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
School uniforms have a long history and can offer their own unique advantages and disadvantage to schools, individuals and parents. Each school district that decides to impose a uniform policy does so for their own reasons. Many times the overall goal of imposing a school uniform is to level the playing field for all students. When students all look the same, it allows them to put more focus into their studies and less into personal appearance. However, before jumping on the uniform bandwagon, it is important to look at the positives and negatives.
Just Do It
According to Beattie, "the most frequently cited reasons for using uniforms are increased school safety, socio-economic leveling, removing distractions from inappropriate or provocative streetwear, and promoting school identity and spirit." He also noted that there was a "reduction in disciplinary referrals, affordable and appropriate clothing, elimination of the "what to wear" delay on school mornings, increased school safety, etc." Beattie also stated, "the goal is to make school a safer, more egalitarian environment in which students can thrive."
Beyond the specialist, some statistics for school uniforms promote them as well. A study by the International Journal of Educational Management showed that those that wore uniforms listened and behaved slightly better than those without uniforms. Another study also found there was a decrease in tardiness. "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," states Beattie. Additionally, he voiced that school uniforms "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."
Maybe It's Not the Best Choice
While the pros might seem great. There are a few cons to implementing a uniform policy. "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," said Beattie.
However, Beattie notes that students may be "free to personalize with socks, shoelaces, and hair accessories, as long as they fall within guidelines (if any) for the category. " He also said that "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
Everyone has an opinion about school uniforms from the teachers to the parents. Beattie shows that these opinions tend to vary.
Teachers typically enjoy having students in uniforms. Beattie says that "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."
The Thinking Behind Parents
Overall, parents like school uniforms, too. "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 streetwear for daily school wear, are typically better constructed and longer lasting, and eliminate fights and delays about "what to wear" on school mornings," states Beattie. It was also noted that there was increasing evidence that parents are choosing schools with uniform policies. "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."
The reactions of kids are varied, of course. "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," stated Beattie.
While it would appear that a dress code comes in a one size fits all variety. There are strict and lenient dress codes. However, Beattie stated that "uniforms work best when the policy is straightforward, easy to understand, and has options to accommodate fit and function within the program." This doesn't mean that there is only one option though. Schools can select colors for tops and bottoms along with the style. "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."
Deciding on Uniforms
To uniform or not to uniform is a big question for schools. While there have been studies that show uniforms increase academic behavior, limiting style and choice can lead to some problems. So it is important to take the opinions of parents, students, and staff in mind when you are looking for opinions on school uniforms.