For Administrators

School Uniforms — Potential and Problems

By Brian Gatens October 10, 2013

Many school leaders see school uniforms as a way to build on their overall goal of creating safe and structured school environments. I strongly support these kinds of environments and I can definitely see the benefit of using uniforms to improve the quality of a school, but I do suggest schools make certain that the benefits of uniforms are viewed as only one piece in the puzzle of building the school environment you desire.

Benefits of School Uniforms

Leveling the Playing Field

School uniforms have pros and cons: they can help bring order to a school but they should not constrict students' creativityFor the most part, school uniforms, can help eliminate the wealth gap between students. For families of means, dressing their children for school often turns into a public fashion show of the latest and most popular clothing styles. While that is certainly their prerogative, we cannot forget that reinforcing economic differences drives students further apart when schools should be drawing them closer together.

Easing Parents’ Shopping Woes

School uniforms also ease the burden of shopping for new clothes for families with limited budgets. Most school subscribe to simple khakis and collared shirts, which are relatively inexpensive compared with name-brand fashions. This is another great leveler that enables students to focus on their studies.

Adding Order and Structure

Uniforms also help build a sense of order and structure in a school. Having students dress the same creates an initial appearance of unity that is a key component if the school wants to fashion a common ethos and culture among its students. This is why private and religious schools require that the children share common dress expectations. These expectations then spiral up into higher and higher levels of collaboration and shared identity.

What to Consider Before Adding School Uniforms

All is not always rosy with school uniforms. Keep these factors in mind before incorporating them into your school:

Gain Community Support

Be sure you have a high level of community buy-in for the idea. I’ve seen administrators or boards decide to unilaterally to institute a uniform policy and then experience a strong community backlash. Going with uniforms provides an opportunity to get community input; don’t waste that chance. One caveat, though, is that administrators should reserve the right to decide the issue independently if the school’s safety and security situation requires it.

Ask the Right Questions

School uniforms are often introduced to solve an ongoing problem in the school environment. This is a great idea — provided that uniforms are one component of an overall approach to school climate. Make sure you ask: Have there been attempts to involve parents to a greater degree? Has the school administration been restructured so that it’s more focused on safety and security? Are uniforms expected to be the sole action taken or is more planned? These are very important questions because uniforms can’t solve your larger school problems.

Keep Creativity Alive

Uniforms require a trade-off. Yes, schools may experience a larger degree of student cooperation and compliance, but that should not come at the expense of students finding ways to express individuality and independence. I once worked in a highly structured, uniform-bound school and definitely felt that the school’s excellent behavior from its students was taking a toll on their creativity, independence and individual identity.

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