What is it?
School uniform is the clothing students are required to wear at school. Uniforms vary from the very formal (requiring blazers) to more informal (involving just a school sweatshirt). Schools vary as to how strictly a uniform policy is enforced.
How effective is it?
There is a general belief in many countries that school uniform supports the development of a whole school ethos and therefore supports discipline and motivation. However, there is no robust evidence that introducing a school uniform will, by itself, improve academic performance, behaviour, or attendance. There are studies that show changes in these outcomes after the introduction of a school uniform policy. However, in these cases uniform was usually one factor amongst several improvement measures, such as changes in behaviour policy or other aspects teaching and learning. Therefore it is not possible to claim that changes in outcomes were caused by the introduction of a uniform.
There are cultural issues about how a school uniform is perceived which play an important role in determining its acceptability and students’ compliance. There is some evidence that free school uniforms improve attendance in areas of very high poverty, however this does not appear to be true in all cases. In some cultures, school uniforms are associated with regulation and the loss of individuality, so care must be taken when generalising from studies in different contexts.
In Australia, there has been no recent research on the direct relationship between academic achievement and the wearing of a school uniform. However, a couple of studies do indicate that school uniform is related to other facets of school life, for example the amount of physical activity, incidental physical activity during school breaks (recess and lunch). These studies also suggest that girls’ physical activity is impacted by uniform style, unlike boys.
How secure is the evidence?
There are no systematic reviews or meta-analyses of well-controlled studies of school uniform policy. The evidence rests mainly on correlational studies that have compared the performance of schools with uniforms to those without, or that have examined a school's trajectory of improvement after the introduction of school uniform. One of the problems in interpreting this evidence is that schools in challenging circumstances often choose a school uniform policy as part of a broader range of improvement measures. The most rigorous reviews and analyses have so far been unable to establish a causal link, but speculate that adoption of a uniform policy may provide a symbolic and public commitment to school improvement.
What are the costs?
The costs for schools associated with introducing a school uniform are very low. Normally the costs are borne by parents who must buy the required clothes.
For schools, the costs associated with introducing a school uniform are estimated as very low.
What should I consider?
Wearing a uniform is not, on its own, likely to improve learning, but can be successfully incorporated into a broader school improvement process which includes the development of a school ethos and the improvement of behaviour and discipline. If you are planning to implement a uniform policy, have you considered how you will embed it in a wider school policy which will improve learning?
There is a general belief that school uniform leads to improvements in students’ behavior. It is important to remember that improved behaviour, on its own, does not necessarily lead to better learning, though it may be an important precondition (see Behaviour interventions).
Staff commitment to upholding and enforcing a uniform policy is crucial to successful implementation.