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This statutory guidance is aimed at school governing bodies and head teachers to support them in their development, adoption, revision and evaluation of school uniform and appearance policies. Schools must have regard to this guidance when considering school uniform and appearance policies. The guidance focuses on:
- ensuring that due regard is given to securing equality of treatment between pupils of different sexes and genders; pupils from different ethnic and religious backgrounds and; disabled pupils in relation to school uniform and appearance policies
- cost and affordability
- practical considerations involved in introducing or changing school uniform and appearance policies
- consultation with parents, pupils and the community
Section 1: introduction
1.1 The Welsh Government strongly encourages all governing bodies to have a school uniform, and to develop a uniform policy after consultation with parents, pupils and relevant local or faith communities. Properly developed and appropriately implemented, a school uniform can:
- provide a sense of identity, community and cohesion within the school
- support positive behaviour and school discipline
- ensure pupils dress appropriately for learning activity
- remove peer pressure to dress in particular fashions
- enable pupils of all backgrounds to share in a common identity which embraces their particular requirements
- help reduce inequalities between pupils and help reduce some triggers for bullying
- benefit safeguarding and attendance policies through helping to identify truants
- assist identification of strangers on school premises
- support and promote the ethos of the school
Status of guidance
1.2 This guidance is statutory and as such governing bodies and head teachers must have regard to it when formulating and revising their school uniform policies.
1.3 This guidance replaces thee previous non statutory guidance entitled “Guidance for governing bodies on school uniform and appearance policies” published in July 2019 (Circular 247/2019).
1.4 The governing body of a school has general responsibility for the conduct of the school and is required to exercise its functions in this regard with a view to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of pupils at the school.
Sections 88 and 89 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006
1.5 The governing body is responsible for pursuing policies which are designed to promote good behaviour and discipline on the part of its pupils. This can include, for example specifying a uniform which pupils are required to wear along with other rules relating to the appearance of pupils.
1.6 In addition, the governing body is required to make (and review from time to time) a written statement of general principles, to which the head teacher of the school must have regard when determining measures for the school. The governing body must have regard to any guidance which is issued by the Welsh Ministers when doing so, and when notifying the head teacher of any matters it considers that the head teacher should determine.
1.7 Head teachers are responsible for determining measures to be taken with a view to promoting discipline and a proper regard for authority among pupils, encouraging good behaviour and respect for others on the part of pupils, and preventing all forms of bullying among pupils (including rules and provisions for enforcing the measures). In determining such measures, the head teacher is required to have regard to any matters notified, or guidance issued, by the governing body. These measures must be publicised in a written document and must be made known within the school and to parents. At least once in every school year, the head teacher must take steps to bring the measures to the attention of pupils, their parents and all those employed or otherwise engaged to work at the school.
Section 2: Human Rights, Equality, Discrimination and Anti-Bullying considerations
2.1 Governing bodies must have regard to their obligations under the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Equality Act 2010 when developing or reviewing their school uniform and appearance policies, so as to ensure that they do not to discriminate unlawfully on the grounds of sex, gender reassignment, sexual orientation, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief and disability.
2.2 The Equality Act 2010 does not deal specifically with school uniform or other aspects of appearance, but the general requirement not to discriminate in the treatment of pupils applies here as in relation to other aspects of school policy.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission has published a number of related documents including: 'what equality law means for you as an education provider in Wales schools'
2.3 In addition, the School Government (Terms of Reference) (Wales) Regulations 2000 impose a duty on governing bodies and head teachers to exercise their responsibilities with due regard to the need to:
- eliminate unlawful discrimination on grounds of race or sex
- promote equal opportunities and good relations between persons of different racial groups and between sex or gender groups.
Discrimination on the grounds of race or religious belief
2.4 Governing bodies will consider their uniform and appearance policies in the context of their anti-racism policy; their obligation to promote equality of opportunity between pupils of different ethnic minority groups; and the requirement to assess the impact of school policies on pupils from different ethnic minority groups. Information on discrimination on the grounds of race and ethnicity in relation to hair and hairstyles can be found in section 3 of this guidance.
