Parenting: teens

My child’s not following school uniform rules, but school doesn’t seem to care: Hong Kong mother

Schools have different strictness levels for school uniform rules, and teenagers usually want to push the boundaries while conforming with their peer group, but inconsistent enforcement sends out the wrong message

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 May, 2018, 6:33pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 May, 2018, 7:43pm

My daughter started secondary school last year and often comes home with her skirt rolled over at the waist to make it shorter, a Hong Kong parent writes. She’s also started wearing make-up for school. 

I think this gives off the wrong message but she says all the girls do it and the teachers don’t say anything. The school makes uniform rules but they don’t seem to follow up and there’s no consequences for breaking them.

The old stories of girls being made to kneel on the floor to check the length of their skirts may be vaguely amusing, if a little worrying, but some parents are concerned that things have gone too far in the other direction. 

The style of, or strict adherence to a uniform is not necessarily the most important aspect of school life, but if there is an explicit uniform policy, then clearly it should be enforced. A slack attitude on the part of the school can send out negative  messages about general expectations of behaviour and conduct. 

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If students are not expected to follow uniform rules, why should they follow other rules? If pupils think they can get away with something, they will invariably try. In the eyes of adolescents, rules are there to be broken.

For many girls your daughter’s age, her self-image and feeling part of the “group” are paramount. It’s natural for her to want to do the same as her friends. 

However, if when doing so  goes against the school uniform policy it puts parents in an awkward situation, and can often cause arguments and unpleasantness at home. In fact, I’m surprised your daughter doesn’t roll her skirt down on the way home.

Depending on the current fashion, pushing the uniform boundaries can verge on being outrageous and, at the very least, distracting. 

And this not only applies to girls. If schools are lax in this regard, then dress habits can become very sloppy and all sorts of variations creep in: shirts hanging out of waistbands, shoes replaced by trainers, inappropriate jewellery, fake tattoos, painted nails and over-the-top make-up. 

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Hair and hair accessories are also an issue. Should students be allowed to wear hair dye or gel, for example, and what about inappropriate hairstyles?

If there is to be a strict and effective push for a smarter uniform at your daughter’s school, it has to be a whole school effort. Senior leadership, teachers and parents need to work together. Rules need constantly reinforcing and checking, with consequences enforced if they are not followed. 

This also encourages pupils who lack discipline or structure at home to respect and follow rules. Assemblies and tutor group sessions are good forums for issuing reminders, and the occasional hard clampdown is usually effective for at least a short time.

Health and safety issues also need to be highlighted, and certain rules in particular should be non-negotiable. Loose, long hair, for example, is not only a nuisance but can be a breeding ground for head lice, especially as pupils often put their heads close together to look at phones and share confidences. 

Jewellery, especially hanging earrings, can cause accidents in the playground or during physical education lessons. Unsuitable shoes for getting around school and using stairs can also be a hazard. 

I suspect most parents are in favour of having a relatively strict uniform policy if only to save time in the morning. 

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It can also be cheaper for parents as it avoids the pressure to purchase the current fashion or expensive labels as well as tackling the issue of competitive dressing, especially between girls. 

A school uniform often reflects the ethos of a school and  the students’ level of pride about belonging to that particular school. 

However, a uniform policy is a minefield of potentially confusing rules so schools need to be absolutely clear about their expectations. Common issues that crop up in Hong Kong are whether girls are allowed to wear trousers and whether boys can wear shorts in the summer months. 

Whatever the policy, most teenagers will try to put their own stamp on their school uniform if only to show a little rebellion or individuality.

Julie McGuire is a former Hong Kong primary school teacher