National Guidelines on School Uniforms

Basic Education

05 April 2005
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

Education Portfolio committee

5 April 2005

Chairperson: Mr S Mayatula (ANC)

Document handed out:
National Guidelines on School Uniforms

Dr C Lubisi presented the draft national guidelines on school uniforms to the Committee. Public comments on the guidelines were being sought. There would be no national policy on school uniforms. Instead, School Governing Bodies (SGBs), after consulting the guidelines, should propose a uniform policy to parents who should then make a decision.

The guidelines attempted to control costs and ensure that the price of uniforms did not impede access to education, while recognising that school uniforms could reduce discipline problems and ensure safety at school. In pursuit of these aims however, the pupils’ right to religious expression should not be denied. At the same time, no learner should be compelled to bear a ‘message’ that conflicted with the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. Each school should develop a plan to assist families that could not afford school uniforms, such as providing the uniforms or enlisting the help of business or communities.

The Committee were pleased that the guidelines had been developed. Members also discussed schools that clung to old traditions and ignored the fact that their pupil demographics had changed. The Committee found the right to religious expression, such as long hair, beards and dagga-smoking, problematic and proposed that the policy be confined to dress only for the meantime.

Department briefing
Dr C Lubisi, Department Deputy Director-General, General Education and Training, presented the national guidelines on school uniforms. School uniforms should be retained as they reduced discipline problems and increased school safety. They decreased the possibility of violence and theft of expensive clothing and footwear, helped prevent gangmembers from wearing gang colours and insignia at school, and helped school officials recognise intruders.

The cost of school uniforms should be reduced by
- making non-essential items, such as ties, jerseys, socks, shoes and sunhats, optional
- having one uniform only
- making clothing for physical education and arts and crafts simple and easily available
- not requiring team members to acquire additional clothing at their own expense
- discouraging the use of custom-designed blazers and ties, thereby eliminating single suppliers and introducing economies of scale.

The guidelines’ purpose was to ensure that practices related to school uniforms did not impede access to education or infringe on the constitutional rights of learners. No child should be refused admission to a school because of an inability to obtain or wear the uniform, and schools should assist needy pupils to get uniforms. Schools should adopt a policy regarding uniforms which was sensitive to the circumstances of the school community, including age and climate.

The school uniform policy should accommodate pupils’ religious beliefs and pupils’ right to display expressive items such as AIDS ribbons as long as these items, such as gang insignia or T-shirts with vulgar messages, did not interfere with discipline or undermine the integrity of the uniform. Learners should not, however, be required to wear a message that conflicted with the Bill of Rights or the Constitution.

Persons participating in Expanded Public Works Programmes could produce school uniforms, develop skills and establish co-operatives with the assistance of adult education programmes.

Ms H Zille (DA) welcomed the guidelines, especially because they were not prescriptive. Due to the vast inequalities, it would be hard for some to understand that some schools would make shoes optional. This should be explained in a preamble to the document. She did not understand the point that "school uniforms should be geared to reflect a South African identity and include colours characteristic of Africa".

Mr R van den Heever (ANC) also welcomed the guidelines which recent incidents around the wearing of headscarves had shown were necessary. Standardisation was a good strategy as it would reduce costs, the most important issue for poor parents.

Mr I Vadi (ANC) asked for details around the process of public comment and what recourse parents would have against SGBs that defied the guidelines. The preamble should include addressing schools that clung to "100-year-old traditions" without acknowledging that the demography of the school had changed. He commented that religious expression did not only include clothing – some Muslim learners might wish to wear a beard for religious expression.

Ms P Mashangoane (ANC) said that a school uniform was a source of pride to her as a child. Her father was a farm worker who earned R1 per month and in Standard 1, she was awarded a uniform as a prize. SGBs shuld encourage and assist needy pupils to obtain a uniform – the Woolworths’ loyalty card was a good resource for this.

Mr A Mpontshane (IFP) said that the Department should adopt the term ‘schoolwear’ instead of uniform as "uniforms would no longer be uniform". He commented that if 10% of learners had no shoes, this would perpetuate their feelings of inferiority.

Ms D Nhlengetwa (ANC) suggested that NGO workers could play a role in identifying needy learners. It was easier to identify learners who were misbehaving out of school, and the schools they came from, because the uniforms were more colourful than they were during the apartheid era.

Mr G Boinamo (DA) asked what disciplinary measures would be enforced against learners who could wear uniforms but rebelled against them.

Dr Lubisi said that schools would apply different punishments, according to their different disciplinary policies, against pupils who refused to wear a school uniform. Only very poor primary schools would elect to make shoes non-compulsory but it was true that this might lead to some learners being labelled or stigmatised. The term "colours of Africa" would be excised – the point that he had hoped to make was that bright colours were not more expensive than dull ones. Public comment was expected by the end of May.

The question of recourse against SGBs that defied the guidelines was a difficult one because the guidelines were not regulations. He would consult the Department’s lawyers. He agreed on the need for a preamble, but if a school chose to continue with a 100-year-old tradition regarding uniforms, there was probably little that the Department could do.

The document would be revisited regarding the wearing of beards. However, it should be made clear that religious identity should not be part of the school uniform, and mentioned Rastafarians in this regard. The uniform should be uniform to a school and therefore the term would not be changed to "schoolwear". He agreed that community workers were a useful resource in identifying needy learners.

Mr Mayatula (ANC) said that dagga smoking was not a Constitutional right. School uniform policy should be sensitive to context and that uniform policy should not be a tool to exclude learners.

Mr Mponthsane cited schools in KwaZulu-Natal that had been established for particular cultural groups, whose uniform reflected that culture. What would happen to learners who refused to wear that uniform on the grounds that it was not part of their cultural identity? Mr Mayatula explained that the school’s uniform policy should accommodate all learners, not only those for whom the school had been established.

Ms Zille proposed limiting the discussion to clothing, not other expressions of religious identity, such as beards and dagga smoking.

Mr Mpontshane and Ms Nhlengethwa had a discussion about older learners’ dislike of wearing short pants and the use of winter and summer uniforms being discouraged. Dr Lubisi and Mr Mayatula urged that the guidelines not be made too specific, otherwise they would have to be specific about all possible cases, and to let them remain as guidelines.

Mr Mayatula reminded the Committee that they could send further comments to the Department.

The meeting was adjourned.


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