Can School Uniforms Increase Student Attendance? Yes! But why?
Before we partner with a school to provide uniforms to their students, we field a lot of questions about how a uniform policy can benefit students. One benefit we often cite is the effect of school uniforms on attendance rates. A 2006 study showed that school uniforms improved attendance rates at urban public high schools. We’d heard anecdotally from our partner schools through the years that they saw improvements in attendance after instituting a uniform policy, and we were happy that the data from the study bore out their conclusions. While the study only addresses the correlation of attendance and school uniforms, we’ve always been interested in the why? Why do schools who have uniform policy enjoy better attendance? Being in the business for almost 50 years, we have some theories.
It’s natural for us humans to want to be part of a group. On the hunter and gatherer fields, groups did better because they could pool resources and work together for a common goal. What is a school if not a group working toward a common goal? The school uniform solidifies the group signal: by wearing the uniform, a student can signal “I’m with them” without having to say it. It works for the military, it works for judges, and we think it works for kids in uniform, too.
We’ve talked at length about how school uniforms level the playing field by removing the bullying and ostracism associated with clothing. The uniform removes something that could make a child feel left out. There’s no need to feel bad about not having the latest Jordans because at school everyone wears the same shoes. So, a morning filled with anxiety about fashion that could potentially end in a shrug and a missed day becomes a morning focused on getting to school.
We all want to be doing something that matters. We all want to be useful, feel important, and be working toward something. A uniform adds a sense of gravitas to an otherwise mundane task of getting dressed for school. When you put-on the uniform, you’re saying to yourself “I’m ready to go do my job of learning.” It’s similar to the advice people get when they’re looking for a job: get up, get dressed for the job you want, and start hunting. Because once you’re in the uniform, you start feeling the responsibility that comes with it. And the only place you can get to the ‘doing’ of your job is at school. So you go.
Why? They just do!
These are our theories about the ‘whys’ behind the ‘what’ of the correlation between school uniforms and improved attendance. We’re a biased group: we love school uniforms, and we think they make an impact, so it’s fun for us to contemplate why those outcomes are better. But, to loosely quote Tennyson and remove the fact that he was talking about infantrymen fighting a war, ours is not to ask why. Does it really matter why attendance is better when you have a school uniform? Not really. Improved attendance is a good thing no matter how you look at it, and we’re happy that by providing school uniforms we’re doing our small part.