Senior Vice President and General Manager at School and Service Apparel (Strategic Partners, Inc.), Andy Beattie is also president of his local school board. Everyone from school administrators to concerned parents seek out information from Beattie on uniforms in school. Involved in the uniform debate from both sides of the issue, Beattie has a broad understanding of the issues.
The Goal of School Uniforms
LoveToKnow (LTK): Why wear school uniforms? What is the goal?
AB: Every school or district will have their own unique reason for introducing uniforms, based on the needs of their student body. The most frequently-cited reasons for using uniforms are: increased school safety, socio-economic leveling, removing distractions from inappropriate or provocative street wear, and promoting school identity and spirit.
The goal is to make school a safer, more egalitarian environment in which students can thrive.
LTK: What are the advantages and disadvantages of school uniforms?
AB: Advantages are a commonality that levels social and economic class differences, reduction in disciplinary referrals, affordable and appropriate clothing, elimination of the "what to wear" delay on school mornings, increased school safety, etc.
Disadvantages are another policy to be enforced by school administrators and teachers, resistance by students or families bent on showing individuality through apparel, and problems with finding consistent and local suppliers.
LTK: Does children's personality or behavior change when they put on or take of the uniform?
AB: There are definite changes in behavior in uniformed schools. Our 2010 national survey of School Board members found that 86% felt standardized dress reduced peer pressure, 76% felt student focus was improved and 74% experienced a reduction in disciplinary issues.
We don't see uniforms changing personalities, but they do help modify behaviors in combination with other instructional and social programs used by the school.
LTK: How can children assert their individuality within the bounds of the uniform?
AB: With the basic outfit prescribed (top and bottom uniform) students may be free to personalize with socks, shoe laces, and hair accessories, as long as they fall within guidelines (if any) for the category. On a broader level, children can channel creativity into writing, artwork, music, athletics, and other activities if they are not focused on apparel as a form of expression.
Opinions About School Uniforms
LTK: What do most teachers think about wearing uniforms?
AB: Teachers usually like uniforms, as they eliminate disciplinary duties related to dress-code violations, remove distractions from class related to styling/logos/colors at all grade levels, remove distractions related to inappropriate or provocative apparel at the middle school and high school levels, and help focus the class on coursework.
LTK: How do many parents and kids react to uniforms?
AB: Parents are generally, and sometimes even enthusiastically, supportive of uniform programs. This is especially true in public schools where time has been taken to survey the community and solicit input prior to enacting uniform policies. Aside from the compelling classroom and campus issues that lead schools to uniform use, parents find that uniforms are less expensive than street wear for daily school wear, are typically better constructed and longer lasting, and eliminate fights and delays about "what to wear" on school mornings.
Kids' reactions vary as you would expect. There are objections to having to wear a uniform versus a favorite or fashionable outfit, and objections over the generic styling of uniforms. However, we find that the majority of kids come to appreciate uniforms for their ease of getting dressed every day, the reduction of peer pressure to dress or perform in certain ways, and for the creative opportunity that accessories allow them to show individuality.
LTK: Do parents and kids ever make the choice of which school to attend based on the question of wearing or not wearing a uniform?
AB: While not the compelling reason to select a school, there is increasing evidence that parents will choose a uniformed or standardized dress school if given an option. The growth of charter schools (many with uniforms or identity wear) within the public school system is one indicator that uniforms can make a difference.
Dress Code Options
LTK: Which type of dress code is 'best': a strict one, or one with several different options?
AB: Uniforms work best when the policy is straightforward, easy to understand, and has options to accommodate fit and function within the program.
Schools typically select standard colors of bottoms and tops, then limit the acceptable styling. A basic bottoms program accepts plain or pleated twill pants or shorts for boys and girls, with a skirt or scooter option for girls. Basic tops are typically short sleeve polos in one to three colors (white, navy, and hunter green are very popular at this time) and can be in either interlock or pique knits as long as the color is consistent.
LTK: Do school uniforms really enhance academic performance or decrease bad behavior and violence?
AB: We feel that they do, and are among many viable tools that schools can use to affect academic performance and behavioral outcomes. Where communities have decided uniforms are appropriate for their students, and school staff and parents agree to work together to enforce compliance, dramatic drops in discipline referrals are often found. When children are more focused on their school work, and when staff are prepared to engage them, academic performance will definitely increase.
Deciding on Uniforms
Andy Beattie believes that all schools and communities should be armed with the best information in order to make the final decision in regards to the school uniform debate. While uniforms are a good solution for some schools, there are places where they do not work as well. For more information from Mr. Beattie, please visit Classroom Uniforms.