2.5 The Human Rights Act 1998 protects the right to “manifest one’s religion or beliefs”. It is important, therefore, for a governing body to consider how uniform and appearance policies might infringe on an individual’s right to reasonably follow a recognised practice of their religion or belief. Governing bodies will act reasonably in accommodating such requirements and should consider any request to vary their policy to meet the needs of a pupil to accommodate their religion or belief.
2.6 A governing body may be regarded as discriminating if it does not accommodate religious needs concerning dress. It may be a recognised religious practice for a pupil to wear a particular item of clothing.
2.7 In recognising this, the governing body could decide that the item could be worn in the school uniform colours. Governing bodies must remain within relevant statutory requirements in reaching decisions.
2.8 Governing bodies need to ensure that school uniform and appearance policies do not disadvantage disabled pupils in comparison to pupils who are not disabled. Issues for consideration include the practicality of polices and whether reasonable adjustments can be made to accommodate disabled pupils’ requirements.
Sex and gender identity discrimination
2.9 A governing body will state the composition of its school uniform and ensure an inclusive school uniform policy that does not discriminate on the basis of sex or gender identity. A school uniform policy should list items of clothing which are permitted to be worn in school, without any requirements for items of clothing to only be worn by students of a certain gender.
2.10 Schools need to consider whether flexibility is needed in relation to uniform to meet the needs of a pupil who is undergoing gender reassignment. To be protected from gender reassignment discrimination, you do not need to have undergone any medical treatment or surgery to change from your birth sex to your preferred gender. Failure to allow a pupil to wear uniform that reflects their gender identity may constitute discrimination on the basis of gender reassignment under the Equality Act (2010).
2.11 If a governing body stipulates differences in the school uniform and appearance policies on the basis of sex and gender identity (or other grounds) these should be justified. One ground for justification might be that a certain religion lays down different dress and appearance codes for different sexes. Failure to respect such codes could amount to race discrimination or a breach of human rights. For example, where differences in dress requirements don’t have significantly more detrimental effects on one sex or gender or the other, they are unlikely to be regarded as discriminatory but it might be unlawful if, for example, the uniform was considerably more expensive for girls than for boys.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child
2.12 Governing bodies must also uphold the principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Rights of the Child (Articles 2, 12, and 13 have particular relevant to this guidance) and are therefore detailed below for ease of reference:
- States Parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child's or his or her parent's or legal guardian's race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status.
- States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child's parents, legal guardians, or family members.
- States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views, the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.
- For this purpose, the child shall in particular be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child, either directly, or through a representative or an appropriate body, in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of national law.
- The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child’s choice.
- The exercise of this right may be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:
- For respect of the rights of reputations or others
- for the protection of national security or of public order, or of public health or morals
2.13 Governing bodies should ensure that when a school uniform or appearance policy is drawn up, modified or operated, grounds are not created for bullying. Regard should be had to the Welsh Government’s anti-bullying guidance and the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015.
Section 3: Issues to consider in developing, adopting, changing or evaluating school uniform and appearance policies
Cost of school uniform and affordability
3.1 The Welsh Government recognises that school uniform and other items that are required to be purchased in accordance with a school uniform policy can be a financial burden, particularly for low income and large families. Consequently, when introducing a new uniform, or considering changes in uniform requirements, governing bodies should give high priority to cost and affordability. No school uniform should be so expensive as to leave pupils or their families feeling unable to apply for admission or to attend a particular school. Where branded items are part of the uniform, these should not be compulsory, and schools should ensure they have arrangements in place to acquire second hand uniforms.
