Students of McClure Public School and Sir William Gage Middle School in Brampton will be returning to school this September, wearing mandatory uniforms following a vote by parents in favour of the change last spring.
In November 2015, the Peel District School Board (PDSB) updated its policy regarding school uniforms. The update no longer required board approval to authorize individual schools to implement uniforms, and instead gave parents the authority to decide. With the policy update, a minimum vote of 75 per cent of parents in favour of uniforms will allow a school to implement a mandatory uniform policy as long as those voting represent a minimum of 75 per cent of school families.
PDSB updated the policy following a successful uniform pilot at Central Peel Secondary School in Brampton during the 2014-15 school year. The pilot started after the board’s Student Attract and Retain Committee found that uniforms are one of the top positive influencing factors for parents of grade eight and nine students when choosing a school. Central Peel was an ideal candidate because its parents had repeatedly been asking for uniforms.
Brian Woodland, a representative for PDSB, says that the mandatory uniform policies within the school only work when there is support from the majority of families. “It’s not supposed to be automatic. It’s supposed to be about the voice of the community” he cited.
Opposition to the uniform policy centres largely on students losing their sense of identity in not being able to dress according to their style. Some families also argue that school uniforms are more costly than regular clothes, especially if there is a requirement to purchase from a specified vendor whereby opportunities to take advantage of sales, hand-me-downs or thrift shop purchases are minimal. Plus, regular clothes are still needed when the kids are not in school, adding to the cost.
Despite the opposition, feedback from families and administration of schools with mandatory uniforms tends to be positive. Improvement in attendance, sense of community and student self-esteem is noted. Uniforms also eliminate the challenge of students dressing inappropriately because of the often subjective nature of school dress codes. With uniforms, the students tend to feel less peer pressure or competition to dress a certain way because of the “level playing field” that uniforms create. In turn, focus on school work can improve.
Also, guidelines may be built into each school’s uniform policy to address potential concerns. For example, to improve affordability, Central Peel students are permitted to purchase bottom clothing pieces from regular retailers as long as they are the right colour and length.
Under the new policy, if interest exists within a school to establish a code for school uniform, a representative committee made up of parents or guardians, staff members, students and school administration is formed. The group must create an action plan before a vote takes place to include such factors as a communication plan, clear voting procedures, a strategy to deal with affordability of the uniforms, an implementation timeline and a review and monitoring process.
Once a vote approves mandatory uniforms, a student contract is signed confirming that the student agrees to wear the uniform daily and an alternative school will be made available to students/families who do not wish to sign the contract. If a vote does not approve the uniforms, the board policy dictates that the issue will not be studied again within that school for a minimum period of three years. Families of Stephen Lewis Secondary School and Streetsville Secondary School voted against uniforms for the upcoming school year.
Further PDSB policy changes are being considered to implement uniforms in schools that haven’t yet opened when there isn’t a parent community to consult.
Photo: Grade nine Central Peel SS students in uniform at welcome assembly last September (courtesy of Central Peel SS)