OMBUDSMAN REPORT TO THE QUEENSLAND GOVERNMENT 20 th October 1998
SCHOOL UNIFORMS ARE NOT COMPULSORY IN QUEENSLAND STATE SCHOOLS AND ATTEMPTS BY THE DEPARTMENT, PRINCIPALS, TEACHERS AND/OR PARENTS & CITIZENS ASSOCIATIONS TO ENFORCE THEIR WEARING ARE UNLAWFUL
Ys son was a student at a State school. He complained to the Principal that his son had been harassed by a teacher for wearing socks that were not the colour prescribed in the school's uniform policy. The Principal assured Y that his son would not be harassed again. However Y's son was again sent to the office by a teacher for wearing incorrect socks. Y then complained to this Office. Y had complained to the Education Department about this matter prior to contacting me. The matter was resolved without the necessity for this Office to investigate but I decided to pursue the basic issue of whether the wearing of uniforms in State schools is or can be made compulsory. My Office receives many complaints about schools penalising students for not wearing the official school uniform. These penalties include isolation from classes and exclusion from such things as sport, school excursions, and class photos.
Nothing in the Education (General Provisions) Act or Regulation specifically makes the wearing of uniforms compulsory or specifically enables the Department, a principal, a teacher and/or a school community to make the wearing of uniforms compulsory.
A principal has authority "to make rules for the management and good order" schools under the Education (General Provisions) Regulation 1989.
(i) Part 3A of the Act
Section 30A(1) allows a principal to put in place a "behaviour management plan" for his/her school, Section 30A(2) indicates the purposes of such plans. Section 308 and s.30& provide for suspension or exclusion in cases of "disobedience", "misconduct" or other conduct prejudicial to the good order and management of the school.
It might be argued that if a plan makes uniforms compulsory and a student knowingly refuses to comply, that is at least "disobedience. However this would in my view only be the case if the requirement to wear a uniform were within the objects of the plan as delineated in s.30A(2). I cannot see that it is.
It might also be argued that nothing in the Act or Regulation proscribes clearly unacceptable behaviour such as fighting and talking in class, yet surely a school is entitled to make enforceable rules prohibiting those types of behaviour. That is so, as such behaviours care clearly contrary to the permissible objects of behaviour management plans under s.30A(2), (supportive and safe environments, effective teaching and learning environments, mutual respect etc).
(ii) Part 2 of the Regulation
The only section of the Part which may remotely be construed as giving principals the power to make school uniforms compulsory and to impose sanctions an students who don't wear uniforms is section 4, which states that "The principal of a State school shall be the person in charge of that State school and shall be responsible for the general management of the school". In my opinion it is highly unlikely that a responsibility for generally managing a school extends to imposing sanctions on students (including expulsions) for the non-wearing of a uniform.
(iii) Part 5 of the Regulation
If a principal or other authority were to have a power to enforce the wearing of school uniforms this would presumably come within Part 5 of the Regulation ("student administration"). This part deals particularly with students and covers the recording of attendance, the compulsory nature of attendance, the starting age for first grade students, the transferring of students and their records, home study and detention, and a general responsibility on the principal for the "progress and good behaviour of a student whilst such student is under the principal's care and control" and for "the effective supervision of the students during such times and for staff teachers to assume duty as required for this purpose" (s.36). This does not refer to school uniforms, either explicitly or implicitly.
In my view if it were intended by the Act or Regulation that the Department or principals or teachers or the school community should be able to enforce school uniforms on pain of penalties up to expulsion or exclusion, clearer language would have been used.
If schools are imposing sanctions on students not in uniform then they are doing so with no legal basis. A general responsibility imposed on a principal for the "good order" and "management" of a school, considered in context and in light of the fact that successive Ministers for Education have declined to give a compulsory uniform policy statutory force, clearly seems an insufficient basis to compel the wearing of uniform.
Particular schools appear to be seeking to impose a compulsory uniform policy because of a philosophical commitment to the wearing of uniforms. Whilst 1 can understand and accept parents would generally favour their children wearing a school uniform, I express no view on whether uniforms should be compulsory. I am however concerned if schools are attempting to compel the wearing of uniforms when they have no legal power to do so. If parents or students have an objection to the wearing of uniforms then the schools concerned are risking those students' education by imposing sanctions in pursuance of a policy which does not have a legal basis.
The department agrees that there is no statutory basis for schools to enforce the wearing of school uniforms. Its Policy suggests voluntary mediation or discussion with parents who wish their children to attend schools reasonably dressed but not in uniform. It has published this position in "Education Views" circulated to schools.
The position therefore is that putting inappropriate dress aside, a student who is reasonably dressed cannot be punished or treated differently in any way for not wearing the official school uniform. I know this view is unpopular with some principals and P & C Associations, but the position can only be changed by legislation, not by administrative stealth or low-level coercion.
Text on issue contained on pages 60, 61, 62 of the Report.
This text was scanned from a fax and then OCR. The exact wording is therefore not guaranteed.
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