The school uniform: Why is it such a British obsession? | ACS | Relocate magazine (2023)

With school uniforms an accepted part of school life in the UK, Richard Naylor, High School Principal of ACS Egham International School examines the reasons why and asks if there is a better way.

Why is the UK so hung up on school uniforms, and what options do you have if you’re starting at a new school in the country?Richard Naylor, High School Principal of ACS Egham International School, explores the phenomenon of school uniforms and provides a refreshingly open view on the subject for worried parents relocating to the country.

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Conveying a sense of discipline

From age five, almost all children in the UK wear a uniform to school. Since the 1960s and 70s the general policy towards uniform, especially in state schools, has become more strict. Schools often adopt a new uniform to suggest a fresh start or convey a sense of discipline. For a busy teacher in a nursery school or early yearsclass with 30 four and five-year-olds, many of whom have only recently mastered the art of planning a toilet trip on time, having a standard, easy to slip-on uniform is a real help to the teacher and child.But wearing a uniform remains commonplace in state and private schools in the UK, often right up to the age of 18, and is frequently a source of conflict between the school, the student and the parent.It is not unusual to see headlines in national newspapers on the subject, such as this one in the Daily Telegraph last July:Police called to parent protest outside school after 50 children sent home for wearing wrong uniformIt is exceptional to discover a school where none of the children wear uniform. ACS is one such school. It has three campuses around London; in Cobham, Egham and Hillingdon, for children aged from two to18 and at none of the schools, at any age, do the children wear uniform.

Why no uniform at ACS?

Why do ACS schools have a ‘no uniform’ policy? And is this a good or bad thing for a parent re-locating to the UK and looking for the right school for their children?It is a philosophical point at ACS. We have a dress code, but we don’t have a school uniform because we want to encourage our students to make independent decisions about what they wear, and we don’t think what’s on the outside affects what’s on the inside.Our exam results are first class, we enrol students with a range of academic abilities but achieve well above average results. Our students achieve Russell Group university entry, and are able to go to the best universities in the world, with results consistently above 36 points at the IB, equivalent to 4 A’s at A level. We have small classes where the students are thriving.Why do we need a uniform? In what way could it make the students achieve more, why would we do it? What identifies us is the ethos we create, not the uniform we wear.

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The value of a warm welcome

Many schools adopt a strict uniform code to try and introduce better behaviour, or a sense of belonging to a community to encourage togetherness and a positive ethos.But at ACS, we don’t think that is necessary. Having a sense of belonging is about how you treat people and how you ask people to treat others. It is about setting an expectation of friendliness. Respect and tolerance comes from being a diverse community and at ACS that is the heart of what we do.It is a philosophy that makes us different from traditional schools because we start from a place where we are all different and our students have to grow up in a respectful and tolerant way. Having a uniform would be an artificial imposition, as if our students couldn’t achieve a sense of community, togetherness and tolerance without it.For relocating parents, this ability to feel welcome and part of a community very quickly is extremely important. It is one of the reasons why international schools like ACS are such a natural, sensible choice for relocating or expat parents, because the schools have developed highly effective approaches and positive techniques to help children and their families feel settled and at home exceptionally quickly.

An outward looking perspective

It also explains why ACS is an increasingly popular choice with British families too, who are looking for a school which has a more outward-looking, global perspective, whilst still providing the sense of belonging and confidence which is such an important foundation for effective learning.Traditional institutions are very protective of their uniform as they represent the past, and what they were. They don’t represent the future. ACS played Eton at chess on Wednesday at Egham. When the Eton students took off their ties and coat tail jackets you wouldn’t know where they were from. When you talk to people on a personal level then we are all the same.Many uniforms are bound up in tradition. Visually Eton needs to stay the way it always has to show its past, but is that really right or forward thinking?There isno intrinsic value between the clothes you wear and the achievements you might make in anything at all.It can be a relief not to have a uniform, it can certainly help some people feel more relaxed and creative.

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ACS is committed to not having a uniform from the philosophical point of view that what you wear does not define your achievements or who you are. Whatever our students wear, wherever they come from, they will all feel the same welcome and share the same global outlook.

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A 'uniform' is vital for sport

Sport of course is one situation where a uniform does make a difference because players and spectators need to be able to see who is on which team and identify players.We have sports kits for all our teams. We play matches including football, rugby, cricket, swimming and tennis in local leagues in and around London, as well as against other teams across Europe and, in these situations, team kit is essential.

