According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the number of public schools that implement a school uniform has significantly risen in the last 10 years. In 1999, 12 percent of public schools had a uniform. By 2008, 18 percent had adopted a uniform for students. The NCES considers school uniforms to be an “indicator of school crime and safety,” and safety is one of the top advantages of school uniforms. However, a strict uniform policy also has its disadvantages, and there have been numerous controversies generated by their use.
1. Advantage: Safety Concerns
* School uniforms restrict the ability of students to wear gang-related clothing. According to an article featured at MSNBC.com, “Dress codes are supposed to reduce violence and bullying by taking style differences out of the equation.” As noted by the National School Safety and Security Services’ article, “School Uniforms, Dress Codes, & Book Bags,” uniforms may also reduce the risk of student robbery and carrying of weapons.
* As noted at Education Bug.org, a school uniform policy is much easier to control and enforce than a more lenient dress code. Uniforms also make it easier for teachers to recognize any nonstudents and keep track of their group of students at school events and field trips.
Advantage: Equality and Community
* School uniforms reinforce the idea that all students are equal, despite a diversity of races and cultural backgrounds. Students are less likely to form cliques or bully certain member of the class for not being up to the latest fashion. Having a school uniform may also lead to a greater sense of community and unity, as noted in the article “Public School Uniform Debate” at Education Bug.org.
Disadvantage: Lack of Expression
* Many opponents of school uniforms argue that wearing a uniform suppresses a student’s right to free speech or expression. In 1969, the first court ruling regarding school uniforms was related to this issue. When two high school students in Des Moines, Iowa wore black armbands to school to protest the Vietnam War, they were suspended and sent home until the armbands were removed. The families of the students filed a complaint, and the case, called Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, went to the Supreme Court. The Court ruled in the students’ favor and emphasized students’ rights to free speech, stating that “A prohibition against expression of opinion, without any evidence that the rule is necessary to avoid substantial interference with school discipline or the rights of others, is not permissible under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.” Many parents and administrators believe that school uniforms are in conflict with this fundamental right.
Disadvantage: Economic Concerns
* School uniforms can be quite expensive, and economic concerns are another commonly noted disadvantage of their use. Of course, buying children uniforms does cut back on the amount of “normal” back-to-school clothing that parents must purchase.
* School uniforms are often criticized for being simply ineffective. A student named Grace Davis, cited in MSNBC’s article on school uniform controversy, sums up this disadvantage of uniforms: “It doesn’t fix the disease. It just covers the symptoms. I think we’re still going to have the same gang problem. We’re just going to be angry at the administration, and I don’t think that’s the way to go.”
It’s a common tradition to take a photograph of the kids as they leave for their first day of school. In many school districts around the world, that means taking a picture of a child that is dressed in a school uniform.
The history of school uniforms has a somewhat checkered past. The tradition originated in the 16th century with charity schools, supporting children who were orphans, living in poverty, or had nowhere else to go. Although uniforms have moved from pom-poms and starched aprons to polos and jumpers, the reasons why uniforms are either supported or criticized have remained relatively the same for over 400 years.
Here are the key advantages and disadvantages of school uniforms to think about.
What Are the Advantages of School Uniforms?
1. School uniforms reduce clothing-related peer pressure.
A uniform mandate makes every student wear either the exact same outfit or piece together a uniform based on certain acceptable standards. Because every student is essentially wearing the same thing, there is a reduced level of peer pressure to wear certain fashion styles or purchase specific clothes brands. This makes it possible for students to build more relationships through genuine networking skills instead of through popularity.
2. It creates uniformity between socioeconomic classes within a school district.
Since students are wearing the same uniform, there is less of a socioeconomic distinction that can be made between students. Although different brands might be worn in some districts, some that may be associated with the wealthy class, the overall appearance of each student is similar. This reduces the barriers that poverty and wealth naturally create.
