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?
Last week I asked: “School policy, discrimination, racism or poor leadership? Which is it.”
Just take a look at some of these stories:
- Legal action: Pupil is sent home and told her hair breached the school’s uniform policy (Feb 2020)
- School bans three-year-old boy’s photograph because of short hair.
- School excludes a 15-year-old boy from lessons because his hair is too short.
- Schoolboy, 12-years-old, put in isolation because his hair is too short – by 4.5 millimetres.
- Eleven-year-old boy excluded from school after hairdresser ‘makes a mistake’.
- Northern Ireland grammar school puts 14-year-old pupil in isolation over a haircut.
- Five-year-old schoolboy’s ‘extreme’ haircut saw him banned from the playground.
- 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 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.