This term has been used throughout the guidance instead of “uniform”. Although often used interchangeably, dress code is much less restrictive.
What are the legal provisions relevant to school dress codes?
The Equality Act 2010 prohibits schools from imposing a dress code which gives rise to direct or indirect discrimination in respect of a pupil or staff member’s protected characteristics, for example age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation.
Schools have a public sector equality duty to eliminate discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations between people with different protected characteristics.
Articles 9 and 10 of the Human Rights Act 1998 provide individuals with a right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and the right to freedom of expression respectively. These rights are qualified, however, which means your rights are subject to the competing rights of others to the same.
Education (Guidance about Costs of School Uniforms) Act 2021
In April 2021, a new law was passed which required statutory guidance to be published on how schools should design and implement their uniform policies, with particular regard to the cost of uniform. The new law will help break down the barriers facing children living in low income families.
The statutory guidance was published in November 2021 and advises, in order to keep the cost of uniforms down, for branded items to be kept to a minimum and for high street items to be allowed. It also states that second-hand uniform must be available, providing cost-effective and sustainable options.
Do we need a dress code?
Many schools have a dress code, uniform policy or other rules on appearance. There is no legislation that deals specifically with school dress code or other aspects of appearance. If your school has decided to have a dress code, this document provides advice on how to develop your policy or review the one you have.
It is for the governing body, trust management board, governing board or relevant responsible body of a school to decide whether there should be a school dress code policy, and the content of the policy. Any decision made should be on the basis of consultation with the schools’ senior leadership, pupils and parents/carers. Schools should ensure that their school dress code policy is fair and reasonable and does not act as a barrier to parents when choosing a school. A policy should not contradict the Human Rights Act or the Public Sector Equality Duty which means that the policy:
- must not be discriminatory.
- must help foster positive relations.
- shouldn’t be based on, or increase, stereotypes about girls/boys, about religion/ belief or about gender expression.
What principles and strategies are important when writing a school dress code policy?
When drawing up a school dress code policy schools should identify the purpose of the policy. Pupils will engage with school life successfully if they wear uniform that they feel comfortable in. Offering all pupils the same uniform choices will allow for this.
Some people of faith place importance on the concepts of modesty and dignity in dress which carry the status of religious obligation. It should also be recognised that pupils and parents may choose certain items of religious clothing even when this is not a religious requirement.
Individual choice should also be able to be exercised with regards to hairstyles.
We advise that school leaders should:
- Consult widely on a proposed school dress code policy (or any changes to a policy) with pupils, parents/carers, school staff and governors including making use of school assemblies and school councils to achieve respect for diversity and an ethos of inclusion. Include school staff in the development of the policy in order to achieve consistency across the school in applying the dress code.
- Ensure the items of clothing in the dress code being proposed are affordable for all who wish to attend the school.
- Be as inclusive and welcoming as possible in seeking feedback from all groups of parents.