Does school uniform affect student development?

Image of school uniform - shirt, tie and blazer

For many years, school uniform has implied better student behaviour and an improvement in results. High School Principal at ACS Egham International Schools, Richard Naylor, examines the notion of a direct correlation between wearing school uniform and academic achievement.  


A strict uniform code is not a badge of honour

Blazers are making a comeback at schools, according to research by Trutex, UK suppliers of school uniform. Data from the Department of Eduacation shows that 99% of secondary schools now have a uniform. According to some, educational research indicates results improve with a strict dress code, and schools are now dropping casual sweatshirts for blazers and ties.

A quick search on the internet will show you that research does not actually indicate an improvement in results through wearing a uniform – it suggests mixed results at best. Working currently in a school which has never had a uniform in it's 50 year history, and has no plans to change this in the near future – I believe a strict uniform policy is bad for our children, their education and all our futures.


Making us more uniform

At ACS, not wearing a uniform is a philosophical point. We don’t have a school uniform because we don’t think what’s on the outside necessarily affects what’s on the inside. What makes us identifiable is the ethos we share, not the uniform we wear.

The word says it all; “uniform” – all the same. Do we all have to look the same to be acceptable to each other? Can’t we behave well or learn properly if we are with people who look and dress differently?

It is counterintuitive to everything we are teaching in our schools today, about respecting each other and celebrating diversity and equality.

I can appreciate the value of a uniform perhaps in foundation classes or Early Years, where a standard easy-to-wear uniform could be helpful to both the teacher and child. But after that, it could be argued that having a uniform is just keeping children in a state of arrested development. 

What happens when you leave school and you no longer have a uniform? The more multicultural, fast-paced and global our world becomes, the more you need to be able to integrate and work effectively with people who look, dress and behave differently to you.


Integrating communities

As an international school, ACS welcomes children from all over the world, and at no stage does helping children integrate with each other and learn to their best of their abilities, require making them change their outward appearance to a set standard.

Looking at it from this perspective, you can quickly see how damaging it is to say to children that if they want to be accepted and be part of a community, they have to change the way they look.

Just because we’re an international school, does not mean our position is irrelevant to other schools in the UK. Our second largest cohort by nationality is British, as more and more families recognise the value of a modern, global outlook on education.


What kind of message does your uniform send out?

Traditional institutions can be protective of their uniform, because for them it represents their history. It does not represent the future. Last year at ACS Egham, we played a game of chess against Eton College. Once they took off their ties and coat tail jackets, you couldn't possibly guess where they were from. Communicating with people on a personal level creates a common humanity. 

A uniform can be used to try and convey some kind of cultural or historical high ground, or perhaps a set of values that the young person wearing it, doesn’t really adhere to. We need to teach children to see past the clothes, and not to be judged by them.


Inspiring creativity

A uniform can be used to try and introduce or imply better behaviour, but really, all it does is tie the teacher in knots as they try to enforce a dress code daily. How much energy is spent policing uniform and fussing about clothes and hemlines? Time that could be spent exploring opinions and experiences – to find a set of common values and build a sense of community and belonging.

There is no intrinsic value between the clothes you wear and your achievements. It can be a relief not to have a uniform, as it can certainly help some people feel more relaxed and creative.  

Workplaces have lightened up dress code considerably in their efforts to innovate and diversify to achieve a competitive advantage, so why are schools going the opposite way?


Richard Naylor is the High School Principal at ACS Egham International School. 

This article first appeared in Teach Secondary.