‘Towing’ the line

14 February 2018

Weekly Column from the Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta

These days, we know much more about how learners learn and what constitutes good teaching than we did in the past. That is why the industrial model of schooling has passed its use-by date. Yet for some reason schools still function too heavily on principles of efficiency, uniformity and order. We become engrossed with peripheral things like shoes and hair length instead of focusing on the core – improving the learning of every child.

School uniforms have long been a part of Australian schools. The majority of students wear their uniforms with pride and parents are generally supportive of uniform policies. And schools have every right to uphold their uniform policies. However, this is not the main game. Learning is the main game. When overly prescriptive uniform policies become more important than good learning and good teaching, we have a problem.

It is important to keep in mind that some elements of school uniform and grooming policies are there to ensure student safety and wellbeing. These are top priorities for schools and should never be compromised. I also appreciate that there are occasions when students are being mischievous in the how they wear their uniform or with their grooming. Schools have a right to challenge students when this happens. At the same time, reducing students’ opportunities to take part in learning should always be the last resort, particularly when there is no risk to teacher or student safety.

I was recently told about a student who missed quite a lot of school. He failed to show up on particular days of the week. When the school asked why, the response was not bullying or disinterest or family circumstances, it was that he didn’t have the right sports shoes to wear. I find that heartbreaking.

All parents know that uniforms are expensive and so are shoes. It should never be case that a young person feels excluded in any way because their family cannot afford the cost of all or part of a school uniform. That’s the side that is often missed here because fitting in at school is a big deal for most students.

Our schools need to be places where every student feels welcomed and valued. And importantly, we can never lose sight of the purpose of schools – to educate young people. Uniforms can be an important part of a school’s culture but they should never define it.

Greg Whitby

Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta


Greg Whitby is the Executive Director of Schools - Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta
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