Sunderland Conservatives leader says parents should ‘budget’ for uniforms as he defends school in ‘wrong trousers’ row

Robert Oliver
Robert Oliver

Sunderland’s most senior Tory councillor has waded into the row over school uniform standards at a city school.

But an on-line poll suggests the majority of people do not agree with him.

Pupils lined up at Kepier

Pupils lined up at Kepier

The Echo revealed yesterday that teachers at Houghton’s Kepier school colour-matched pupils’ trousers to make sure they had been bought from the right shop, with those who failed the match test placed into isolation or sent home.

The move split parents, with some contacting the Echo to express their anger at the hard-line approach which saw children punished for not wearing the exact grey trousers or for wearing shoes which could not be polished, while others defended the school’s right to enforce its policy.

Sunderland City Council Tory Group Leader Coun Robert Oliver - himself a teacher - said it was important schools were allowed to set their own standards.

“Parental support for a school is one way in which pupils succeed and it is alarming to see such frequent complaints about school policies from some parents who are fully aware of the rules and expectations,” he said.

Wearing a school uniform is known to be important for schools to do well so it is essential that every pupil wears it correctly to the letter of the rules which are given to parents before term starts.

Coun Robert Oliver

“Wearing a school uniform is known to be important for schools to do well so it is essential that every pupil wears it correctly to the letter of the rules which are given to parents before term starts.

“There are too many complaints about uniform and haircuts in The Echo which give the impression that some parents aren’t helping schools to enforce rules on their children when there is no excuse.

“Most parents ensure that their children are correctly dressed and use their time to shop for school uniform and budget to get it exactly right rather then allowing their children to go to school incorrectly dressed.

“In many Asian countries, where educational outcomes are higher than in the UK, parents are insistent on high standards of appearance and discipline and will complain only that their children need more homework.”

The school has taken a firm line on uniform

The school has taken a firm line on uniform

But the results of a poll on the Echo website suggested Mr Oliver was in the minority.

We asked visitors ‘Should parents have to buy school uniforms from a particular supplier?’.

And the answer was an overwhelming ‘no’, with 92 per cent of almost 900 respondents giving the thumbs-down to the school’s stance.

Department of Education Guidance clearly shows schools should give consideration to costs when it comes to setting the school uniform policy - but a spokeswoman emphasised schools were not obliged to follow it.

Hannah Parsons

Hannah Parsons

“The issue of school uniforms is one for the school and governors themselves,” she said.

“However, there are guidelines that make it clear when setting a uniform policy schools should keep costs to a minimum.”

“The School Admissions Code 2012, part of the guidelines, states ‘No school uniform should be so expensive as to leave pupils or their families feeling unable to apply to, or attend, a school of their choice, due to the cost of the uniform.’

“School governing bodies should, therefore, give high priority to cost considerations. The governing body should be able to demonstrate how best value has been achieved and keep the cost of supplying the uniform under review.

“When considering how the school uniform should be sourced, governing bodies should give highest priority to the consideration of cost and value for money for parents.”

SCHOOL UNIFORMS - YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED

Hannah Parsons, Principal Associate Solicitor at DAS Law, tells you what you need to know about making sure your child’s school uniform abides by the rules.

Do children have to abide by the school uniform?

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

The school can discipline pupils for not complying with the school uniform rules, although they are expected to consider a reasonable request to vary the uniform policy and must take care to ensure that any policy does not lead to discrimination, particularly on grounds of gender, race, disability, religion or sexual orientation.

The Department of Education guidance strongly encourages schools to have a uniform and in its guidance it recommends governing bodies should take into account the views of parents and pupils as well as costs when making decisions.

Can the school really send children home for not sticking to strict uniform rules?

Each maintained school has a behaviour and discipline policy. The policy will provide for pupils to be disciplined if they breach the school’s uniform and appearance rules. Any punishment should be in line with the published behaviour policy.

Guidance states that where there is a breach of the school uniform policy either a Head Teacher or someone authorised by the Head Teacher can ask a pupil to go home to remedy the uniform breach. The school is expected to consider carefully whether this would be appropriate, taking into account the child’s age, vulnerability, the ease and time it will take the pupil and also the availability of the child’s parents.

This is not an exclusion but an authorised absence unless the pupil continues to breach the policy to avoid school by being sent home or takes longer than necessary to make the change. The Secretary of State’s statutory guidance on exclusions provides that pupils should only be excluded for breaches of the school’s behaviour policy when they have committed a serious breach of the policy. School uniform breaches are usually considered minor disciplinary matters, though in some cases of repeated and persistent failures, exclusion may be justified.

What are my rights to appeal a school’s decision on school uniform?

Whenever a school uniform policy is in place, a school is expected to consider reasonable requests to vary the policy and in particular when the request is made to meet the needs of individual pupils to accommodate their religion or belief, ethnicity, disability or other special consideration.

Disputes about school uniform should be resolved locally and in accordance with the school’s complaints policy. School governing bodies must have a complaints procedure to deal with issues about school uniform. Governors are expected to consider reasonable requests for flexibility to accommodate social and cultural circumstances.

Often school procedures for dealing with complaints provide for the complaint to be addressed initially to the member of staff responsible and then the Head of department and then Head teacher. The next step would be to put the complaint in writing to the chair of governors. Once the internal complaints and appeal process has been exhausted the Department of Education can deal with complaints about schools.

What are the legal implications if a child has changed their appearance during school holidays such as hairstyle etc?

As well as having rules on school uniform, schools are entitled to have rules regarding appearance. Provided the rules are reasonable and don’t infringe equality legislation, the school is entitled to enforce the rules in accordance with its disciplinary policy.

Where pupils change their appearance in the school holidays they need to be aware that on returning to school they will be expected to adhere to the school’s appearance policy.

If a child has had their ears pierced and cannot remove the earrings for four to six weeks but the school makes the students take them out for PE, what does the law say?

It is common for schools to make rules regarding wearing of jewellery in school and in particular in PE lessons and the rules may require the jewellery to be removed. Such rules are likely to be considered reasonable.

Many schools set out a specific policy for dealing with the situation where recently pierced earrings cannot be removed for PE lessons and make provision for children to be given another related task.

The school’s policy will often draw attention to the requirement regarding earrings suggesting that any ear piercing takes into account the school policy.

* The information above applies for state maintained schools. Private schools are governed by the contracts that they enter into with the parents of pupils attending the school.