New school year brings new clashes over school uniforms

September marks the end of summer and the beginning of the new school year. However, the start of term can mean parents and teachers clash over strict rules regarding school uniforms.

6th September 2019

The recent news that a year 11 pupil at George Spencer Academy, in Nottinghamshire, was excluded from class on Tuesday for wearing trousers that were deemed ‘too short’ has sparked outrage amongst parents.

Strict school uniform rules have angered parents who believe their children should be allowed some flexibility when it comes to uniforms. But where does the law stand and what can parents do if they disagree with school rules?

Hannah Parsons, Principal Associate Solicitor at DAS Law, tells you what you need to know…

Do children have to abide by the school uniform?

A school is entitled to have rules requiring pupils to wear a school uniform. Many schools will have a home school agreement, which is entered into on joining the school, where parents and pupils agree to comply with the school’s behaviour and appearance policy.

The school can discipline pupils for not complying with the school uniform rules although they are expected to consider a reasonable request to vary the uniform policy and must take care to ensure that any policy does not lead to discrimination, particularly on grounds of sex, gender reassignment, sexual orientation, race, disability, religion or belief.

The Department for Education’s guidance strongly encourages schools to have a uniform, and in its guidance it recommends that governing bodies should take into account the views of parents and pupils as well as costs when making decisions.

Can the school really send children home for not sticking to strict uniform rules?

Each maintained school has a behaviour and discipline policy. The policy will provide for pupils to be disciplined if they breach the school’s uniform and appearance rules. Any punishment should be in line with the published behaviour policy.

Guidance states that where there is a breach of the school uniform policy, either a head teacher – or someone authorised by the head teacher – can ask a pupil to go home to remedy the uniform breach. The school is expected to consider carefully whether this would be appropriate taking into account  the child’s age, vulnerability, the ease and time it will take the pupil, and also the availability of the child’s parents.

This is not an exclusion but an authorised absence unless the pupil continues to breach the policy to avoid school by being sent home or takes longer than necessary to make the change. The Secretary of State’s statutory guidance on exclusions provides that pupils should only be excluded for breaches of the school’s behaviour policy when they have committed a serious breach of the policy. School uniform breaches are usually considered minor disciplinary matters though in some cases of repeated and persistent failures exclusion may be justified.

What are my rights to appeal a school’s decision on school uniform?

Whenever a school uniform policy is in place, a school is expected to consider reasonable requests to vary the policy, and in particular when the request is made to meet the needs of individual pupils to accommodate their religion or belief, ethnicity, disability or other special consideration.

Disputes about school uniform should be resolved locally and in accordance with the school’s complaints policy. School governing bodies must have a complaints procedure to deal with issues about school uniform, and governors are expected to consider reasonable requests for flexibility to accommodate social and cultural circumstances.

Often school procedures for dealing with complaints provide for the complaint to be addressed initially to the member of staff responsible, then the head of department, and then the head teacher. The next step would be to put the complaint in writing to the chair of governors. Once the internal complaints and appeal process has been exhausted the Department for Education can deal with complaints about schools.

What are the legal implications if a child has changed their appearance during school holidays such as hairstyle etc.?

As well as having rules on school uniform, schools are entitled to have rules regarding appearance. Provided the rules are reasonable and don’t infringe equality legislation the school is entitled to enforce the rules in accordance with its disciplinary policy.

Where pupils change their appearance in the school holidays they need to be aware that on returning to school they will be expected to adhere to the school’s appearance policy.

If a child has had their ears pierced and cannot remove the earrings for 4-6 weeks but the school makes the students take them out for PE. What does the law say here?

It is common for the school to make rules regarding wearing of jewellery in school – and in particular in PE lessons – and the rules may require the jewellery to be removed. Such rules are likely to be considered reasonable.

Many schools set out a specific policy for dealing with the situation where recently pierced earrings cannot be removed for PE lessons and make provision for children to be given another related task. The school’s policy will often draw attention to the requirement regarding earrings suggesting that any ear piercing takes into account the school policy.

Disclaimer: This information is for general guidance regarding rights and responsibilities and is not formal legal advice as no lawyer-client relationship has been created. Note that the information was accurate at the time of publication but laws may have since changed.

Day Out Disaster – What happens if your little darling damages a precious work of art?

The recent news that a family were hit with a £100,000 bill after their toddler damaged a work of art will send shivers down the spine of families across the country who are planning their days out over the summer.

June 2018 Learn more
Children’s parties – when merriment turns to misery

What happens if things go wrong and someone is injured at a party? Are parents and guardians legally responsible for making sure the venue is safe?

June 2018 Learn more

Read more from the DAS Law blog

Road traffic accidents , General advice What the new rules have to say if you are planning to ride your own e-scooter

E-scooters may have become commonplace on our streets over the last few years but technically they are illegal…that is until now, sort of. But what do owners and riders need to know?

July 2020
General advice , Motorcycling What you should know about cycling laws

Where does the law stand on helmets, safety cameras and cycling offences? Chloe Williams, Legal Adviser from DAS Law, has the answers.

June 2020
General advice The law and the right to peaceful protest

The right to peaceful protest in the UK is expressly guaranteed under European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR). But how does that translate into our law? What is the current UK law on protesting?

June 2020
General advice , Motorcycling What you need to know about seat belts and car seats

What is the current law on wearing seatbelts? DAS Law’s Molly-Ellen Turecek explains.

February 2020
General advice , Property disputes Ho-ho-home invasion: is Father Christmas trespassing?

When he enters your home, is Father Christmas actually trespassing? If he does so without your expressed permission, could he be prosecuted?

December 2019
General advice , Employment disputes Beware the perils of sharing colleagues’ Christmas party antics on social media

Are people allowed to record and share your more embarrassing moments without your permission? What does the law have to say?

December 2019
General advice , Protecting your business , Commercial disputes Understanding the definition of defamation

Defamation can be a complex area of the law but this simple guide from DAS Law’s Damien Field will hopefully help you to understand it a little more clearly.

November 2019
General advice , Protecting your business , Commercial disputes Libel and slander – the distinction in defamation

Defamation is the expression of an untrue insinuation against a person’s reputation. But what is the current law on defamation? DAS Law’s Saiful Ahmed explains.

November 2019
General advice What the law says on poppies and Remembrance Day

Can your boss stop you from wearing a poppy at work? Alexandra Owen, senior associate at DAS Law, tells employers and employees what they need to know.

November 2019
General advice , Property disputes How far you can legally go to stop people from playing a ‘trick’ on you this Halloween

Halloween is generally a ‘spooktacular’ time for all but a few bad apples can spoil the fun. So what can you do if someone chooses to play a trick and damages your property?

October 2019
General advice Understanding the law on facial recognition software

Where does the law stand on the use of facial recognition software? Hannah Parsons, Principal Associate Solicitor, DAS Law, tells you what you need to know.

August 2019
General advice Your legal rights if you have private photos leaked

The UK Government has laws in place to combat ‘revenge porn’ and the sharing of private sexual materials with the intent to cause distress or financial gain, so what can you do if you find yourself in a similarly compromising situation?

July 2019