School uniform policy – what can schools require?
There have been many reports in the press over the last week about schools sending pupils home for wearing uniform that is deemed to be in breach of their school uniform policy.
There have been many cases highlighted again this year. These include:
Many parents are asking what their rights are if there are difficulties with school uniform issues.
Department of Education guidance of school uniform policy
The Department of Education strongly encourages schools to have a uniform and therefore most schools have a uniform policy. This policy will be advertised on the school’s web site and in letters home to parents. Parents are likely to get a letter home at the start of the school year, reminding them of the uniform required and asking that they sign a home school agreement. This will include rules on uniform. The consequences of breach of the requirements will be included in the school behaviour policy.
If it is within the school behaviour policy that children not wearing the correct uniform can be sent home, then the school will have the right to do so.
There is, however, a process. It can only be either the head teacher, or member of staff instructed by the head teacher, that can ask the child to go home. The head has to take into account safe guarding issues. These include the age of the child, the distance that they live from the school, whether a parent is contactable and will be at home. These must be considered before making the decision to send a child home.
Some schools, where there is a question mark over safety if a child was sent home, will choose to put the child in isolation instead.
If your child is sent home, it will be recorded as authorised absence rather than an exclusion.
Guidance on exclusions for breach of uniform policy
The Secretary of State’s guidance on exclusion says that a child can only be excluded from school if there is a serious breach of a school behaviour policy. Failing to wear the correct uniform will be viewed as a more minor breach. If, however, the uniform breach is repeated and persistent over a period of time exclusion could in those circumstances be justified.
The Equality Act 2010
Schools must, however, be aware of their responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010. They are required to ensure that reasonable adjustments are made in individual cases where appropriate to ensure that the uniform policy does not lead to discrimination on the grounds of gender, race, disability, religion or sexual orientation.
Such circumstances could arise if there was religious head wear that a child needed to wear. There may need to be an adjustment to a recommended school shoe due to a mobility issue.
What can you do as a parent if you are not happy with the school uniform policy?
We recommend firstly that a parent looks at what it is they are not happy about. Is it an item that your child does not want to wear? Do you not own the item? Is it something that they reasonably could not be expected to wear because of their religion, gender, disability or sexual orientation?
Initially it will be worth writing to the school setting out why you feel a reasonable adjustment should be made in your child’s case.
Disputes about uniform should be resolved, where possible, using the school’s published complaints policy. School Governing Bodies will have a complaints procedure in instances where the complaint relates to a decision made by a head teacher.
What if I cannot afford the school uniform?
Many schools stipulate where parents should get the school uniform from. Some state secondary schools list that uniform should be a mixture of school branded items and items from stores such as John Lewis.
On average it costs between £200 -to £250 to kit out a secondary school child. As a result it can be seen why some parents try and cut corners to make financial savings on the purchase of the uniform.
If a family is in financial difficulty, we would advise that parents approach the school, explain their difficulties and see if an agreement can be reached to allow time to make necessary purchases.
Some local authorities offer grants to assist low income families with purchasing uniforms. It is always worth contacting your local authority see what, if any, financial help is available.
When might you need to consider seeking legal advice about school uniform policy?
If you have made a request for a reasonable adjustment to be made to the uniform policy because of a reason connected to your child’s disability, religion, gender or sexual orientation and this has been refused, it is worth contacting us to discuss your options for further complaint and remedy.
If your child is excluded from school as a result of a breach of the school uniform policy, again, please contact us and we will help point you in the right direction.
You have the right to appeal to the Governing Body and if that is not successful, to an Independent Appeal Panel.
If an exclusion turns on a child having a disability that prevents compliance with a policy you may have a case for disability discrimination at a Special Education Needs Tribunal. This can recommend reinstatement of your child.
Contact education law solicitor Clare Roberts on 0115 9599550 or use the contact form below if you require any advice.