A recent survey has found that 36% (365) of young people have experienced exclusion from a school activity for not wearing the correct school uniform and a total of 75% (757) of young people have been disciplined in school for a uniform infringement.

The online survey, which was a collaboration by the Parent Engagement Group (PEG) and the Secondary Students’ Union of Northern Ireland (SSUofNI), sought the views from young people across Northern Ireland on the impact of school uniforms and PE kits. Over 1,000 responses were received from young people across the post primary sector.

Young people were asked to explain the reason for their exclusion from a school activity. While the majority of respondents quoted PE as the main activity they were excluded from, there were also incidents of exclusion from school trips and internal events such as prize day and music performances.

The results have also revealed that young people would very much like to be involved in decisions around their school uniform and PE kit. With 84% (848) responding that they have never been asked for their opinion about their uniform or PE kit. In contrast 86% (868) of young people strongly agreed or agreed that they should be consulted on all proposed uniform changes and satisfaction with uniform suppliers. More than three quarters of young people (80%, 809) agreed or strongly agreed that pupils should be involved in the current review of school uniform grants and 79% of them agreed or strongly agreed that Boards of Governors should be more accountable to all stakeholders when it comes to uniform lists.

Information was also sought from the young people around concerns they might have relating to school uniforms. 71% revealed they were very concerned or concerned about being disciplined for not wearing the correct uniform while 62% were very concerned (34%) or concerned (28%) about being excluded from PE and over half (58%) of the respondents said they were very concerned (32%) or concerned (26%) at being excluded from their school sports team.

Naomi McBurney, spokesperson for PEG said: “The original intention of school uniforms was to offer a sense of equality for children and young people irrespective of their family’s income. Somewhere along the way that intention has become lost with ever growing unaffordable school uniform and PE kits and in many instances young people seeing their right to education denied because of minor uniform infringements.

“The very idea that young people are being excluded from school activities, or experiencing isolation is incredibly worrying. This is not only an extreme response to a uniform violation but also a direct denial of children’s rights. This needs to be addressed by the Minister of Education and her department as a matter of urgency.”

The PEG discussion paper, which is due to be officially submitted to the Minister of Education on 9 November, recommends that she establishes an Independent Ministerial Advisory Group that focuses both on the cost of school uniforms and PE kits, and the level of financial support available in Northern Ireland to meet those costs, but also looks at what is an appropriate uniform for today’s schooling environment.

Ellie-Jo Taylor, Equality Officer from SSUofNI said: “Our survey has shown the need for immediate action from the Department for Education. While advice continues to be given instead of legislation, young people and families continue to suffer due to growing uniform costs. Young people and parents have had their say and it’s important the department not only recognises the severity of our figures but recognises the people and stories behind those percentages.

“Our union is hurt at the thought of young people being excluded from classes/experiences with their classmates due to a minor uniform infraction, particularly if the reason is the student cannot afford the complete uniform. The way we have previously approached uniforms is fundamentally flawed, autonomy and freedom for schools in regard to uniforms but exclusion and anxiety for students who struggle to afford their uniform or have a minor infraction. The Department cannot have a laissez-faire approach to this inequality, that approach has led us to the extremes we see today and will see again next year if real action is not taken.”

When talking about the cost of uniforms, over one third (32%) were very concerned about their family being able to afford their school uniform and the same was found for the PE kit affordability (33%). 546 (54%) young people said that purchasing the school uniform required by their school has placed financial pressure on their family, and over one third (31%) said this had impacted their health and wellbeing, 204 young people preferred not to answer this question.

Naomi McBurney continued: “The results from our young person’s survey have raised a great deal of questions around the suitability of school uniforms for today’s school environment. Young people are telling us they are very concerned about their family’s ability to pay for school uniforms and are equally concerned about being disciplined for wearing the incorrect uniform. As the results have shown, over 75% of young people have already been disciplined and over one third excluded from an education activity for a uniform infringement.

“Our parents survey revealed over 94% of parents are concerned at the cost of school uniforms. We know that uniforms are not affordable for many families, yet schools are using uniforms as a reason to discipline our young people. This is simply not acceptable in 2021 and we hope that our requested meeting with the Education Minister and her department will yield positive results for our children, young people and parents in time for the start of the next school year.”

The discussion paper can be read here https://bit.ly/PEGDP For more information follow the group on Facebook @ParentEngagementGroup – PEG and Twitter@ParentPEG.

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