September marks the end of summer and the beginning of the new school year. The disruption to children’s education and the switch to online schooling caused by the pandemic has meant that this is likely to be the first ‘proper start’ to the school year for 18 months. However, the start of term can often see a clash between parents and teachers over strict rules regarding school uniforms.
The enforcement of strict uniform rules has 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?
John McGrath, 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. In any case, the school is likely to have its requirements set out in a clear policy that is accessible to pupils and parents.
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.
A school’s complaints policy should be clearly set out and easy to use which allows disputes about school uniform to be resolved locally and in accordance with the school’s 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. You may request an adjustment, however there is no guarantee the school will allow one, especially if the policy was set out in advance.
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.
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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.