Can schools enforce uniform rules during a heatwave?

Can schools enforce uniform rules during a heatwave?
Can a school force your child to wear school uniform in hot weather? (Photo: Shutterstock)

With temperatures expected to remain in the mid-20s for the foreseeable future, many of us are enjoying the novelty of dusting off our summer clothes and leaving our jackets at home for a change. But what about our children?

Some school kids are required to stick rigidly to their uniforms, even in sweltering weather, but not all parents are on board. Where does the law stand when it comes to uniforms, and what can parents do if they disagree with school rules?

Here Hannah Parsons (Principal Associate Solicitor at DAS Law) explains what you can and can’t do when it comes to school uniform in summer time.

Do children have to wear school uniform?

A school is entitled to have rules requiring pupils to wear a school uniform. Many schools will have an agreement (which is entered into on joining the school), where parents and pupils agree to comply with the school’s behaviour and appearance policy.

The school can discipline pupils for not complying with the school uniform rules, although they are expected to consider a reasonable request to vary the uniform policy.

They must also take care to ensure that any policy does not lead to discrimination, particularly on grounds of gender, race, disability, religion or sexual orientation.

The Department of Education guidance strongly encourages schools to have a uniform. It recommends governing bodies should take into account the views of parents and pupils, as well as costs, when making decisions.

Can the school really send children home for not sticking to strict uniform rules?

Each maintained school has a behaviour and discipline policy. The policy will provide for pupils to be disciplined if they breach the school’s uniform and appearance rules. Any punishment should be in line with the published behaviour policy.

School uniform breaches are usually considered minor disciplinary matters (Photo: Shutterstock)
School uniform breaches are usually considered minor disciplinary matters (Photo: Shutterstock)

Guidance states that where there is a breach of the school uniform policy either a head teacher (or someone authorised by the head teacher) can ask a pupil to go home to remedy the uniform breach.

The school is expected to consider carefully whether this would be appropriate, taking into account the child’s age, vulnerability, the ease and time it will take the pupil and also the availability of the child’s parents.

This is not an exclusion but an authorised absence – unless the pupil continues to breach the policy to avoid school by being sent home or takes longer than necessary to make the change.

The Secretary of State’s statutory guidance on exclusions provides that pupils should only be excluded for breaches of the schools behaviour policy when they have committed a serious breach of the policy. School uniform breaches are usually considered minor disciplinary matters, though in some cases of repeated and persistent failures exclusion may be justified.

What are my rights to appeal a school’s decision on school uniform?

Whenever a school uniform policy is in place, a school is expected to consider reasonable requests to vary the policy and in particular when the request 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. Governors are expected to consider reasonable requests for flexibility to accommodate social and cultural circumstances.

Often, school procedures for dealing with complaints provide for the complaint to be addressed initially to the member of staff responsible and then the head of department, followed by 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 of Education can deal with complaints about schools.

What are the legal implications if a child has changed their appearance during school holidays, such as hairstyle?

As well as having rules on school uniform, schools are entitled to have rules regarding appearance. Provided the rules are reasonable and don’t infringe equality legislation, the school is entitled to enforce the rules in accordance with its disciplinary policy.

Where pupils change their appearance in the school holidays, they need to be aware that on returning to school they will be expected to adhere to the school’s appearance policy.