Fair Go: Do winter school uniforms need a rethink?

Garth Bray
Source: Fair Go

Is it time long pants were part of all school uniforms?

Are winter shorts an oxymoron and skirts and tights cold comfort for young learners?

A total of 650,000 students are meant to be heading to school each day this winter and many of them will be wearing shorts or short skirts, despite temperatures dipping well below the point at which many adults would choose to go bare-legged.

For Fallyne Pedro, it’s time for a rethink.

“I would like them to consider the kids wearing trousers. It doesn't matter what colour, what style, I would just like the kids to be warm.”

The Manawatū mum speaks highly of her daughter’s school, but she says the uniform at Feilding Intermediate is causing her daughter Cloe-Rachel to rug up in multiple pairs of tights on some winter mornings just to keep warm.

“And it's not just this school, it's all the schools,” she says looking ahead at each of the secondary schools her daughter might head to next year.

Every school board makes its own rules on what to wear, yet with 2,536 of them, uniforms are still so...uniform... across all of them. Why?

“Everybody gets a shot at looking like they belong, and they're not going to be judged too much on their appearance. They all just get to go to school together,” says dress historian Elaine Webster.

Webster wrote her PhD thesis on the history of New Zealand school uniforms and their egalitarian origins a century ago.

“A lot of New Zealand schools do very well with their uniforms. Some schools haven't quite caught up. They really have to be fit for purpose. Why aren't we all just wearing trousers on a cold day?”

The NZ School Trustees Association says it fields complaints every winter about whether uniforms are warm enough.

“At the end of the day, our schools exist for our kids and if their needs aren't being met then the rest of it is neither here nor there,” says NZSTA president Lorraine Kerr.

She agrees it may be time for boards of trustees to check in with parents more often.

“Have a conversation with your school community about uniforms.”

Feilding Intermediate School didn’t want to say much to Fair Go when approached.

“At this time we are not able to comment,” wrote principal Diane Crate.

But a conversation is the top tip from the Human Rights Commission, which has published new guidelines for school uniforms.

It recommends school boards check in every three years or so, to see if the uniform still works for the children and their families.