The Pros and Cons of School Uniforms for Students

Students in uniforms walking to class.

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The debate over whether students should wear school uniforms has been going on for more than a decade. While some people argue uniforms have a positive impact on the school environment, others fear they prevent kids from expressing themselves through their clothing choices.

The research on school uniforms is often mixed. While some schools have found uniforms to be beneficial, other research has found that they have little effect. (Some studies have even reached the conclusion that uniforms can be harmful.)

Let's take a closer look at some of the potential benefits, as well as the challenges, of requiring students to wear uniforms.

Student Safety

Some people think that school uniforms can help make schools safer for kids. When Long Beach, CA, required all students in grades K–8 to wear uniforms, reports of assault and battery decreased by 34%.

Additionally, assault with a deadly weapon decreased by 50%, fighting incidents declined 51%, and sex offenses dropped by 74%. Possession of weapons dropped by 52%, possession of drugs went down 69%, and vandalism was lowered by 18%. 

The Sparks Middle School in Nevada reported a decrease in gang activity after instituting a uniform policy. They also reported a drop in fights, graffiti, property damage, and battery. Overall, there was a 63% drop in police reports.

Other proponents of school uniforms report that it prevents students from concealing weapons under clothing. And some also believe intruders would be recognized faster, making the students and staff safer in the event someone from the community tries to enter the school.

Not all studies have found that uniforms reduce discipline issues, however. In fact, a peer-reviewed study found that school uniforms increased the average number of assaults by about 14 per year in the most violent schools. The Miami-Dade County Public Schools Office of Education Evaluation and Management found that fights in middle schools nearly doubled within one year of making uniforms mandatory. 

Focus on Education

For many students, clothing can be a major source of stress. Not having certain brand name clothing or not wearing fashionable items could lead to feelings of insecurity. 

Some people feel students are better able to concentrate on school when they all wear the same clothing. Researchers at the University of Houston found that the test scores of elementary school girls increased by three percentile points after uniforms were introduced. 

Not all studies have found that uniforms improve grades, however. In fact, at least one study found that school uniforms had a negative effect on achievement.

Attendance Rates

Kids may show up to school more often when they’re wearing uniforms. A study by researchers at the University of Houston found that the average absence rate for girls in middle and high school decreased by 7% after school uniforms became mandatory. A study by Youngstown State University also found that attendance rates increased and suspensions decreased once students began wearing uniforms. 

Students may also be more likely to show up to school on time when they have to wear uniforms. If they don’t have to spend time choosing what to wear every morning, students are able to get out the door more quickly. This means fewer late arrivals.

Discipline Issues

Proponents of uniforms report that it can improve behavior in students. One school that found this to be true is the John Adams Middle School in Albuquerque, NM. When they mandated school uniforms, discipline referrals dropped by 74%.  

An Australian study also concluded that students wearing uniforms were more disciplined and they listened significantly better. Classes were also more likely to start on time.

Not all studies have found this, however. Some research has found that disciplinary issues and bullying didn’t decrease after instituting a mandatory uniform policy.

Dress Code Enforcement

Many school officials spend a lot of time policing dress codes. Enforcing policies can require a lot of resources as teachers may send kids to the office, and administrators have to determine whether clothing is too baggy, inappropriate, or revealing.

Kids who violate dress codes may spend a lot of time in the office awaiting consequences, or they may receive suspensions for repeated violations. School uniforms can keep kids in the classroom more and prevent staff from wasting time trying to enforce policies.

Cost for Families

Parents may spend less money on school clothes when kids wear uniforms. There is less pressure to buy expensive name-brand clothing, and school uniforms might be more affordable.

Opponents of school uniforms, however, say that requiring parents to buy specific articles of clothing goes against the idea that students should be given free education. When public schools force parents to buy uniforms, this could be placing a hardship on some families.

Impact on Self-Esteem

Proponents of uniforms report that they have a positive impact on student self-esteem. Wearing the same clothing as everyone else means that students don’t have to worry about whether their clothing choices will be acceptable to their peers.

But opponents argue that uniforms may have a negative impact on some students’ body image. Research conducted at Arizona State University found that students without uniform policies actually reported higher self-perception scores than students with uniform policies.

When all students wear the same clothing, they may be more likely to compare themselves to their peers as clothing fits differently on everyone’s body.

The Problem With Uniform Research

Although there are many studies that examine the potential benefits and drawbacks of uniforms, many of them revealed correlation, rather than causation. Just because grades went up or behavioral problems went down, there’s no way of knowing that the reason for the change was due to uniform policy. There are many other factors that may have influenced these issues.

A Word From Verywell

Before any school adopts a uniform policy, it may be wise to review the literature. While there certainly may be a lot of benefits to making uniforms mandatory, there are also some potential drawbacks and challenges you might face. Parents, teachers, and administrators may want to weigh the pros and cons before instituting any type of clothing policy for students.

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