Students are often made to wear school uniforms that leave them too hot in summer, too cold in winter and are physically restrictive for girls.

A researcher from the University of Otago says a radical redesign of uniforms is needed. 

Dr Johanna Reidy from Otago’s Department of Public Health says girls are forced to wear uniforms that stop them from being active during breaks or cycling to school. 

Her work was a review of existing research to see if uniforms had an impact on education and health.

She expected to find that uniforms led to better academic outcomes, but actually found there is “no direct link”.

What she did find was a “significant amount” of research on how uniforms impact minority groups and girls’ physical activity.

“The style of school uniforms and the lack of warmth is making female students reluctant to cycle to and from school. It can come down to not wanting to cycle to school or play on the jungle gym for fear of inadvertently flashing your knickers.”

She found girls were significantly more active when allowed to wear PE clothes rather than a regular school uniform.

“Girls’ uniforms also tend to be more expensive, showing that even here there is a ‘pink tax’ for female-oriented products that perform the same function as a unisex/male alternative.”

Uniforms also disadvantage ethnic and religious minorities and gender-diverse students, and the high cost is a barrier. 

“Every student across New Zealand, regardless of gender, [should] be able to wear any uniform available,” she says.

Schools should think about uniform price and suitability to allow all students to continue focusing on learning, Dr Reidy says.

“Studies in France for example where they wear non-uniform clothing to school, and then comparing students that wear uniform, there is no major difference.

“All students achieve based on their learning skills, not uniform status.”

Instead of schools being focused on the clothes worn by particular genders, or ages, or at different times of the year, they could offer a range of gender-neutral uniform choices, and allow students to choose the garments they feel most comfortable wearing, Dr Reidy says.

Re: talked to New Zealand high school students to get their thoughts on uniforms, and most said they need to change to fit everyone’s daily needs.

Bree Kingston, a Year 13 student at Birkenhead College in Auckland says it’s difficult to play sports like ultimate frisbee and handball during break times in a uniform skirt.

“The skirts are very prone to ripping along the seams making it hard to run and exercise in them.”

The pants and shorts, which are available to buy for all students, are $70 and not very comfortable, she says.

Kai Dittmer, a Year 12 student at Papatoetoe High School in Auckland says in summer, the uniforms are far too hot because they are dark-coloured, but in winter they are too thin and cold.

But, uniforms at his high school are gender inclusive, he says. “You typically see people of the opposite gender wearing the same uniform as you are, whether that be pants, a school lavalava or shorts.”

Kai says most jewellery is restricted.

“My ideal school uniform style is where everyone gets to wear what feels comfortable to them, whether that’s just a shirt and jeans, or their full cultural dresses.”

Daniel Tiong, who recently graduated from Botany Downs Secondary School in Auckland, says the uniforms there aren’t very gender-neutral.

“Girls are forced to wear skirts unless they jump through a number of hoops and processes to be allowed to wear other garments.

“This is the same process for males.”

As for cultural jewellery, Daniel says the school has to approve it, and even then it is pretty limited.

“Guys were only just allowed to start wearing earrings after a student the year above presented it to the board.”

He says he would prefer long pants and short sleeves all year round, but freedom to choose is priority.

“Students should be allowed to mix and match garments to allow more self expression.”

The option for a sports uniform that could be worn throughout the day would be nice, says Year 12 student Poppy Peate from Hamilton Girls High School.

“I think it would encourage people to get off their phones and spend more time outside with their friends.”

The uniform is currently a white shirt and tight skirt, which Poppy says is restrictive and at times, see-through.

“In summer if you sweat they stick to you and aren’t breathable, and in winter if it rains you smell like a wet dog.”

The only waterproof uniform jacket available costs $135 and is bulky, so people don’t want to carry it around all day, she says.

Much like other schools, Hamilton Girls High School doesn’t allow any jewellery, hair dye, makeup or nail polish.

“Ideally there should be no rules around makeup, jewellery etc. 

“I understand wanting to have a school image however I believe there are cheaper, more sustainable and inclusive ways of doing so.”

Sport-type clothing would be the most cost effective, comfortable and non-restrictive uniform for everyone, Dr Reidy says.

She also says the uniform mandate for seasons isn’t fair.

“There could be a cold snap in summer and hotter days in winter, but students are generally made to stick with seasonal uniforms.”

The good thing about uniforms is that they take away the anxiety of choosing what to wear every day, Dr Reidy says, and make everyone feel equal without having to wear expensive clothing.

But, she says, “the price needs to be lowered to ensure all children, despite what income their family receives, are able to go to school and not stay home without a uniform.”

Top image: Highschoolers wearing uniform in class. (Stock photo/Getty Images). 

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