3. School uniforms tend to cost less than traditional youth clothing.
Branded jeans for kids may cost more than $40. For the same cost, it is possible to purchase two modern school polos and two pairs of uniform pants, skirts, jumpers, or skirt-short combinations. Many families can purchase a week’s worth of school uniform clothing for less than $100. For name-brand fashion items, that might purchase 4-5 items of clothing instead.
4. It can create an environment where discipline is emphasized.
Meeting a school uniform code requires a certain level of discipline from the student. It also requires parental discipline to ensure their child is meeting expectations. When discipline is practiced, it can be applied to other aspects of life. Children in school uniforms may find it easier to stay focused on their studies, complete homework after school, build friendships, or prepare themselves for a vocational career.
5. It may take students less time to get ready for school each morning.
Students who are in districts with a school uniform code always know what they’ll need to wear in the morning. Instead of standing in front of their closet, trying to decide which look to wear that day, the uniform can be put on and the morning routine can be completed. Some students may save up to 30 minutes each morning simply because the expectations of how they should look have been laid out for them in advance.
6. Schools can identify intruders quickly because they aren’t in the needed uniform.
Because there are appearance standards in place for a school uniform policy, teachers and administrators can quickly identify individuals on campus who should not be present. That can create extra time to initiate a lockdown of the school property or take other preventative safety measures which can keep students safe.
7. School uniforms are easy to hand down to others year after year.
It is true that school uniforms can take a beating over the course of a 9-month or 12-month school year. It’s also true that with proactive care, school uniforms can be handed down to others each year. For a family of four, it is possible to get by with only purchasing one set of uniforms because each previous uniform set can be handed down to the next child.
8. It can increase student attendance.
Students can feign illnesses or be impacted by stress-related ailments because of inequalities that they see with their clothing and fashion compared to others. Because student uniforms reduce this impact, it is possible for student attendance to increase. School districts in the southern US have seen attendance increases of over 20% in the first 5 years of implementing school uniform policies.
9. Uniforms could help students focus more attention onto their studies than their fashion.
This advantage comes back to the discipline that is generated by maintaining the expectations of a certain look. By eliminating the need to find popularity through fashion or accessories, it becomes possible for students to focus on other aspects of the learning environment. That means a student can stay focused on their lessons, retaining the information learned, and that can lead to better overall grades.
10. It can stop cliques or gangs from forming on a school campus.
Students of a certain age will almost always rebel against something. For those who are poor, that rebellion might focus on those who are rich and have more than them. For those who are wealthy, the rebellion might focus on “unfair” school policies, school costs, or other financial burdens that may not apply to other students. Because uniforms put the focus on equality instead of inequality, these policies work to prevent some of the common reasons why students target one another or the school district.
What Are the Disadvantages of School Uniforms?
1. It reduces the individuality of the student population within a school district.
Students who are in a district with a strict uniform policy lose their ability to express their individuality through fashion. In some regards, school uniforms teach students that it is more important to think and act like a group instead of thinking and acting like an individual. Although there are many influences that can shape mob thinking patterns, this type of policy can be a foundational element of it if the uniform policies are not carefully introduced and monitored.
2. Uniforms do not prevent students from expressing themselves.
Students will always find a way of rebelling against the rules. They will look for any gap in the codes or regulations that govern school uniforms and exploit them. That might mean wearing expensive jewelry, wearing certain shoes, or styling their hair in a way that allows them to express their own personality. The school uniform might create a fashion balance, but it also creates a natural rebellion against group thinking.
3. It may limit the concept of diversity to the student body.
School uniforms, by design, limit diversity within the learning environment. In today’s world, we have numerous cultures, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Instead of pretending to be equal by creating an outward visual aesthetic, it would be more effective to emphasize true equality within the society at large. If diversity is established in the classroom, students can learn how to interact with other groups and then innovate ways to establish future policies that can lead to real equality.
4. New school uniforms can be more expensive than traditional clothing.
Many families who live near the poverty line find themselves shopping at thrift stores, discount stores, and other low-cost locations. Even shopping at a store like Walmart, where a t-shirt could be $3, is less expensive than purchasing a school uniform polo shirt there, which is typically $7-$10. For families that must purchase multiple uniform sets for their children, the cost could be several hundred dollars higher.
