Jewellery, fake tattoos and painted nails: why school dress code needs enforcing
Dress code enforcement at my daughter's primary school is getting very lax. Lots of her friends wear jewellery, have fake tattoos and go to school with their nails painted even though it is not allowed. There seems to be no consequences when children break the rules. My daughter wants to do the same as her friends. I know other schools have strict uniform rules. But it is hard to follow up at home if the school doesn't seem to care.
The design or strict adherence to a uniform is not necessarily the most important thing about a school. However, if there is an explicit policy that parents and students have been asked to conform to, then clearly it should be enforced. A slack attitude on the school's part can send out a negative underlying message to children about the seriousness of, and commitment to, general expectations of conduct and behaviour.
The uniform reflects not only the ethos of a school, but also the level of pride and sense of belonging for students.
It is natural for your daughter to want to do the same things as her peers. When this goes against the uniform policy, it causes confusion all round and puts parents in an awkward situation that often causes arguments at home. Inevitably, like many situations, if children get a sense that they can get away with something, they will try. After all, rules are made to be broken.
Once students are not reminded of what is required, before we know it general dress habits can become very sloppy: black shoes are routinely replaced by trainers, jewellery appears on random body parts, shirts hang out, coloured and exotic hair accessories appear and, in the case of older girls, hitched-up skirts and patterned tights present a picture of general disregard for the rules.
If there is to be an effective push for a stricter, smarter uniform, it has to be school-wide. Parents must play their part, but teachers and supervisors also need to work together to follow up issues, provide frequent reminders - in assemblies, for example - and perhaps have the occasional crackdown.
There are also health and safety issues to consider. Jewellery, for example, can cause accidents in the playground or during PE lessons. Earlobes can be torn or scratches made on students' faces as they brush past each other. Loose long hair is not only be a nuisance, but can also be a breeding ground for head lice.
There are many arguments in favour of uniforms, and I suspect most parents are in favour of them. To begin with, wearing a uniform saves precious time in the mornings when a free choice of clothes would add to the stress for parents trying to get their children out in time to catch the school bus.
And not being exposed to the vagaries of fashion avoids competitive dressing, especially among girls, and avoids highlighting differences in levels of family wealth. In the long run, it can also be cheaper for parents.
And on school excursions, the wearing of a uniform helps teachers identify pupils in a large crowd. It also gives children a sense of pride and belonging, and can encourage those who lack discipline or structure at home to respect rules.
Rather than ruminating, mention your concerns to the principal. Maybe it is time for the whole school to either take a fresh look at the issue or, at least, tighten their uniform rules.
Julie McGuire teaches at a local primary school