Call to rethink school uniform design

St Hilda's Collegiate School pupil Jahdae Ainsley holds up her newly bought school uniform in...
St Hilda's Collegiate School pupil Jahdae Ainsley holds up her newly bought school uniform in Dunedin yesterday. PHOTO: CHRISTINE O'CONNOR
A University of Otago researcher is calling for a radical redesign of school uniforms to help girls feel comfortable and be physically active at school.

University of Otago Wellington public health researcher Dr Johanna Reidy conducted an exploratory review of existing research on the link between school uniforms and the impact on education and health.

She said evidence showed uniforms influenced mental health and physical activity.

Restrictive school uniforms such as skirts created a barrier for girls who were afraid of accidentally showing their underwear while playing or were too cold to cycle to school.

Girls’ uniforms also tended to be more expensive.

Many uniforms failed to provide adequate sun protection, as uniforms had a lower total body coverage than clothing worn outside of school.

"School students should be able to wear uniforms that are affordable, comfortable, keep them warm on cold days, offer protection from the sun in summer, and that they find enjoyable to wear," she said.

Dunedin schools have diversified their options in recent years, but the necessity of school uniforms altogether has been called into question.

Dunedin North Intermediate principal Heidi Hayward said uniforms were "out of step with everything else we’ve done in education".

Uniforms were archaic and exemplified "everything we don’t want in a society", she said.

There had been big movements to consider and value diversity in schools, but uniforms were still lagging behind.

The school had begun discussions exploring the option of removing the uniform before Covid-19 hit, but it was not an easy process and the issue was postponed.

In 2017 the school introduced five uniform options that the pupils could choose from, regardless of gender.

"If we must have uniforms then they should aid people in feeling comfortable in their own skin."

She could not say definitively if the pupils were happier with the diverse uniform options, but noted the school worked hard to value diversity and the roll had grown "enormously" in the last few years.

Jahdae Ainsley (11) is among the first pupils who have the option of wearing pants at St Hilda's Collegiate School.

St Hilda’s introduced new options for uniforms this year, including pants and culottes.

Jahdae said she did not like wearing a skirt because she felt less comfortable being active at lunch time and was worried about getting it dirty.

She was in favour of having a school uniform, as it stopped people from judging you for your clothes, but believed more uniform options were a good thing.


I totally agree. If we really think that uniforms are a good idea - please just make them practical, affordable, weather appropriate, and with real gender neutral options. I totally agree about skirts creating a barrier for girls but I also think that the ridiculous knee high wool socks with shorts that the poor boys have to wear are even worse! Too warm in summer, too cold in winter. Girls are now allowed to wear pants in almost all Dunedin schools I think (it took them long enough, we campaigned for that for several year at the school our girls went to) but boys are still stuck with their stupid socks. Why do we think it is ok to force kids into such stupid clothing? No adult would accept something so ugly and impractical as a work uniform. And don't get me started on ties and blazers!



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