The first ever school uniform appeared in England in 1222, the rationale for which revolved around the goal of creating a sense of identity amongst students: it represented, for lack of a better word, a sense of uniformity amongst students, and in turn a sense of a level playing field which has persisted to the the case until this day. However, considering every tier of education, whether private or public, grammar or comprehensive, to what extent are the pros, and for that matter, cons, proven gospel or merely perceived? One might say a black and white uniform creates a sense of self which pervades into the classroom and into an individual's sense of discipline, while another may assert that such a uniform suppresses our right to express ourselves through clothes. However, in order to directly answer the question with regards to the 21st century, I believe it is fundamental to study the data on the matter, rather than merely leave it down to a subjectivity which can easily be classed as outdated or too progressive.
On the one hand, the argument against school uniforms is a convincing one. First and foremost, almost from its birth, pupils have persistently sought to test the boundaries of their uniform; whether this be wearing brightly-coloured, odd socks or, in Eton's case, not wearing a tie or even keeping your shirt untucked. Whatever justification you may make in favour of the school uniform and its supposed primary benefit of encouraging discipline, one must first complete the impossible task of instilling the discipline of wearing the uniform itself properly. On this theme, it is actually claimed that a school uniform has little to no effect on discipline: Tony Volk, PhD, Associate Professor at Brock University in the United States, stated: ”Overall, there is no evidence in bullying literature that supports a reduction in violence due to school uniforms.” In fact, a peer-reviewed study discovered "school uniforms increased the average number of assaults by about 14 [per year] in the most violent schools. A Texas Southern University study found that school discipline incidents rose by about 12% after the introduction of uniforms. According to the Miami-Dade County Public Schools Office of Education Evaluation and Management, fights in middle schools nearly doubled within one year of introducing mandatory uniforms. Interestingly, however, there is strong evidence to suggest that one of the largest driving forces behind uniform implementation in schools has almost nothing to do with disciplinary factors, but in fact a significant commercial interest. Americans spend around $1 billion (£769.9 million) on school uniforms every year, and in one year alone, uniform company Lands' End spent $3 million (£2.3 million) on marketing efforts directed at public schools and districts. Multiple studies used to promote the effectiveness of uniforms were partly funded by Lands' End, and at least one of those studies is "so wholly flawed as to render itself useless," according to David L. Brunsma, PhD. Reuters reported that retailers were "sensing their opportunity... stepping up competition in the uniform aisles and online. Walmart has set up 'uniform shops' or temporary boutiques within some stores.” In order to boost the return from such promotion, uniform manufacturers charge large amounts of money, averaging at about £200 per set. The Children's Commission on Poverty (UK) found that over "95% of parents on low incomes reported difficulties in meeting school-related costs," including uniforms, despite their children attending tuition-free schools. School uniforms in public schools undermine the promise of a free education by imposing an extra expense on families. Parents already pay taxes, and they still need to buy regular clothes for their children to wear when they're out of school and for dress-down days. Another more liberal, and even contentious, perspective on the matter is that of freedom of expression, a basic human right. Through forcing each student to wear the same clothing, schools can be perceived as severely restricting their ability to enjoy and utilise this right, as was evidenced in a prominent case on the subject in the United States: students at Friendly High School in Maryland were not allowed to wear pink shirts to support Breast Cancer Awareness Month and, as a result, seventy-five students received in-school suspensions for breaking the school's uniform restrictions.