3.2 Governing bodies should consider the following in the context of keeping down the cost of school uniform:
- Schools should only stipulate basic items and colours (but not styles) so that items can be bought from multiple retail suppliers at reasonable prices and not just from one authorised supplier
- Avoid high cost items such as blazers and caps
- Avoid variation in colours and style for different year groups as this is expensive for parents and limits the scope for second-hand sale or handing on to siblings
- Have easily washable items: dry clean only items should be avoided
- Limit the frequency of uniform changes as this can be costly for parents and limits the scope for re-sale or handing on to siblings or other pupils
- Consider the cost and availability of non-standard sizes
- If there is a change to a school uniform policy, introduce a transitional period so that old uniforms can be worn for at least a year or until outgrown before a total changeover to a new uniform and consider if items of the old uniform can be retained in the new policy
- School governing bodies who stipulate or who are considering different uniforms for summer and winter should consider whether it is proportionate and justifiable to do so. School uniforms should be as economical as possible and summer uniforms are only worn for a matter of weeks. For example, governing bodies could consider trousers for students in the winter or periods of very cold weather, shorts in the summer or during periods of very hot weather and; students not having to wear woollen tights in warm weather
- Secondary schools are encouraged to consider the feasibility of aligning their school uniform policy with those of their feeder primary schools to enable any core uniform items (for example, shirts, polo shirts, trousers, skirts and sports equipment) to continue to be used in secondary schools and reduce the cost of transition into secondary education
3.3 Requiring school logos and other bespoke features on school uniform, obtainable only from specialist suppliers can be costly. Branded items should not be compulsory. The term ‘branded’ is used to describe an item of clothing with distinctive characteristics which make it unique to the school including but not limited to a logo. As a general rule, if an item cannot be purchased at a range of retailers, it is likely to be a branded item. Such items are often designed specifically for the school and are unique in colour, design, or fabric. For instance, a blazer with a school logo embroidered onto it, a sew on logo, a sweatshirt with a specific coloured trim, or trousers with a unique style which are therefore only available from a specific supplier, are all classed as branded items.
3.4 The Welsh Government encourages governing bodies to have regard to the availability of school uniform garments. Having a wide range of uniform suppliers addresses issues for those parents and carers who encounter difficulty accessing specialist uniform suppliers and who are in remote areas.
3.5 Governing bodies should be able to demonstrate that they have obtained the best value for money from suppliers. Any savings negotiated with suppliers should be passed on to parents wherever possible. Schools should not enter into cash-back arrangements.
3.6 Exclusive single supplier contracts should be avoided but where they are in place, regular tendering competitions should be run at least every five years, where more than one supplier can compete for the contract. Where a uniform item is only available from a single outlet, prices are likely to be higher than they would be if parents or carers were able to buy the item from different sources. Where schools remain with a single retailer arrangement, if there is an element of competition for the market in the form of a tender or selection process that is regularly reviewed, this is likely to result in lower prices.
School Uniform Recycling Schemes
3.7 Second-hand uniforms can benefit all parents, particularly those on low incomes. In addition, by extending the life of garments, schools can encourage sustainability and its wider benefits.
3.8 Schools should ensure that arrangements are in place so that second-hand school uniforms are available for pupils to acquire (for example through periodic or continuous arrangements for second-hand uniform sales or swap shops). It is for the school to decide how this will be best achieved. A school may wish to organise the provision or sale of second-hand uniforms themselves or via their Parent Teacher Association (PTA), or to participate in other appropriate established local schemes (for instance a local authority uniform exchange scheme).
3.9 Information on the arrangements for acquiring second-hand uniform should clearly state where second-hand uniforms are available to be purchased and should be promoted by the school to parents of current and prospective pupils, including on the school’s website in as inclusive a way as possible.
3.10 Schools should promote the sustainability and environmental benefits of recycling uniform items when advertising their second-hand uniform arrangements.
Other school uniform and appearance considerations
3.11 Governing bodies should be flexible in their requirements regarding coats worn between home and school. Specifying a particular colour or style may result in parents having to buy two coats for their child: one for school and one for wear at other times.
3.12 Governing bodies should encourage children to walk or cycle to school and should consider this when determining the design and style of uniform. School uniforms are often quite dark making it difficult for children to be seen by drivers especially during the winter months. Governing bodies should consider the benefits of including light colours and/or reflective or high-visibility materials such as removable reflective strips as part of their school uniform policy to ensure that children are able to walk and cycle safely to school.
