- A study conducted in the United States discovered that wearing school uniforms reduced feelings of ‘school belonging’ rather than increasing attendance or strengthening a sense of community.
- According to the study’s principal author, fashion is one way kids express themselves. When they can’t, ‘they may not feel as much like they belong.’
OHIO, USA – Many students in elementary and secondary school experiences include wearing a school uniform. But does mandating them to wear one have an effect on their behavior and performance?
A recent study suggests a troubling reason why schoolchildren should no longer wear uniforms.
Its findings indicate that, contrary to popular assumption, mandating children to wear school uniforms had no effect on their behavior or attendance. Instead, it could be affecting their sense of belonging at school.
Arya Ansari, an assistant professor of human sciences at Ohio State University, was the study’s principal author.
He carried it out in collaboration with Michael Shepard, a graduate student in human sciences at the same university, and Michael Gottfried, an associate professor of education at the University of Pennsylvania.
With the growing popularity of school uniforms in both private and public schools in the United States, Ansari and his team considered the purpose of requiring pupils to wear them.
“There hasn’t been much research done on the value of school uniforms in the past 20 years or so, especially given how much their use has increased,” said Ansari.
Uniforms, it has been said, foster improved attendance and a stronger sense of community. This, it is hoped, will lead to less bullying and violence among students.
The study analyzed data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study to dig more into this. This study followed a representative sample of 6,320 students in the United States from kindergarten to the end of fifth grade.
Aside from reporting how frequently each student was absent, teachers graded each student on three aspects each academic year: internalising behavior problems (e.g., anxiety and social withdrawal); externalising behavior problems (e.g., aggressiveness or property destruction); and social skills.
School uniforms had no effect on these three characteristics of behavior in any grade level, according to the findings. Researchers stated that this was true even after taking into account other elements that could influence a student’s behavior.
Low-income students in schools that wear uniforms have slightly better attendance. Nonetheless, this change amounted to less than one day every year.
The fact that uniforms have no effect on children’s behavior isn’t the only reason pupils should avoid wearing them. Students who wore uniforms to school reported lower levels of “school belonging” than those who did not wear uniforms.
Self-report measures taken by the same kids in fifth grade were also evaluated. They discussed their relationships with their professors and peers.
Students also shared their experiences with bullying and social anxiety.
While school uniforms were not associated with differences in bullying or social anxiety in children, those who had to wear them felt less connected to their school than students who did not wear uniforms.
Researchers stated that the study cannot yet explain this finding, however there are some probable explanations.
“While uniforms are supposed to build a sense of community, they may have the opposite effect,” Ansari said. “Fashion is one way that students express themselves, and that may be an important part of the school experience. When students can’t show their individuality, they may not feel like they belong as much.”
With these findings, researchers suggest parents, teachers, and administrators against believing that school uniforms have good impacts that may not exist.
“School uniforms may not be the most effective way to improve student behaviour and engagement,” added Ansari.