Is there any evidence that school uniform affects learning? In a word, no. Or, rather I should say, I’m not aware of any beyond weak testimonials offered by uniform manufactures and the personal anecdotes of true believers. Where there is reputable research, it’s equivocal.

So, why do schools make such a big deal about uniforms? Well, although it would very difficult to conduct a study which isolated the effects of wearing particular clothes on student achievement, it’s probably a lot easier to look at how uniforms might affect social norms and in-group/out-group behaviours. There’s a lot of research on how institutional cultures impact on behaviour, and it’s not too great a leap to suppose that behaviour is likely to linked in some way to attainment.

The point is, school uniform is, in and of itself, irrelevant. I don’t suppose it matters whether children are wearing top hat and tails, polo shirts or boiler suits. What does matter is that if a school has a uniform policy – and there’s certainly no legislation which compels schools to have such a policy – then it ought to be enforced.

Which brings us to this sorry story: Police called after school sends dozens of pupils home for wearing wrong uniform! According to The Guardian, “Parents and pupils protested about the start-of-term crackdown at Hartsdown academy, where children were sent home for breaches of the uniform code including having the wrong shoes, the wrong trousers, no blazer, a gold buckle on a shoe and frills on socks.”

Apparently, “there were year 7 children, just starting at secondary school, who were reduced to tears after being turned away.” What were the teachers thinking? The heartless bastards!

The reactions to this news item have been sadly predictable: massed outrage that a school could behave so callously and waste precious learning time on enforcing the pointless, tin-pot rules of a mindless martinet. Have a look at some of the responses to this:

If you ever want to know why poor behaviour is tolerated in so many schools just consider the torrent of bilious outpourings a school is likely to receive if it seeks to enforce its own policies.

Turning students away on the first day of term may seem harsh, but what are the alternatives? You could (a) not have a uniform policy at all, or (b) have a policy but allow students to ignore it. There are minor variations on these positions, but essentially, that’s it.

Cards on the table: I couldn’t give a stuff what decision schools make about students’ uniforms. If they choose not to have a uniform then everyone understands where they are: anything goes. Understandably, few schools would be happy with allowing students to wear literally whatever they want,  and so will choose to have at least a dress code if not a uniform. The choice then becomes, should that policy, whatever it is, be enforced or not?

If you choose not to enforce some of your own school rules then, understandably, students may be confused about exactly where the line is drawn. Can they talk in assembly? Is it OK to drink a can of Monster in maths lessons? Should they tell their new geography teacher to fuck off? There comes a point at which every school will draw the line, but an awful lot of time and energy is often spent on establishing where exactly said line actually is. Much easier if everyone knows exactly where they stand.

I’ve written before about whether students should be punished for failing to follow the rules, but this case is slightly different. The are two considerations: firstly, is being sent home a punishment? And secondly, who’s to blame? Parents of students?

One argument is that sending students, especially tearful Year 7 students, home is too draconian. Couldn’t they have been given a warning? Couldn’t they have been given a lunch time detention instead? Well, yes they could – and should – have been given a warning. And they were. The Guardian reports, “The school wrote to pupils and their families at the end of last term reminding them of the uniform policy and warning that if it was not adhered to at the start of the new term children would be sent home.”

What would children have learned if the school decided to back down? Ultimately, they’d have learned that rules were negotiable, that no doesn’t necessarily mean no and that some (perhaps all) of the schools’ rules can be safely ignored. Instead they’ll hopefully have learned that rules will be enforced with predictable consequences.

But what of the suggestion that children should perhaps have received a lesser punishment such as a lunch time detention? My view is that would have been entirely unfair. It may have been the children’s fault for wearing the wrong uniform but it will have been the parents’ responsibility to buy their children the correct uniform and ensure they wear it. How would giving children a detention have addressed this issue? This way parents are give a very clear message: if you want your children to come to this school you must send them in wearing the correct uniform.

According to the Daily Mail, at least some parents are adamant they will continue to defy the school and do all they can to ensure that rules cannot be enforced. One parent, Dave Hopper is said to have compared the headteacher to the Gestapo and called his attempts to change the culture of an underperforming school “disgusting” and “abhorrent.” He is, apparently set to escalate the confrontation instead of taking responsibility, saying his daughter would “return tomorrow wearing the very same outfit”.


Just to be absolutely clear, I don’t think school uniforms matter much, but it’s vital that schools enforce the policies they see fit to produce. On top of that, parents should be expected to take responsibility for their actions and if they choose to buy clothing which fails to comply with the schools’ expectation they have only themselves to blame. I would hope that in cases of financial hardship, any reasonable headteacher would be able to provide some sort of assistance to ensure everyone is happy.