5. Public schools that require student uniforms could use taxpayer funds to purchase them.
There is already a debate in the US involving the fact that property taxes help to pay for public schooling costs. Some households which do not have children wonder why they need to pay taxes in the first place. When the cost of school uniforms is added to that conversation, it can be easy to wonder why taxpayers should subsidize the cost of uniforms. If that argument wins out, then parents are forced to pay an additional “tax” on the uniform purchase unless they can move their student to a different school or district.
6. Removing students from class because of an inability to afford a school uniform reinforces socioeconomic stereotypes.
Despite community involvement, charitable giving, and other forms of economic balancing, there are always families which struggle to put their children into school uniforms. Punishing a student by removing them from a school because of an inability to afford a uniform goes against the principals of equal learning opportunities. Even if charitable outreach can provide students with uniforms, a negative stigma can be placed on that student or family because they had to have their uniforms given to them.
7. Children in school uniforms still experience bullying.
Bullying happens in schools with uniform policies. Students who attend schools with uniform policies may find themselves being bullied by others who don’t go to such a school. Although uniforms can create a sense of community and equality, children aren’t stupid. They know who is rich and who is poor. They know who is smart and who is “not.” Those perceptions are enough to set the stage for bullying to occur. It may be better to teach students how to handle a bully and protect themselves than to stick them into a specific outfit.
8. School uniforms can be uncomfortable.
Many school uniforms are designed to replicate the idea of dressing up in one’s “Sunday best.” Compared to a t-shirt and shorts, a polo shirt and slacks can be quite uncomfortable, especially when the temperatures are warm outside. Uniforms may also dictate what clothing can be worn inside, which could require students to take coats or jackets off while outside to adhere to the code. The actual clothing required of a uniform may also be uncomfortable. Wearing a coat and tie, as some uniforms may require, can place more pressure around the neck than casual clothing.
9. Creating consistent rules about school uniforms can be difficult.
Trying to apply the rules consistency across an entire student body can be almost impossible for administrators. Just going outside to play during recess might cause the clothing to become stained with grass, dirt, or mud, which could go against the school uniform regulations. Many schools enforce uniform codes that require brands to not be displayed to create more equality, but some items of clothing always display their branding and that can’t be helped. Unless the exact same uniform from the exact same brand is mandated for everyone, consistency isn’t going to be present.
10. Intruders can easily blend in when assumptions are made about them.
If administrators or teachers are looking for strangers based on their lack of compliance with the school uniform code, then it becomes easy to blend into that environment. An intruder would simply need to find out what the uniform policy was and then follow it. That would allow them to move about the school property freely. For that reason, a check-in procedure, an entry airlock, or other security measures are often required at school districts in addition to the mandated school uniform.
11. Research indicates no connection between uniforms and better learning.
Virginia Draa, who is an Assistant Professor at Youngstown State University, concluded that there is too much variation in curriculum, instructional methods, and other complicating factors of school attendance to make such a connection. There is evidence that suspension rates, attendance rates, and graduation rates are improved, which can lead to the claim of better learning, but no direct correlation to individual grades.
12. School uniform policies can create barriers between students and teachers
Many school districts that enforce student school uniform policies have no such policies when it comes to the clothing that teachers wear. Some districts do have dress codes in place, but may not require specific clothing items to be worn like the students are required to wear. That further increases the gap teachers experience between their students because they may get to dress more casually than their students.
The advantages and disadvantages of school uniforms show us that there is the potential in such a policy to improve grades, attendance, and graduation rates by focusing on discipline and equality. It also shows us that to do so, there may be sacrifices to diversity and social learning that could hamper a student later on in life. What we do know is this: the pressure is mounting throughout the world to provide meaningful and affordable educational opportunities to everyone. Implementing school uniform policies is just one way to approach that need.