New research by not-for-profit organisation, the Schoolwear Association, has revealed both children and teachers see school uniform as a powerful tool for promoting wellbeing, tackling the kind of appearance-related pressures that could lead to mental health issues.
At a time when young people are under more pressure than ever to buy into fashion, the Association wanted to find out what role, if any, uniform plays in promoting children’s well-being in school.
The study explored teachers’ and young people’s views on mental health issues and the link to appearance, identity and bullying in schools.
“While most schools back uniform these days, they often have to fight battles with parents to justify the choice and cost of uniform,” says Schoolwear Association chair, David Burgess.
“We feel it’s important to provide real and tangible evidence of the benefits of uniform for young people so that parents can have confidence in schools’ decisions to enforce it and so they can value the investment they make in buying it for their children.”
In the survey with teachers, 75 per cent reported they had seen an increase in the number of children with mental health problems in the last five years.
Two thirds also felt that kids face increased pressure about fashion and appearance.
The majority – 83 per cent – said a good school uniform reduced this pressure in schools and could prevent bullying based on appearance or economic background.
The young people in the study agreed that school uniform is a force for good.
In a series of focus groups carried out by leading young people and children’s research agency, Family, Kids & Youth, fifty 12-14 year-olds in an Essex school shared their views on how uniform helped to reduce anxiety about their appearance and fitting in with their peers.
Many of the young people said they would feel under pressure to wear branded clothing and footwear to fit in and avoid being bullied if there was no school uniform.
This, they said, could pose problems for those who couldn’t afford such brands, but also for those who could. No-one wanted to be labelled “the rich kid” either.
The research also backed up the idea that uniform can put children in the right mind-set for school.
Dr Barbie Clarke, lead researcher for Family, Kids & Youth and expert in child and adolescent psychosocial development, highlights some important conclusions from the research.
“School uniform seems to play an important role in establishing identity among young people of this age,” she says. “It can protect adolescents from being picked on or being the subject of banter that verges on bullying. This creates a greater degree of self-confidence, and ultimately helps with the fundamental adolescent need to be accepted by others.”
Schoolwear Association chair, David Burgess, adds, “We have carried out previous research that shows that wearing school uniform can lead to improved learning, better behaviour and greater safety for pupils. We’ve also demonstrated that uniform presents excellent value for money when compared with everyday children’s clothing.
“This is the first time we have really looked at its effect on well-being,” he continues. “It’s clear from the research that both teachers and young people think school uniform helps students to feel like they fit in, to avoid bullying and establish their identity within the boundaries set by their school. We think that’s well worth the investment.”