Friday, June 28, 2013

Debunking the School Uniform Myth

I once heard, someone I respected for knowing about schools and education say while he preferred no uniforms, the research said otherwise. I believed him. At the time our children were at a school without uniforms so I wasn't really bothered, more intrigued.
This year they are at a school with a uniform. So I looked up the research - after I had forked out a substantial sum of money to buy the uniforms - it wasn't true.

Myth One: Kids perform better in uniform

At best this is debatable, at worst it is completely untrue.
Read this study in the USA where the authors found; "Our failure to find a direct effect of uniforms on behavioral outcomes or academic achievement provide cause for a closer examination of the uniform debate.
There are many other interesting implications and discussion points at the conclusion of this study so it is worth a read.
Or this paper, part of the conclusion, if you can't be bothered reading the whole study, is below:
"Overall, we find that uniforms appear to have a moderately positive impact on students in middle and high school and little impact on elementary students. Students in middle and high school grades who are required to wear uniforms show improvements in scores on language exams of between 0.02 and 0.04 standard deviations and improvements in attendance rates of between 0.2 and 0.4 percentage points. These improvements appear to be strong for female students. For all other outcomes we cannot definitively bound the estimates away from zero using both gains and levels models. Nonetheless, we do see increases in disciplinary infractions in levels models that are concentrated in boys and some small drops in Hispanic reading scores. It is possible that the increase in disciplinary infractions are due to uniform violations or increased enforcement, although the lack of a similar increase for girls suggest that the latter is unlikely."

Or this report, is an interesting read as it appears very positive about uniforms, until you get to the cautions on reading the research. It is at the top of the second page but if you are short of time - it says:

 "There is some debate about the overall impact of school uniforms on students (King, 1998; Lumsden, 2001; Anderson, 2002; Schachter, 2005; Konheim-Kalkstein, 2006).
  •  Studies conducted by Brunsma & Rockquemore (1998, 2003) find no significant correlation between school uniforms and their impact on students’ self-esteem, behaviour, school safety or academic achievement.
  • One study suggested that a tightened dress code may be just as effective as having school uniforms (White, 2000).
  • Wade & Stafford, in their 2003 study, report that although uniforms contribute to positive school climate, they have no direct impact on substance use, behaviour issues, attendance, academic achievement, students’ self- perception and students’ perception of gang violence.
  • A few researchers express concern about the quality of research in the area of school uniforms impact on student behaviour and academic achievement and therefore, say that drawing generalized conclusions about study findings should be done cautiously (Wilson, 1999; Brunsma & Rockquemore, 2003)."
Myth Two: Uniform is cheaper
My children already had perfectly adequate clothes that they could have worn to school but because a uniform was required, I had to go out and buy extra clothes to fulfill the criteria. These are not cheaper because they may have the school logo on them (some items are of lesser quality than their regular clothes too), and I have to buy them from set places at full price not when I see something on sale that will work for them. Sure there are second hand sales but they are fairly erratic in having the item you might need. 
Then there is the problem of the kids losing items. Kids will do this and in the past, it was annoying but it didn't mean I had to necessarily buy a replacement. They usually already had another jersey or t-shirt and then I could buy a replacement as appropriate when something appeared on special - not another replacement at full price because it is an awkward time of year. Losing items is also less likely when every kid's clothing was different. When it is all the same - it can be mistakenly taken home by another kid or just lost in the great pile of lost property. Distinctive different clothes are more easily returned to the right kid.

Myth Three: Uniform makes everyone the same, no matter what background
This is just plain wrong. Those with money have all new uniforms, those without have scruffier items or items that are too small or too big. If anything uniforms make it harder because if money is tight, spending more on a uniform just adds to the stress.

Myth Four: No uniform leads to competition in fashion

Mufti days lead to competition in fashion. In a school with uniform, mufti days are rare. Kids wear their coolest clothes on mufti day and you can see them eyeing each other up. These days are a fashion competition. In a school without uniform, kids are so used to wearing their normal clothes everyday, the competitive element is less. Besides it is a good lesson for children to learn, choosing appropriate clothes to wear and dealing with any possible peer pressure about what to look like. Either way uniform makes this worse because rather than getting used to this everyday, mufti days build it up into something more important.

But by far my biggest problem with it at the moment is, the future of factory style/non thinking jobs are not the future for our kids - they have almost all gone off shore. Our kids need to be creative, individual, resourceful and thinking up new ideas for an app or whatever they will develop in the future. So we make them dress all the same, when it could be a small step to maintaining their creativity and individualism. 

The only thing uniform does do is possibly make it quicker in the morning to get dressed - but only if the items are dry.


Anna said...

I used to think a uniform wuld be fantastic, as you said not having to think about what to wear etc but I have found that my girl with her individual dress sense doesn't want to wear the culottes or other parts of the uniform. I totally agree with you about the cost, I am a "red dot" / "reduced to clear" kind of clothes shopper and can clothe my kids for a pittance compared to the price of uniforms, let alone needing a spare for when one is in the wash. Then there is the issue, as Nayland college has just gone through that the uniform is outdated so now there will be a whole new uniform next year for parents to fork out for. Ditch the uniform I say :)

Fiona S said...

Yep, I agree :)

Unknown said...

I totally agree. My son's school is in the process of organizing an info night and vote day. I don't think it helps with behavior, self esteem or academics. All that is to be started at home. The kid that bullies is not suddenly going to turn into a saint after putting on a uniform. I have been searching for some validation aND your article brings up some.points that I overlooked. Thank you very much for sharing.

ria woods said...

I totally agree. My son's school is in the process of organizing an info night and vote day. I don't think it helps with behavior, self esteem or academics. All that is to be started at home. The kid that bullies is not suddenly going to turn into a saint after putting on a uniform. I have been searching for some validation aND your article brings up some.points that I overlooked. Thank you very much for sharing.

Fiona S said...

Glad it was helpful and I agree with you where behavior, self esteem and academics starts. I hope the info night and vote day went well.
Fiona S.

Tys said...

"I thought uniforms were good, until I read the evidence"

Backs it up with evidence largely supporting uniforms, if only a little.

Provides anecdotes that support what author 'likes'.

Points out that we should be careful confusing correlation with causality when arguing against uniforms, but does the opposite when arguing for uniforms!

If you don't like uniforms, there's nothing wrong with that! Just say so!

There are benefits to having, and not having a uniform in school.

One increases personal self expression and individuality , which is very popular these days. The other promotes community and belonging, which is extraordinarily unpopular.

Fiona S said...

Interesting points. I would disagree with your comment that one option increases personal self expression and individuality and the other promotes community and belonging. The strongest feeling of community and belonging for my children from the schools they have attended was definitely the school without a uniform. Community and belonging is a culture of the school and has nothing to with what the kids wear from what I have seen.

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