start, if your school is planning to bring in a school uniform or to change the existing uniform, as a pupil you can expect to have your say about this. Your parents/carers should also be consulted. If you identify as part of a particular minority group within your school, the school should consult with leaders of that group, to make sure all interests are heard in the development of the new policy.
You should be reminded every year about what the school uniform is. The uniform and appearance policy should be in the school prospectus, and might also be on the school’s website, or shared regularly by other means such as on social media or in newsletters.
Your school has to have a complaints process for dealing with complaints so you or your parents/carers can use this to complain about any aspect of the school uniform and appearance policy at your school.
If your school has a uniform, and the uniform and appearance policy has been put together correctly, then unless there is a very good reason why you can’t wear it – for example you believe it discriminates against you – your school can discipline you for not wearing the right uniform.
You can be sent home to change into the correct school uniform, but only for the amount of time it would take to change, and only if it’s safe for you to go home. Equally, if you’ve been sent home just to change your clothes or to change something else – like taking makeup off or changing a hairstyle, you could be marked as ‘unauthorised absent’ if you stay away from school longer than necessary to do what you’ve been asked to do. The guidance makes it clear that the Welsh Government does not consider that exclusion from school would normally be the right way to deal with someone who doesn’t follow the school uniform or appearance policy.