Good confidence and relationships

Why then, when ACS has made such a success in creating happy, academically high performing children do so many schools in the UK still persist with their strict uniform policies? What makes children well behaved at school or learn and achieve better results is feedback from their teacher. It’s about building a relationship where that child feels valued; that you took the time to look at what they’re doing.The issue in many schools is that the classes are too big and teachers can’t give the consistency needed to build up an academic relationship which builds confidence. If you have confidence and good relationships, the uniform fades into the background.We have to encourage our students, teachers and leaders to be creative and make progress in what they’re doing. If something is a barrier to learning, then we want to take that barrier away. For us a uniform is a barrier to accepting people for who they are. Uniform is a way of keeping people in line but it isn’t an indicator of good behaviour, and it certainly isn’t a technique we use to build a sense of belonging and community.

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The perfect choice

For relocating parents, ACS’s approach to school uniform is perfect– no uniform to worry about buying, no children to upset with a tight tie or strange pair of trousers, but instead a modern philosophy of welcome and acceptance, with sporting and academic excellence.Find out more about ACS


Why do British people wear school uniform? ›

Strengthen the students' sense of belonging to their school and pride in being part of the school community. Improve equality and reduce inconsistencies. Reduce the need to challenge students over inappropriate dress.

Why are schools obsessed uniform? ›

Uniform is clearly important not just for the impression it gives of a school, but for the purpose of lifting anxiety from poorer students who don't have access to the latest trends and big-name brands.

Why are school uniforms a controversial topic? ›

Despite their reported benefits, mandatory uniforms are controversial because a lot of parents and students don't like the idea of forcing children to dress alike, which they say suppresses freedom of expression.

Do students like school uniforms Survey UK? ›

In Attitudes to School Uniform, 7% of children said they would be 'very worried' at having to wear their own clothes to school. However, 70% of 14-year-olds want to wear their own clothes to school.

Why do American schools not have uniforms? ›

As a free country in the 'New World', countries in the Americas didn't follow suit. The idea behind American schools not making school uniforms compulsory is to restrict comformity and grant students more 'freedom' to express themselves, which grew stronger in the freewheeling 70s and 80s.

Are there any schools in the UK that don't wear uniform? ›

A few private schools in Surrey, Kent, London, and Hampshire have adopted a no school uniform policy. Reasons why: they have freedom to choose, part of school ethos or founding member covenant mandates the school must follow the tradition.

What are 3 reasons why students should not wear uniforms? ›

School uniforms restrict students' freedom of expression. School uniforms promote conformity over individuality. School uniforms do not stop bullying and may increase violent attacks. School uniforms do not improve attendance, academic preparedness, or exam results.

Do school uniforms actually help? ›

There is little evidence that school uniforms remedy behavior problems or boost academic performance. And while uniform policies might have a slight, positive impact on school attendance, we need to consider the downside: For some kids, uniforms may have a negative effect on well-being.

Do uniforms make students feel controlled? ›

In fact, the researchers learned that uniforms had no impact on kids' behavior and made them feel more isolated at school.

Do school uniforms violate human rights? ›

You may be left wondering where the line is between a permissible dress code and unlawful discrimination. Here's the short answer: While public schools are allowed to have dress codes and uniform policies, they cannot discriminate against certain students or censor student expression.

When did school uniforms become controversial? ›

The school uniform movement began a lot of cases that were set on student were wearing. Then a local community school in Long Beach, California became what advocates looked like an example school; however, the movement became more popularized after Bill Clinton gave his State of the Union address in 1996.

What is the debate about school uniforms? ›

Uniform is often not practical or pleasant to wear. There is no proper research that shows that introducing uniform cuts crime in schools. Forcing children to wear uniform can ignore their religious and cultural needs. Very few countries feel the need to put most of their children in school uniforms.

What percent of students are against school uniforms? ›

If you ask students if they like to wear a uniform, 99 percent of them will say no. If you have them reflect on specific, possible benefits, their answers tend to change.

How many schools in America wear uniforms? ›

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, nearly 20% of all public schools have adopted uniform mandates.

Do schools in US have uniforms? ›

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 20% of all public schools have mandatory uniforms. Approximately 22% of elementary schools, 19% of all middle schools, and 10% of high schools need uniforms. 3. Why do most schools in America have no uniforms?

Which country has no school uniform? ›

There are no uniforms in modern Russia - the practice was abolished in 1994 - except in a few private or prestigious public schools.

Why are spaghetti straps not allowed in school? ›

Many school dress codes use gendered language, such as “girls must not wear spaghetti straps or show cleavage.” The reasoning? These things are distracting to other students, particularly males.

