‘Short Hair’, Suggests Some Don’t Care!

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Short Hair


Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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Is it time for schools to ‘get real’ with some of their rules?

Being a man with a shaved head, as a school leader, I would have found it very difficult to exclude a child for having shaved hair. Worse? For excluding a child and claiming that “a hairstyle will detract from learning” – is highly dubious and a poor proxy.

Dodgy school policy?

Schools with archaic uniform policies need to get real. Of course, there is a clear line between extreme breaches of school policy and those which are subjective and/or breach the Equality Act of 2010, but I do question if these types of policies are ‘out-of-touch’ with the modern world – freedom of speech and preparing pupils for the real world – and are perhaps discriminating some pupils.

Can you imagine a teacher being asked by their school to style their hair in a certain cut?! I would also ask if independent schools exclude pupils for short hair? I’m confident they do too, but are these decisions rare and make front page news? If they do, has ‘short hair’ impacted on those pupils and their academic performance?

A question:

Last week I asked: “School policy, discrimination, racism or poor leadership? Which is it.”

Just take a look at some of these stories:

  1. Mum pulls son, 14, out of school after he’s put in isolation for ‘extreme’ haircut (Apr 2022)
  2. Son’s ‘extreme’ haircut brings dad into conflict with school over rule-breaking trim (Apr 2022)
  3. Legal action: Pupil is sent home and told her hair breached the school’s uniform policy (Feb 2020)
  4. School bans three-year-old boy’s photograph because of short hair.
  5. School excludes a 15-year-old boy from lessons because his hair is too short.
  6. Schoolboy, 12-years-old, put in isolation because his hair is too short – by 4.5 millimetres.
  7. Eleven-year-old boy excluded from school after hairdresser ‘makes a mistake’.
  8. Northern Ireland grammar school puts 14-year-old pupil in isolation over a haircut.
  9. Five-year-old schoolboy’s ‘extreme’ haircut saw him banned from the playground.
  10. A mother is furious that her 15-year-old son has been excluded from lessons because of his haircut.

In one of the above examples, the classroom teacher contacted me in good faith and questioned their school’s decision: They simply wanted to teach the pupil, but school policy over-ruled pupil relationships and outcomes.

Show me the research!

There are countless media stories, yet little academic research to suggest having a ‘short haircut’ impacts on pupil performance. This research on Chinese education suggests “short hair on young students is beneficial for their studies and everyday life.” The details highlight how “achievements are closely connected with the school’s strict demands on its students.” There are only 1,800 articles on EbscoHost, an intuitive online research platform used by thousands of institutions and millions of users worldwide – provided freely with a Chartered College of Teaching membership.

What next?

What I hope to unpick over the coming months, is a simple analysis of pupil exclusions, ethnicity, gender and reasons for exclusions. The Department for Education and many research organisations already conduct this research, but I see no harm in learning what the data suggests and sharing my thoughts here. Gender is something worth considering too. Have any female pupils been excluded and have they made front page news?

If there is little or no research to support our decision-making, unless haircuts which are extreme and incite poor behaviour in others, then there is no reason why a school leader should adhere to such a ridiculous policy. It could be time for some people to question their moral compass.

As ever, context is key and beneath the headlines we only see a snapshot; School leaders must be trusted to make decisions, but when hair gets in the way of learning, in a period of time where we seek to use research and cognitive science to support learning, we need to call out decisions which are simply bad science.

Updated guidance

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has published some guidance for schools with case studies and a decision making tool. Regarding hairstyle it is good practice to avoid using expressions with a broad meaning, such as (but not limited to):

  • ‘distracting’
  • ‘voluminous’ or ‘big’
  • ‘reasonable’
  • ‘inappropriate’
  • ‘extreme’
  • ‘exotic’
  • ‘bizarre’
  • ‘severe’.


9 thoughts on “‘Short Hair’, Suggests Some Don’t Care!

  1. I could understand a headteacher wishing to send home a student with a whopping, brightly coloured Mohican hairstyle but a close shaven haircut is surely neat and hygienic and nowadays, not necessarily a sign that the child is affiliated to a right wing political group as was I guess assumed so in the past. The least fuss one makes of a youngster’s style, the better. Allow them to be taught.

  2. Hair issues have also made the news in South Africa, often erupting into whole school community sagas. Within my classroom, I only comment about a student’s hair if it is a distraction to them. We live in a culturally and racially diverse country where variation adds richness to our experience.

  3. Some of these, or in certain cases I know of, particular haircuts are associated with gangs and that is the overall reason that the policy is strictly enforced. Of course this isn’t the case everytime but it needs consideration.

  4. We don’t have freedom of speech in Europe. We have freedom of expression. Almost but not the same. A senior teach in the first school I taught at, made the point that Uniform was something, harmless that the students could rebel against. They will rebel against authority, it is nature.

  5. I stopped sending children home at my last school where I was acting head. Many of the staff were against my stance but as long as it wasn’t affecting their own or other’s learning I thought their education was more important. I did speak to the parent and explain whilst I wouldn’t exclude a child, it might be preferable to keep more ‘interesting’ styles for holiday times.
    Now I have a substantive headship I do the same myself. My hair becomes purple, pink…whatever colour I fancy for the holiday. I also have a number of more unusual ear piercings and (not on show) tattoos, whilst my staff also have visible tattoos. We all dress professionally and provide a great modern role model to our primary-aged pupils.
    The only comments I’ve ever had from parents in our close-knit community have been positive.

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