Through surveying the negative stigma surrounding this topic, it is now possible to proceed in evaluating the benefits fully. First, school uniforms have been found to deter crimes and increase student safety, as is illustrated by the following hoard of data accumulated in Long Beach, California: after two years of a district-wide K-8 mandatory uniform policy, reports of assault and battery in the district's schools decreased by 34%, assault with a deadly weapon dropped by 50%, fighting incidents went down by 51%, sex offenses were cut by 74%, robbery dropped by 65%, possession of weapons decreased by 52%, possession of drugs went down by 69%, and vandalism was lowered by 18%. Through deterring them from such activities, school uniforms have also been proven to have a large benefit in the classroom: a study by the University of Houston found that elementary school girls' language test scores increased by about three percentile points after uniforms were introduced. Former US Secretary of State and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, advocated school uniforms as a way to help students focus on learning: "Take that [clothing choices] off the table and put the focus on school, not on what you're wearing.” In addition, though there is doubt as to how universal the benefit is, school uniforms may improve attendance and discipline. A study by researchers at the University of Houston found that the average absence rate for girls in middle and high school decreased by 7% after the introduction of uniforms. The study also found that "behavioral problems shift[ed] towards less severe infractions”, such as swearing. During the first semester of a mandatory uniform program at John Adams Middle School in Albuquerque, NM, discipline referrals dropped from 1,565 during the first semester of the year prior to 405, a 74% decrease. Macquarie University (Australia) researchers found that in schools across the world where uniform policies are enforced, students "are more disciplined" and "listen significantly better, there are lower noise levels, and lower teaching waiting times with classes starting on time.” In turn, a sense of school pride has also been shown to develop in conjunction with the introduction of a school uniform: a study from Oxford Brookes University in the United Kingdom found that uniforms "often directly contributed to a feeling of school pride.” A study of over 1,000 Texas middle school students found that students in uniform "reported significantly more positive perceptions of belonging in their school community than reported by students in the standard dress group.” Arnold Goldstein, PhD, head of the Center for Research on Aggression at Syracuse University, stated that uniforms help troubled students feel they have the support of a community: "There is a sense of belonging.” Furthermore, many are quick to dispel the myth that school uniforms restrict individuality. Students can express their individuality in school uniforms by introducing variations and adding accessories, and The Seventeen and TeenVogue websites list numerous suggestions for students on how to add their personal style to school uniforms, including hairstyle options, the use of nail polish, and the addition of colourful accessories such as satchels, scarfs, and socks. A peer-reviewed study found that 54% of eighth-graders said they could still express their individuality while wearing school uniforms. School uniform policies are also of a great benefit to the schools themselves, as they save valuable class time because they are easier to enforce than a standard dress code. Doris Jo Murphy, EdD, former Director of Field Experiences at the University of North Texas College of Education, stated: "As an elementary assistant principal in two suburban districts, I can tell you that the dress code took up a great deal of my time in the area of discipline... I wished many times that we had uniforms because the issue of skirts or shorts being too short, and baggy jeans and pants on the boys not being pulled up as they needed to be, would have been a non-issue.” Furthermore, school uniforms make getting ready for school easier, which can improve punctuality. When uniforms are mandatory, parents and students do not spend time choosing appropriate outfits for the school day. According to a national survey, over 90% of US school leaders believe school uniform or formal dress code policies "eliminate wardrobe battles with kids," make it "easier to get kids ready in the morning," and create a "time saving in the morning.” With regards to the debate over the cost of a uniform, there are certainly two sides to this coin: parents can reduce their financial burden when their children are limited to wearing one simple outfit every day. A study of uniform cost in the United Kingdom found that uniforms cost parents £88.05per outfit, while out-of-school outfits averaged £113.00. A national survey of 517 US school leaders found that 94% of those surveyed believe "one of the main benefits to parents is that school uniforms are more cost-effective than regular apparel," and 77% estimated the average annual cost of school uniforms per child to be $150 (£115.48) or less. Uniform company French Toast states on their website that the average cost one of their complete school uniforms is $45 (£34.64) and that most children will only require two sets. Without school uniform policies, parents may feel pressure to compete with other families by purchasing fashionable clothes for their children.
Ultimately, though one can debate the topic for extensive periods of time, it is clear to see that school uniforms still have a place in the 21st century. Facts, whether in the US, UK or Australia do not lie, and the questions is not a subjective one, nor one that can bend upon the quote of a teacher, pupil, analyst or Superintendent, as almost all of the arguments against school uniforms do, but only can seek one for support. In this way, in light of the various statistics in favour of school uniform policies, I would like to end my essay on the following set of numbers, which convincingly concur that school uniforms, despite the stigma amongst a few, remain a staple of any child's education: a survey by the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) in the US found that a majority of school leaders believe their school uniform or formal dress code policies have had a positive impact on classroom discipline (85%), the school's image in the community (83%), student safety (79%), school pride (77%), and student achievement (64%).
Covert all $ to £ in brackets
In schools where uniforms are specifically gendered (girls must wear skirts and boys must wear pants), transgendered, gender-fluid, and gender-nonconforming students can feel ostracized.
this may be as minor as wearing a hoodie, but issues often arise when religion is involved in the equation.
Earlier this year, it was reported widely that the UK Government would openly support any school that faces backlash against hijab bans, a decision which could be construed as obscenely racist: freedom of expression fully encompasses one's right to “manifest” one's religion
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