Why do German schools not have uniforms? ›

They cited historical reasons dating back to WWII with memories of Hitler Youth's uniform still fresh on people's mind. They also concluded that the imposition of school uniforms would be excessive government encroachment on personal liberty of pupils and parents.

Can a school enforce a dress code UK? ›

The Equality Act 2010 prohibits schools from imposing a dress code which gives rise to direct or indirect discrimination in respect of a pupil or staff member's protected characteristics, for example age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation.

Is it a law to wear school uniform UK? ›

Schools do not legally have to have a school uniform, but most schools do. Your school's governing body will decide the uniform policy.

Can you refuse to wear school uniform? ›

What are the rules about school uniform? It's up to individual schools to set their own policies, they may even decide that they don't want a uniform. Whatever they decide, their policy should make it fair for all.

Why should schools not ban uniforms? ›

The proponents of school uniforms believe that a uniform is essential in creating a sense of school identity and community among students. Among the wider community, uniformed pupils contribute positively to a school's reputation. The argument goes that they give an impression of academic rigour and discipline.

Do uniforms prevent bullying? ›

School uniforms were not linked to any differences in bullying or social anxiety in the children. But those who had to wear uniforms reported lower levels of school belonging than did those who attended schools with no uniform requirements.

Why should kids not be required to wear uniforms? ›

Students feel less sense of belonging when uniforms are required. Despite the belief of many parents and teachers, school uniforms don't seem to have any effect on young students' behavior or attendance overall, a new national study found.

Do uniforms affect mental health? ›

While uniforms didn't seem to impact bullying or anxiety rates one way or another, kids wearing a uniform actually reported feeling lower levels of school belonging than students who attended schools with no uniform requirements.

Do school uniforms reduce stress? ›

School uniforms can relieve stress, keep students focused in class and save money, three things that schools have been struggling to overcome for a long time.

Do uniforms save money? ›

Right off the bat we know that school uniforms save money by saving families about $80 per child on school clothing. In other words, how much do school uniforms cost compared to regular clothes? Well, you'll spend $80 less per child with a school uniform.

Why do uniforms not let students express themselves? ›

This simplicity and uniformity hinders students' ability to grow as independent decision makers. By requiring students to wear a uniform every day, we strip them of having the freedom of deciding something as simple as clothing, which is a crucial component of self-expression.

How do uniforms lower self esteem? ›

When students have to wear the same outfits, rather than being allowed to select clothes that suit their body types, they can suffer embarrassment at school.

How do teachers feel about school uniforms? ›

Teachers' views: While most teachers felt that national school uniforms are beneficial overall, they did bring up some issues. Again, the idea that students often find them “annoying,” came up. Uniforms, being standard, often may not work as well with different body types.

What is the Tinker rule? ›

In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court's majority ruled that neither students nor teachers “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” The Court took the position that school officials could not prohibit only on the suspicion that the speech might disrupt the learning ...

Do school uniforms interfere with religion? ›

Generally speaking, a school dress code cannot prevent a student from expressing religious beliefs.

Do school uniforms make students equal? ›

Cohesion and Equality

School uniforms mean that all students wear the same clothing, helping to level out the playing field. This removes any preconceived ideas about what to wear, allowing for greater group cohesion and commonality. As a result, uniforms demonstrate a clear message of equality.

When did school uniforms become popular in the UK? ›

School uniform did not become more widely used until the 19th Century when Eton College introduced the Eton suit in about 1820, claims fashion historian Jayne Shrimpton. The suit, which had to be worn by boys under 5ft 4in (1.6m) tall, comprised a dark jacket, grey trousers and top hat.

What country invented school uniforms? ›

The first school uniform was recorded in England in 1922 by the Archbishop of Canterbury who wrote in his journal, that students wore robe-like outfits called the 'clappa clausa'.

Do school uniforms decrease violence? ›

School uniforms may decrease violence and theft, prevent gang members from wearing gang colors and insignia at school, promote student discipline, help parents and students resist peer pressure, help students concentrate on their school work, and enable school officials to recognize school intruders.

Should students be forced to wear uniforms? ›

Wearing uniforms help students to feel inclusive in school since everyone wears the same. They do not need to worry about others may judge them due to their outfits. In addition, school uniforms also help the issue between upper grades students and lower grades students.

Do school uniforms matter? ›

By requiring students to dress in like uniforms, schools eliminate the tension driven by fashion trends and name brands. Studies show that uniforms reduce bullying instances, on-campus violence and discipline referrals, as well as providing a more focused, less distracted learning environment for growing minds.

