Three strikes and you’re in detention. A former private school student recalls her experiences of going to a private school with strict uniform rules, adding to the issue of whether or not school uniforms should be compulsory.
By: Rizna Mutmainah
Polos, pants, dresses, skirts, and blazers these are the common features of school uniforms in Sydney. Although different schools have different styles which reflect their values, for most schools one thing remains the same. School uniforms are compulsory.
Some schools enforce strict uniform rules more than others. For one former private school student, Claudia, strict uniform rules has it’s benefits and drawbacks.
Although she has graduated, her voice shakes slightly and a hint of frustration is noticeable, as she recalls the strict uniform rules enforced at her previous high school.
According to Claudia, teachers gave students three chances, or “notifications” before giving them a detention for not complying with their rules.
“They were so strict to the point that in winter if you had a hole in your stockings, you would get a notification. Buttons undone, notification. Shirt untucked, notification. If you went outside of school grounds and you weren’t wearing your blazer, you would get a detention,” she says expertly listing the different offences that cost students a notification, that would lead to their ultimate punishment: detention.
The 20-year-old, who previously went to Monte Sant’ Angelo Mercy college, an independent Roman Catholic girls high school in North Sydney, says the school has multiple uniforms, and provide students with school-issued bags.
From summer and winter uniforms, that changed depending on what year students were in, to school socks. Claudia recalls the different pieces of clothing that make up the school uniform, a list as extensive as the list of things students could do to get a notification.
“There was little to no freedom whatsoever, so they were very, very strict with uniform regulations. We weren’t allowed any jewellery unless it was a small cross,” she says, trying to stifle her laugh.
Claudia says that girls were also allowed to wear earrings, but only one piercing which had to be sleepers or studs. Other accessories students were allowed to wear included medical bracelets, ribbons which match the colour of the uniform or big bows from the uniform shop.
Students were not allowed to wear any makeup. As a teenage girl who “wanted to wear makeup every day,” she says that her high school experience would have been better if she was provided with a little more freedom.
Despite this, Claudia says that she is “very glad” she went to a school that enforced school uniform, as it made “everybody equal and it’s a de-stressor,” she says.
Going to an all-girls private school where girls are “very judgy with fashion and everything,” she says that having a uniform reduced the stress of having to pick a new outfit every day and that one of the main benefits of wearing the same thing every day made everyone equal.
Other students have expressed similar opinions on how school uniforms can unify students and make them equal.
Former Ravenswood Student, Natasha Polczynski, for example, fully supports compulsory uniforms saying that it improves students presentation, represents the school, and gives a sense of peer unification.
“I also think it is good for students going through self-esteem issues and transitions in life as uniforms take away the added pressure and the expenses of buying new clothes in attempts to be cool or feel accepted,” says Polczynski.
Polczynski, says that although uniforms can remove one reason for bullying, it doesn’t reduce the amount of bullying that occurs as there are other motivators for bullying.
“Altering what students wear doesn’t lessen those reasons,” she says.
Bullying is a common issue identified by both students and teachers. Most are skeptical, saying that school uniforms have limited to no effects in reducing bullying.
Melissa Carr who is a teacher at Champagnat Catholic College Pagewood believes that although school uniforms promote equality and are “a great equaliser that lessens discrimination,” it doesn’t eliminate bullying.
“Sadly, I think bullying occurs anywhere and I don’t think that wearing a uniform eliminates that, it just eliminates the discriminator and allows the students to be equal in that environment,” she says softly.
Younger students, however, seem to be more hopeful as they believe that having a school uniform can reduce bullying.
10-year-old Shohan for example, says that uniforms should not be removed, because “it’s equal if everyone has a school uniform and it reduces bullying because everyone is all the same,” she says fidgeting slightly in her seat, but her eyes are full of hope.
Shohan, a student at Hampden Park Public School (HPPS) says that because everyone is equal there is less bullying because “you don’t judge people by their looks,” because people can’t tell if “someone can afford this or someone can afford that,” she says confidently.
According to Shohan, HPPS offers more freedom of choice for their students in terms of their uniforms. Female students have the option of wearing a dress or a polo shirt with a skort or bootlegged pants. Whereas boys wear the same polo shirt, with shorts or long pants.
She also says that students can alternate the use of these uniforms, meaning that they could wear long pants in the summer for example.
Another HPPS student, 12-year-old Ranoum, says that students are allowed to wear different accessories as long as they weren’t too prominent or big, giving them the freedom to express themselves.
Both students detail the different features of their school uniform and talking about the choices they have with passion. Particularly Shohan, who persists that uniforms shouldn’t be removed because for her uniforms are “pretty comfortable”.
The comfort of students in their school uniforms is important for both teachers and students.
Melissa Carr, for example, believes that many school uniforms are now outdated in terms of style. She says that school uniforms don’t reflect recent societal values, with some girls still expected to just wear dresses as part of their school uniform. She says that there definitely should be the option for girls to wear trousers.
Polczynski, for example, also believes that the comfort of students is important. She says that in the modern age where students express themselves and their sexuality through their clothes, they should not be forced to wear things that make them uncomfortable.
Similarly, Claudia says that transgender students should be able to dress in “whatever makes them feel the most comfortable”.
She says that for teenagers high school is hard enough as it is, so being a transgender student only adds to the pressure.
Claudia says that in general, school uniforms are a good idea, but schools shouldn’t be as strict about it, “I think that we should be able to express ourselves to a certain extent. You know, without being offensive”.