As pupils settle into a new school year, here is what parents in Sheffield need to know about the uniform rules the city’s schools have the power to enforce.
The first day back at school after the summer break always takes some adjusting to.
But for some students the return has been met with seemingly harsh punishments for breaking strict school uniform rules.
What does the law say about school uniform policies?
A school is entitled to have rules requiring pupils to wear a school uniform and can discipline those who don’t comply.
What powers do schools have?
A school is entitled to have rules requiring pupils to wear a school uniform, and can discipline those who don’t comply, Hannah Parsons, principal associate solicitor at DAS Law, explains.
However, schools 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 the grounds of gender, race, disability, religion or sexual orientation.
The Department for Education’s guidance strongly encourages schools to have a uniform and recommends in its guidance that governing bodies should take into account the views of both parents and pupils when making decisions.
Can schools send pupils home?
Every maintained school has its own behaviour and discipline policy, which can allow for pupils to be disciplined if they breach the uniform and appearance rules.
Any punishment a school gives should be in line with its published behaviour policy, says Parsons.
Where there is a breach of the uniform policy, guidance states the head teacher (or someone authorised by the head teacher) can ask a pupil to go home to recitfy the clothing breach.
The school is expected to carefully consider whether this action is appropriate, taking into account the child’s age, vulnerability, the ease and time it will take the pupil, and the availability of the child’s parents.
This is classed as an authorised absence, not an exclusion, unless the pupil continues to breach the policy to avoid staying in school, or takes longer than necessary to make the change.
The Secretary of State’s statutory guidance on exclusions states pupils should only be excluded for breaches of the school’s behaviour policy when they have committed a serious breach.
Uniform breaches are usually considered minor disciplinary matters, but in some instances of repeated and persistent failures exclusion may be justified. Schools are expected to consider reasonable requests to vary their uniform policy
What rights do parents have to appeal a school decision?
Whenever a school uniform policy is in place, a school is expected to consider reasonable requests to vary the policy, particularly when this 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 and governors are expected to consider reasonable requests for flexibility to accommodate social and cultural circumstances.
School procedures for dealing with complaints are usually initally addressed to the member of staff responsible, followed by the head of department and the 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 for Education can deal with complaints about schools. Some students have received harsh punishments for breaking strict school uniform rules on their return after summer
What other appearance rules apply?
As well as having rules on school uniform, schools are also entitled to enforce rules regarding appearance, providing these are reasonable and in accordance with its disciplinary policy.
It is common for schools to make rules regarding the wearing of jewellery, particularly in PE lessons, and the rules may require the jewellery to be removed.
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.