3.13 All pupils should feel comfortable about their PE clothing. Schools should choose a PE kit which is practical, comfortable, appropriate to the activity involved, and affordable. Pupils’ participation in PE lessons can be adversely affected because of the clothing that they are required to wear. Governing bodies should adopt a sensitive, flexible approach that has regard to the equality issues outlined in this guidance. Schools should consider the costs of PE clothing, particularly where specialised equipment is necessary. In particular, governing bodies should have regard to the guidance on the use of branded items in the context of decisions on PE kit.
Health and safety
3.14 Health and safety issues are extremely important and need to be given constant consideration, especially when pupils are taking part in practical lessons such as PE, science and technology. In drawing up or modifying school uniform or appearance policies, governing bodies may have to balance the desires and rights of individual pupils against health and safety or security requirements. For instance, governing bodies have a right to expect pupils with long hair or headscarves to tie them back safely for PE and work in science labs or technology workshops, where it would otherwise form a risk to the pupil or other pupils and surroundings.
Jewellery, hair and makeup
3.15 Governing bodies may wish to consider the wearing of jewellery as part of school uniform and appearance policies and to specify items of jewellery that pupils may wear. Governing bodies may also want to consider the wearing of makeup and hairstyles or hair colour as part of their policies. When doing so, it should be taken into account whether the policy could infringe an individual’s right to reasonably follow a recognised practice of their religion or belief and whether the policy could be discriminatory. The Equality and Human Rights Commission have published guidance on 'Preventing hair discrimination in schools'.
3.16 Governing bodies will need to consider carefully requests made to vary policies in order to meet the needs of some children and young people, particularly disabled children who might have specific needs. For example, pupils with some skin conditions or sensory needs may be unable to wear specific fabrics or items, and pupils with foot or leg injuries may be unable to wear school shoes. It is important that school uniform policies are inclusive and do not restrict the participation of any child or young person.
Extreme weather conditions
3.17 Both in respect of affordability and practicality, governing bodies should take a sensible, flexible approach to basic uniform requirements during very hot or cold weather, such as temporarily relaxing policies to ensure that pupils are comfortable in their learning environment. For example, allowing pupils to wear their PE kits or uniform shorts in very hot weather or allowing trousers to be worn instead of skirts in very cold weather.
3.18 Governing bodies should make clear their approach to flexible uniform items to account for extreme weather conditions when setting their school uniform and appearance policy including how any changes will be communicated.
Section 4: Information, consultation, and complaints
4.1 School uniform and appearance requirements should be included in the school prospectus. The school prospectus should be updated annually and made available to all parents of existing and prospective pupils on request. School uniform and appearance policies could also feature on a school’s website and be shared with parents via social media and electronic contact. This will help ensure that all parents are made aware of the school’s policies on school uniform and appearance before electing to send their child to the school.
Consulting with parents, school councils, pupils and other groups
4.2 When considering the introduction of new school uniform and appearance policies or changes to existing policies, governing bodies should consult with current pupils and parents or carers and prospective pupils and parents or carers, especially as change could give rise to additional costs. Consultation should also include representatives of different pupil groups in the wider community, taking care to identify community leaders representing minority ethnic and religious groups as well as groups representing pupils with special educational needs, disabilities and gender identities. Governing bodies should engage pupils including pupils from lower socio-economic backgrounds, as well as the school council in developing school uniform and appearance policies by encouraging them to take ownership in designing their uniform policy in line with the principles set out in this guidance.
4.3 The Welsh Government’s policies for children and young people are founded on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. In Children's rights in Wales, Welsh Government has seven core aims and states that “every young person in Wales has the right to be consulted, to participate in decision making, to be heard on all matters that concern them or have an impact on their lives”.
4.4 Pupils should be consulted on, and be able to influence, decisions that affect them. To support pupils and schools, the School Councils (Wales) Regulations 2005 require all maintained primary (excluding nursery and infant schools), secondary and special schools in Wales to establish a school council. 'NAW Circular 42/2006': 'Guidance for Governing Bodies on the establishment and Operation of School Councils' advises that school uniform is one of the issues that a school council should be asked to consider at its meetings, and in consultation with the pupil body of the school.
