Author: Holly Blacklaws
A recent article on BBC News brings attention to exclusions which have resulted from strict uniform policies. We will discuss the legality of such an approach in this article.
The story involves a year 11 pupil at an academy in Nottinghamshire who was excluded from her class for an entire school day due to the school’s recently updated uniform policy. The uniform policy stated that trousers were expected to touch the top of shoes. The girl’s trousers were marginally shorter than this required. As such, the academy felt that the trousers were not of the appropriate length.
The girl was removed from her lessons. In response to objections, the academy has stated “we don’t make exceptions for any pupils”.
When considering exclusions, schools must have regard to the Department of Education Guidelines: Exclusions from maintained schools, academies and pupil referral units in England – September 2017.
These guidelines clearly state that head teachers of schools can only exclude pupils on disciplinary grounds: they must not exclude pupils due to the actions of their parents. In this case it was arguable that the child had little say in the trousers they were sent to school in. Yet, she was punished for these actions.
Schools are also under a duty to ensure that they act in line with the principles of administrative law i.e. that their actions are lawful, rational, reasonable, fair and proportionate. It is hard to understand how such a strict uniform policy could be considered rational, reasonable, fair or proportionate. Whilst it is entirely right to say that a uniform policy must be followed, such a rigid approach to the policy appears unreasonable.
Generally, whilst policies must exist, and compliance with those policies should be followed, all public bodies are expected to apply some discretion. It does seem rather too strict to exclude a young person from their lessons because their trousers were marginally too short.
Little regard appears to have been given by the school in question regarding how such strict uniform policies would be applied to disadvantaged families. Children obviously grow and it is not difficult to imagine families struggling to comply with this rigid school policy at all times. Simply, some families may not be able to afford to buy new trousers at the rate that this policy would seem to require.
Turning to the issue of reasonableness it is difficult to see how breaching of this uniform policy, trousers being a centimetre or two too short, could have a negative impact upon the learning and behaviour of other pupils in the school. Therefore it is difficult to see how excluding pupils in breach of this policy could be achieving a legitimate aim.
Further, little regard appears to be given to children with special educational needs or protected characteristics. A family with children with disabilities may find it difficult to find school uniform which can cater to disabilities, such as physical difficulties with fastenings etc. When schools are asking families to ensure that uniform is updated so regularly it can place these children at a disadvantage.
The guidelines further dictate that schools must ensure that their policies and practices do not discriminate against pupils by unfairly increasing their risk of exclusion. It is difficult to understand the rationale behind the strictest of the uniform policies seen and how they are in keeping with the objective of decreasing exclusions for children.
When we see policies such as these, which are so harsh, we often feel that the school has failed to consider the effect that such exclusions may have on the children. Children who are unfairly excluded often feel victimised and incredibly upset at being isolated from their peers for what can be considered rather strenuous reasons. This is where our specialist school exclusion lawyers can assist. HCB Solicitors are specialist educational lawyers who are highly experienced in dealing with all educational matters including in respect of exclusions and potential complaints against schools.
Our specialist education and school exclusion lawyers can assist in appealing against exclusions as we understand the impact that such exclusions can have on pupils given that these exclusions remain on their records as they progress through their academic careers.
Our specialist, and highly dedicated, education lawyers can also assist with bringing complaints against schools to ensure that unfair policies such as these are addressed and reviewed in light of the appropriate legislation and with proper regards to the effect that they have on pupils.
If your child has faced an exclusion due to school uniform, we can help. Call us on 0333 202 7175.