A Tauranga mum is unhappy with her children's primary school following the introduction of a new uniform, costing almost twice as much the previous one.
Shelley McPherson says she was initially happy to send her children to Arataki School, as she considered the school's ‘partial' uniform of a polo shirt and fleece to be acceptable.
“Having just the top made it not unreasonable, I thought, even though you could do it cheaper by buying a polo for $3 from a shop and putting the logo on yourself,” she says.
The original uniform consisted of a polo shirt ($27), fleece ($37), and summer hat ($13), totalling $77.
The new uniform has more expensive versions of the polo shirt ($35), fleece ($55) and summer hat ($15), while adding a regulation short or skort ($37), totalling $142.
Optional items for winter include track pants ($55) and a beanie ($23).
The school says consultation on the changes included notices in the school newsletter and the proposed new uniform being displayed in the school office.
However, Shelley believes there wasn't enough discussion with parents about the changes, and is frustrated that school boards seem to have the power to make changes such as this on a whim.
“While it may be legal, I don't see how it can really be ethical,” she says. “The law seems to say if a school dictates they have a uniform, you must wear it. But on the other hand, if you look at other sections of the law, they can't kick you out of school if you're not wearing a uniform. So there's no clear definition.
‘At the end of the day, it's not their money they're spending, it's that of parents and families.”
Arataki School board of trustees chair Cindy Shaw says the new uniform is being gradually phased in, with all pupils expected to wear it from 2020.
“All tamariki are able to wear either uniform until then.”
She says the reasons for changing to the new uniform include it being easier to wear, made from a more breathable, durable fabric, which makes them last longer and thus more cost-effective in being handed down.
“The bulk of the increase in cost comes from the inclusion of uniform bottoms. The decision was made to include uniform bottoms to ensure that all of our tamariki are in appropriate, long-wearing and tidy attire.”
Cindy says the board acknowledges the pressure the increased costs may put on families, hence the gradual phasing in.
“We also currently have a sub-committee investigating a number of strategies we can employ to help support the purchase of the school uniform.”
In regards to the consequences of not wearing the correct uniform, Cindy says there are times when this occurs, with each case being treated on its merits.
“However, it may be that the tamariki is granted temporary permission for that one day, or loaned the correct uniform. If it's an issue of finances, then we encourage our whanau to meet with our staff to discuss the best way forward. As stated above, we are working to find more ways to support the purchase of the uniform.”
Former Merivale School principal and current Labour MP Jan Tinetti says when her school introduced a uniform, it was important to make it affordable.
“At Merivale we took the stance we were going to make out uniforms as cheap as possible. We had a blue polo shirt with no monogram or logo, so that meant parents could buy them anywhere. Children could then wear anything with black on the bottom.”
As a new MP, Jan says she's had a lot of contact from people regarding the issue of school uniforms.
“School costs are something we're really concerned about in Labour, and as a caucus we are coming up with policies at the moment to alleviate the burden on families.
“I don't see the point in uniforms, personally. I find them ‘old-school', and I'd like to think we're moving beyond that in education. But I understand that some schools want to develop a sense of identity.”
SCHOOL UNIFORMS AND THE LAW
Ministry of Education deputy secretary of enablement and support Katrina Casey says each school board of trustees is responsible for determining whether or not a school has a uniform and what it consists of, as well as how it is enforced.
“This isn't something we have a particular view on, although we do think it is important schools consider consultation with their parent community when they are seeking to change existing rules about uniforms.
“Certainly in all cases we expect schools to communicate very clearly with parents what their requirements are.”
She says any parent who is worried about the cost of school uniforms should talk to their school.
“Similarly, parents or students who are not clear about a school's dress code should discuss any issues with senior staff at the school. Anyone who has concerns about the rules or how they are being enforced should contact the principal in the first instance.
“If not happy with their response they should then contact the board of trustees. If still not satisfied, they can contact their local Ministry of Education office and we will see if we can mediate a solution.”
The Ministry of Education refused to answer whether a student could lawfully be denied attendance at a state school if they refused to wear a uniform.
While the 6th Schedule to the Education Act 1989 lays out the powers, duties and obligations school boards – including the ability to ‘make bylaws that the board thinks necessary or desirable for the control and management of the school' – it also subjects boards to ‘the general law of New Zealand'. This means school boards cannot enforce rules that breach New Zealand laws.
According to the same act, the principal of a state school may stand-down or suspend a student if satisfied on reasonable grounds that ‘the student's gross misconduct or continual disobedience is a harmful or dangerous example to other students at the school', or ‘because of the student's behaviour, it is likely that the student, or other students at the school, will be seriously harmed if the student is not stood-down or suspended'.