4.5 Governing bodies should document the consultation process undertaken, the points made by respondents and the decisions taken in weighing up competing points of view. It would be useful if governing bodies provided respondents with the reasons for decisions reached, especially if there was a contentious issue addressed during the consultation. In cases where a decision is made based on a majority opinion, governing bodies should take special care to ensure that the majority opinion does not discriminate against a particular group or protected characteristics.
4.6 Governing bodies are encouraged to review their school uniform and appearance policies periodically (and should always consider doing so at times when representations are made) and to consult parents, pupils and other groups for their views. Schools should provide sufficient notice of a forthcoming consultation about uniform and appearance policies and publish it widely to encourage maximum responses. If changes are made to uniform policies as a result of the outcome of a consultation, schools should ensure that transition arrangements are in place and provide a long lead-in time for any significant changes.
4.7 Complaints or concerns about school uniform and appearance policies, including the availability of the uniform or the cost of purchasing the uniform from a particular supplier, should be raised with the school governing body and dealt with in accordance with the governing body’s complaints procedure. All governing bodies are required by law to have a procedure in place for dealing with complaints from parents, pupils, members of staff, governors, members of the local community and others in relation to matters for which the governing body has statutory responsibility. The Welsh Government has produced guidance on complaints procedures for school governing bodies.
4.8 The process for raising complaints regarding school uniform or appearance policies should be publicised, for example, on the school website or in targeted communication with parents on school uniform and appearance policies.
Non-compliance with school uniform and appearance policies
4.9 Where the governing body has put in place a school uniform policy and/or rules about appearance, it is for the head teacher to enforce these as part of his or her overall responsibility for the day-to-day running of the school and for maintaining discipline.
4.10 Head teachers should decide what action to take when pupils infringe a school’s uniform or appearance rules. Head teachers can discipline pupils for breach of the school’s uniform or appearance policies, however, it is very important they first try to establish why a pupil is not complying with the policy. If it is because families are in financial difficulties, schools should allow an appropriate amount of time for the required items to be purchased and offer information about any assistance the Local Authority or the school is able to offer. Schools should also publicise relevant Welsh Government grant funding such as school uniform support through School Essentials Grant along with the eligibility criteria.
4.11 There may be other reasons, apart from financial difficulties or defiance, why a pupil is not complying with the uniform or appearance policy. For example, their uniform may have been lost, stolen, damaged, or accidentally soiled beyond the point where it can be worn and it may not be possible to wash and dry some articles of clothing overnight. The Welsh Government would not expect head teachers to send children home in these circumstances. Other reasons could be that the uniform is not available in the pupil's size, or there may be religious reasons that have not been previously identified.
4.12 Head teachers may ask pupils to go home to change their clothes if it is appropriate to do so. This should be for no longer than necessary to effect the change of clothing and would only be appropriate where the change could be made quickly and easily. Head teachers must not send a pupil home indefinitely or for longer than is necessary to change clothes or modify appearance (for example, by having a haircut) as this could amount to an unofficial exclusion. This measure should be used proportionally. When sending a pupil home, head teachers or senior staff should bear in mind the age and vulnerability of the child and should contact the parents or carers. The pupil would be expected to return to school immediately after their clothes had been changed. Failure to do so could amount to an unauthorised absence.
Exclusion and non-attendance
4.13 The Welsh Government does not consider, in normal circumstances, exclusion to be an appropriate response to breaches of school uniform or appearance policies.
4.14 Governing bodies need to ensure that absenteeism does not arise because families are unable to provide a uniform for their children. If that situation arises, information and other appropriate assistance should be given to families by the Local Authority or the school.
Section 5: Financial assistance
School Essentials Grant
5.1 The Welsh Government recognises that some parents face financial hardship from the costs of purchasing school uniforms for their children. The Welsh Government also believes that the financial support parents receive towards the cost of school uniform should not be a barrier to learning.