Do school uniforms take away personality? ›

Pros: Uniforms in schools do not completely rid individuality. Students still have their personality that expresses who they are which is more important than what they wear. The uniform sets the student's identity for a school for which they can take pride in when confronted by students from other schools.

What percentage of schools wear uniforms in the UK? ›

School uniform is worn in over 90% of secondary schools in England. Parents are required to purchase the uniform which in 2015 averaged roughly £212.88 per child.
Cost of school uniforms.
specific type of shoes3739
tie(63 per cent)
school badge(40 per cent).
6 more rows

Do uniforms affect grades? ›

Research shows that when schools implement a uniform policy, it improves grades, while it reduces tardiness, skipped classes and suspensions. One study showed that 70% of principals believed that mandated school uniforms reduced disciplinary problems at their schools.

Do most private schools wear uniforms? ›

Although public schools continue the discussion on dress codes and/or uniforms, most private schools do have uniform standards because they see the huge benefits.

Do Russians wear school uniforms? ›

Schoolkids used to wear uniforms in the Soviet Union, which were the same all over the country, however, after Perestroika and dissolution of the USSR schools changed the policies. Now kids in Russia are able to wear what they wish. A whole generation of Russians grew up without the need to dress like everyone else.

Do all British students wear uniforms? ›

From age five, almost all children in the UK wear a uniform to school. Since the 1960s and 70s the general policy towards uniform, especially in state schools, has become more strict. Schools often adopt a new uniform to suggest a fresh start or convey a sense of discipline.

Why do American schools allow phones? ›

One of the most commonly mentioned ways that phones provided such academic support was digital access to textbooks. The ability to access scholarly material on mobile devices allowed students to engage more deeply with the information presented.

Is school uniform compulsory in the UK? ›

Schools in England are not required to have a uniform, although the Department for Education (DfE) strongly recommends that they do so. While there are no requirements in place on uniform, the Department for Education expects schools to take account of its published guidance.

Do British schools require uniforms? ›

In modern Europe, Britain, Malta and Ireland stand out as the only countries where school uniform is widely adopted by state schools and generally supported by national and local governments, although there is no legislation governing school uniform in the U.K. There are some independent schools and state schools that ...

Do you have to wear school uniform in UK? ›

Schools do not legally have to have a school uniform, but most schools do. Your school's governing body will decide the uniform policy.

What do British people wear to school? ›

In most schools in Britain, public or private, pupils have to wear a uniform: generally a jumper (often a V-neck jumper), a shirt, pants or a skirt, black shoes and sometimes a tie for boys and girls. In some schools, the uniform is more casual: a shirt, a sweatshirt, and black pants or skirts.

What country does not have school uniform? ›

There are no uniforms in modern Russia - the practice was abolished in 1994 - except in a few private or prestigious public schools.

Can a school force you to wear a uniform? ›

A school is entitled to have rules requiring pupils to wear a school uniform. Many schools will have a 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.

Can girls wear pants in British schools? ›

Listen to the story. In the UK, pretty much every child has to wear school uniforms. In most cases, that means girls in skirts and boys in pants. If you don't fit into one of these binary gender categories, this distinction can cause a lot of anguish.

Do schools in America wear uniforms? ›

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, nearly 20% of all public schools have adopted uniform mandates. Approximately 22% of elementary schools, 19% of all middle schools, and 10% of high schools currently require uniforms, and this trend continues to accelerate.

Can a school make you cut your hair? ›

Generally, these courts have ruled that a student's hairstyle represents free expression1 or that the policies in question violate liberty2 or equal-protection interests3, under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Can schools force you to buy branded uniform? ›

Additionally, the change in law does not ban all branded items, which means schools can still require children to wear costly items bearing their logo, such as a school blazer.

Do all schools in Japan have uniforms? ›

Nearly all public and private students in Japan wear uniforms, although they are most common for junior high school and high school students. Each school has its own uniform, but most school uniforms are very similar. Boys' uniforms are based on 19th century Prussian military uniforms, and are usually black.

Do Brits wear leggings? ›

To all the ladies, leggings are a must in England. You can wear them with skirts, giant sweaters, or even shorts, but make sure you have at least three pairs. Not only are a fashion staple and the secret to how to look British, but they will they keep you warm on the colder days.

What is the British dress code? ›

Top style tips for the United Kingdom

Like most of Western Europe there is no dress code as such and really anything is acceptable. Black is always a popular color, and smart casual clothes will help you fit right in.


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