by MEHREEN KHAN
Here in the UK we are currently undergoing a heat wave, which we don’t often get to experience! However, while many of us are enjoying the sunshine in our summer clothes and being able to change whenever we want, some school children who don’t finish for the six-week holidays until late July are not allowed to wear cooler clothes and must stick to school uniform rules. For instance, a schoolboy from Wales was sent home for wearing shorts and later returned wearing a skirt, and a child from Leek was put into isolation for wearing shorts.
Naturally, this has angered many parents across the country who believe their children should be allowed to wear cooler clothes during periods of hot weather. Hannah Parsons, Principle Associate Solicitor at DAS Law told Asian Sunday what the law says on this matter.
Obviously, schools are totally entitled to have rules which require pupils to wear a school uniform. This is the case across the entire country. The school therefore, has the right to then discipline pupils for not complying with the school uniform rules. However, 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.
The Department of Education guidance strongly encourages schools to have a uniform. However, it also recommends that governing bodies should take into consideration the views of parents and pupils when making decisions. This is useful to know when we are faced with a heat wave, as children can often become uncomfortable, lethargic and restless staying in their usual school uniforms throughout the duration of the school day.
So, can the school really send children home for not sticking to strict uniform rules?
Hannah tells us that where there is a breach of the school uniform policy, either a Head Teacher or someone authorised, can suggest that a pupil goes home. The school is expected to consider carefully whether this would be appropriate though, as they must consider the child’s age, vulnerability, and the time and ease it will take the pupil, also keeping in mind the availability of the child’s parents. School uniform breaches are usually considered minor disciplinary matters; however, in some cases of repeated and persistent failures, exclusion may be necessary.
So what rights do parents have who want to appeal a school’s decision on school uniform?
Hannah says that 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, ethnicity, disability or other special consideration. Hannah further advises that 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.
Often school procedures for dealing with complaints provide for the complaint to be addressed to firstly, the member of staff responsible, 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.
Hannah also advises that it’s not just school uniforms where rules have to be followed, but this can also be the case with appearance, where schools may also have rules. So, there could be legal implications on when a child has changed their appearance during school holidays such as a new hairstyle. Hannah advises that provided the rules are reasonable and don’t infringe equality legislation or suggest discrimination, the school is entitled to enforce the rules in accordance with its disciplinary policy.
Where pupils change their appearance in the school holidays, both they and their parents need to be aware that on returning to school they will be expected to adhere to the school’s appearance policy.
Other appearance issues such as new ear piercings, where a child can’t remove the earrings for 4-6 weeks can also impact on the school rules, especially if the child can’t remove their earrings for PE.
Rules for the removal of jewellery during PE are quite common in school and are likely to be considered reasonable, as it is only set for health and safety purposes in case of injury.
Many schools set out a specific policy for dealing with the situation where recently pierced earrings cannot be removed for PE lessons and therefore make way for children to be given another associated 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.