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Private schools and uniforms: the facts

The importance of uniforms at private schools continues to be an on-going debate between students, their parents, and school officials. Because uniforms are not only a key issue but also a staple at many private schools, it raises an equally important question: Why do uniforms matter?

Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School - Photograph by Chris Bolin

Do Private School Uniforms Help or Hinder Students?

Do these uniforms create a sense of solidarity and sense of belonging, a chance for kids to be themselves without worrying what designers their classmates are wearing?

Or, on the other hand, do they hinder the chance for kids to express themselves through their clothing, conflict with religious values, and add unnecessary costs to education?

"They think the uniforms make them look ugly but we have kids whose families work three jobs to send them here," says Cora McNamara, the principal of Nancy Campbell Collegiate Institute. "If we didn't have uniforms, there would be obvious differences."

McNamara's comments bring up an excellent point– in a world where kids are constantly judged by their peers for being different (e.g., physically, financially, religiously, or intellectually), how are students to focus on what matters both at school and on simply being who they are if they have to contend with what they wear subjecting them to criticism and bullying?

Reasons Why Parents Choose Private Schools

In 2007, the Fraser Institute studied why parents chose private schools. Among their reasons for being disappointed with public or separate schools, and the emphasis on academic quality, was the importance of safety.

"A common bond exists among parents choosing private schools. They have been persuaded by direct experience or belief that the superior education they desire for their children, whether driven by an explicit individual need of the child or by the child's cultural or religious identity, cannot be adequately met in the school system currently provided by the province of Ontario," says Deani Van Pelt, assistant professor in education at Redeemer University College in Ancaster and co-author of "Ontario's Private Schools: Who Chooses Them and Why?".

Identity is a common theme for teenagers trying to figure things out and it's important for them to have a safe place to do that. Most parents would probably agree they want their children to maintain their own sense of identity. In private schools where everyone is dressed the same, perhaps it is the perfect opportunity for children to have that without the stress of what they wear defining them.

The Facts of Private School Uniforms:

  • Mind over material: Students focus more on schoolwork while in class than what peers are wearing that day. Additionally, kids are less stressed about wearing the latest trends, or being out of the loop.
  • Less disagreement between students and teachers: Educators don't have to spend as much time and attention focusing on what is appropriate attire.
  • School safety: Schools are able to distinguish who belongs to the student body and who doesn't, increasing school safety overall.
  • Decreased crime: Uniforms diminish the distinguishing characteristics of gangs or other such groups, including the tendencies toward violence that make other students apprehensive.
  • Cheaper than yearly wardrobes: Although the cost of uniforms can be expensive up front, the amount of money parents spend on fall and spring wardrobes each year for their children can be much more. School uniforms are intended to last and hold up to the stress of everyday wear.
  • Create unity among peers: Maybe the most important point– kids feel a sense of equality among their classmates. They can spend more time getting to know each other and about their unique backgrounds without the limitations of clothing choices.

Private school uniforms don't have to compromise a child's identity– schools, students and their parents can all come up with ways for children to express themselves and share in the advantages!

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