What are the rights and wrongs of school dress codes?
‘20 girls sent home in row over skimpy skirts’ (Metro, 5 January 2017)
‘Schoolboy in skirt protest wins right to wear shorts’ (Daily Telegraph, 26 May 2012)
‘Boy, 12, fights “racist” school ban on his cornrow hair’ (Daily Telegraph, 12 May 2011)
‘Muslim boys told their beards breach school rules’ (The Guardian, 7 November 2013)
Every September, parents, pupils and teachers feature in the news pitted against one another on questions of dress; rows over school uniform seem to have become a ritualised part of the back-to-school season. Stories are often accompanied by amusing pictures of indignant mothers with their sad teenagers, whose skirts have been deemed too short, trousers too tight or hair too trendy by headteachers committed to ‘raising aspirations’.
It can seem paradoxical that at a time when ‘the voice of the child’ apparently carries great weight, very few people question the legitimacy or wisdom of imposing school uniform on children and young people. In fact, school dress codes have become even more widespread and rigid since the 1990s. And yet school uniforms are very unusual in other European countries and North America. It seems to be a particular legacy of Britain’s public / private school system.
Many claims are made in favour of uniform:
It raises aspirations.
It evens out social inequalities.
It neutralises the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood and adolescence.
It creates a collective ‘esprit-de-corps’.
It establishes adult authority.
This joint meeting of the Institute of Ideas Parents Forum and Education Forum will not be seeking to establish the empirical truth of whether uniform ‘works’ but will consider the more interesting questions that school uniform raises about our conceptualisations of childhood, changes in institutions, notions of parental rights and responsibilities and the purpose of education.
The discussion will be kicked off by a short lecture by Professor Daniel Monk of Birkbeck School of Law. Daniel’s research has explored a wide range of issues relating to families, children, education and sexuality, including school exclusions, sex education, homophobic bullying, dress codes, home-education and early-years education. Drawing on a variety of theoretical and socio-legal perspectives his work locates these issues within broader political and cultural contexts, engages critically with discourses of ‘children’s rights’, and attempts to create a dialogue between ‘child law’ and the ‘sociology of childhood’. He advises and works with a number of public agencies into issues relating to home-education, children’s rights and criminal justice and sexuality.