This week I have started a new research project on the benefits on gender neutral school uniforms.  This has implications on LGBT+ students as it would allow them to wear uniforms that align with their preferred gender instead of a transgender boy learner being forced to wear a uniform with a skirt. 


When first attacking this memo, I sought out any legislation which there wasn’t any although the Constitution required that schools protect and fulfill the rights in the Bill of Rights which states protection for the freedom of expression.  The Bill of Rights states that that right includes forms of outward expression as seen in clothing selection and hairstyles.  While this is stated in the Bill of Rights it has not been interpreted as such in school uniforms.  It can also be agreed that the right to wear whatever uniform appeals would fall under the constitutional rights of the right to equality including gender equality, the right to dignity, and the right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression.  Dignity is a founding principle of post-apartheid South Africa and is listed as a non-derogable right. 


While the Constitution can be applied to our argument for gender-neutral uniforms, it is not applied in that way currently.  The National Guidelines on School Uniforms are a more accurate representation of South African laws regarding school uniforms which that the purpose of the uniform is to enhance the learning environment by promoting school safety and discipline.  A big argument in favor of uniforms is that it acts as a social leveller since all students wear the same thing it will not be seen as one child is richer than the other.  Nor while learners feel compelled to spend their money to keep up with the fashion trends.  Another reason in favor of uniforms is student discipline as there is a suggested correlation between uniforms and increased student attendance. 

Also, uniforms provide an additional tool that administrators and teachers can use for discipline by providing students with rewards of ‘uniform-free’ days for good behavior.  Nevertheless, whether uniforms can make students more disciplined is empirically debatable.  There was research comparing student responses in a school with school uniforms and a similar school without and found the school with uniforms had a significantly better school climate, which suggested that school uniforms may improve student achievement through this mechanism of school climate.  The main argument is that school uniforms have these main advantages: (i) promoting group spirit, (ii) maintaining academic standards through uniformity, (iii) easing the burden on family budgets spent on different clothes, (iv) deemphasizing socioeconomic differences by having every student wear the same clothes, (v) eliminating the relationship between dress and school status by having students from all types of schools wear similar clothes, and (vi) expediting the dressing process to provide extra time for sleeping and studying.  Having uniforms helps prevent rich learners from making poorer learners feel less than or inferior, thus uniforms have been harnessed as an equalizer of different social classes. The uniforms serve as an equalizer by “reducing demands on parents to buy expensive, trendy clothes. 


Public and most private schools in South Africa, like those in many other former British colonies, require students above pre-school level to wear a uniform. It was interesting considering most US public schools do not require public schools.  While researching I thought about if given my personal experience going to schools that required uniforms and didn’t if I felt a difference.  Obviously, this is a biased approach given it’s a population of just myself, and the times I had worn a uniform and didn’t were at different ages and developmental stages.  Nonetheless, I think I agree that it did provide a relaxed environment so as to not feel pressure to use the latest trends.  Even with the strict uniform, there were still things to separate the students, in my case it was shoes.  In my school Sperry's were the popular uniform-approved shoe but they were more expensive than other loafers on the market.  But in South Africa, there is less of a difference between public and private schools, the difference is in the regions.  For example, a rural area may not be required to wear ties or blazers daily while urban areas such as Cape Town require a formal uniform every day in both public and private schools. I am excited to continue on this new project and see where it brings me!