5.2 The School Essentials Grant (formerly called PDG Access) was launched in 2018. The purpose of the grant is to provide financial assistance to eligible families on lower incomes for the purchase of:
- School uniform including coats and shoes
- School sports kit including footwear
- IT Equipment: laptop and tablets only (the School Essentials Grant should only be used in a limited situation, where a school is unable to loan equipment to the family)
- Uniform for enrichment activities, including but not limited to, scouts; guides; cadets; martial arts; sports; performing arts or dance
- Equipment, for example, school bags and stationery
- Specialist equipment where new curriculum activities begin such as design and technology
- Equipment for out of school hour’s trips such as outdoor learning, for example, waterproofs
5.3 This is not an exhaustive list and discretion will be required using local knowledge, within the parameters of the principles of the Scheme, especially in relation to enrichment activities, specialist equipment and equipment for out of hours trips.
5.4 The grant scheme is being administered by Local Authorities on behalf of the Welsh Government. Schools should make information available on the School Essentials Grant and advise parents that applications for this grant should be made to the Local Authority.
5.5 The latest information on the School Essentials Grant, and eligibility, can be found on the School Essentials Grant webpage.
Local Authority grant assistance
5.6 Section 518 of the Education Act 1996, and the Local Education Authority (Payment of School Expenses) Regulations 1999 made under that section provide discretionary powers for Local Authorities to make payments to relief financial hardship to enable a pupil take advantage of any educational or to take part in any school activity. That would include financial assistance to cover the cost of school clothing where they are satisfied that payment should be made to prevent or relieve financial hardship but such financial assistance must be related to the means of the parents.
5.7 Some Local Authorities across Wales offer financial assistance towards the cost of school uniforms.
Responsibility of Local Authorities as corporate parents
5.8 In fulfilling their role as corporate parents, Local Authorities are expected to prioritise the education of looked after children and act as advocates for them as parents do for their own children. Local Authorities must therefore make arrangements to ensure the child or young person is able to comply with the school’s school uniform and appearance policies and is not disadvantaged.
Other assistance for low-income households
5.9 There are other limited potential sources of financial help:
- Parents receiving Income Support, Income Based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Pension Credit or payment on account of one of these benefits or entitlements for at least 6 months may be able to apply for a social fund budgeting loan under the category of clothing and footwear from Jobcentre Plus. Claimants currently claiming Universal Credit can apply for a Budgeting Advance
- Help may be available from governing bodies or parents' associations of schools. This may be financial support from a hardship fund, a savings scheme or through the provision of second-hand clothing
5.10 Credit Unions are financial co-operative that are community focussed, run by local people for the benefit of local people offering ethical savings and loans.
5.11 Everyone who lives or works within the Credit Union area, and any member of their family who lives with them, can join. Credit Unions also welcome junior members to save with them. The Welsh Government actively encourages people of all ages to join Credit Unions and for schools to set up school collection points for young savers and their families.
5.12 Credit Unions offer a range of services including affordable loans, savings accounts, and can also help with budgeting advice and debt management. Importantly, they offer smaller value loans at affordable rates. Being a member of a Credit Union allows parents to save a little on a regular basis towards meeting the cost of buying school uniforms, or to apply for a small loan that will allow the cost of buying a uniform to be spread out into more manageable payments throughout the year.
Good practice by schools
5.13 Examples of good practice by schools in relation to financial assistance with school uniforms include:
- Publicising the Welsh Government school uniform and other support through the Schools Essentials Grant
- Publicising Local Authority discretionary grant schemes where they exist
- School discretionary hardship funds
- Promote and encourage good quality second-hand school uniform stalls at parents’ evenings or other events
- Loan second-hand uniform items to pupils and setting up a resource room where pupils can access these discretely to avoid stigmatisation
- Bulk purchase of items to sell to parents at a discounted price, possibly coupled with an easy payment scheme
- Where an item of PE clothing is only required for part of the school year, specifying this in the kit list so that the child will not outgrow the item before it is needed and parents can budget for it by spreading the cost
- Denbighshire County Council and Citizens Advice Denbighshire run a school uniform recycle scheme that allows parents to access affordable, high-quality uniforms in their community. Donated uniforms are collected from schools before the end of the summer term so that they can be recycled and made available to other families for free or for a donation at a recycle shop (donations help cover the cost of washing the uniforms)