A new study from the United States found that school uniforms have no effect on student behavior and attendance, contrary to what many teachers and parents believe.
However, students who were required to wear uniforms at school reported lower levels of school belonging in fifth than students who were not required to wear uniforms.
These findings were based on data from more than 6,000 children of school age.
“A lot of the core arguments about why school uniforms are good for student behavior don’t hold up in our sample,” stated Arya, lead author and assistant professor of human science at The Ohio State University.
“We didn’t see much difference in our behavior measures, regardless of whether the schools had a uniform policy or not.”
Ansari collaborated with Michael Shepard (a graduate student in human science at Ohio State) and Michael Gottfried (associate professor of education at Pennsylvania).
The results of their research were recently published online in the journal Early Childhood Research Quarterly.
This is because uniforms for school are more in demand, Ansari stated.
In 2011-12, uniforms were required by 20% of public schools. This is a significant increase from the 3% required in 1995-96. In 2011, uniforms were required by 66% of the 10 private schools.
““There hasn’t been much research done on the value of school uniforms in the past 20 years or so, especially given how much their use has increased,” Ansari said. He is also a faculty associate at Ohio State’s Crane Center for Early Childhood Research and Policy.
School uniform supporters argue that they encourage better attendance and a stronger sense community which leads to less bullying and fighting.
The Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey data was used to test this. This study followed 6,320 students in kindergarten through fifth grade.
Each academic year, teachers assessed each student on three dimensions: internalizing behaviors (such anxiety and withdrawal), externalizing behaviors (such aggression or destruction) and social skills.
Teachers also shared the frequency that each student was absent.
Overall, uniforms at school had no effect on behavior in any grade. This is despite the fact that there are many other factors that can affect behavior.
Ansari stated that while the study found that students with low incomes attending schools that required uniforms had slightly higher attendance rates, it was less than one day per school year.
Researchers also evaluated self-reports from fifth grade students. Students shared their feelings of school belonging. This included how close they felt to teachers, classmates, and staff. Students also shared their stories of bullying and social anxiety.
There was no association between school uniforms and bullying or social anxiety among children. However, uniform-wearing students reported lower school attendance than those who did not have to wear uniforms.
Ansari stated that although the data from this study cannot explain this finding but that there are plausible explanations.
He said that uniforms were supposed to foster a sense community but may actually have the opposite effect.
Fashion is one way students can express themselves and it may be an important part the school experience. Students who are unable to express their individuality may feel less at home.
Ansari stated that the results of this study should warn parents, teachers, and administrators against assuming school uniforms have any positive effects.
“School uniforms may not be the most effective way to improve student behavior and engagement.”
The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development supported the study.