Uniform reform group calls for enforcement amnesty

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Parents wanting urgent talks with Oban High School over uniform code are calling for an amnesty on enforcement.

The call has come from Oban High School Uniform Reform Group with the backing of Councillor Julie McKenzie who sent an open letter to Argyll and Bute Council’s executive director of customer services Douglas Hendry asking for help to find an inclusive and positive resolution to the row about how the high school deals with pupils deemed breaking dress rules.

In the letter, she tells the council chief that parents and pupils who have contacted her have made it clear they feel their concerns are not being acknowledged by the school. Most of them are pro-uniform but they still want an open and wider dialogue with the school and Parent Council to make fairer changes, she says.

The Uniform Reform Group, set up on Facebook after being shut down from commenting on other community social media sites, has asked for a slot to speak at Oban Community Council while it waits for a response from the high school.

Last week The Oban Times reported headteacher Peter Bain speaking at a community council meeting asking parents to ‘stop playing Chinese whispers on social media’.

A statement this week from the Uniform Reform Group put on record it is ‘incredibly proud’ of the way staff and pupils have handled themselves throughout the pandemic, but said its concerns about the inappropriate enforcement of the OHS uniform policy and how it impacts upon the mental health and wellbeing of  young people ‘cannot and should not be ignored’.

The group said: ‘We remain committed to finding a solution through positive and constructive discussion that addresses the communities concerns regarding the inappropriate enforcement of OHS uniform policy, whilst allowing young people to express identity and preserve their sense of wellbeing.

‘As adults, parents, carers and community members it is our duty to demonstrate and model to our young people the role of constructive debate and collaborative resolution regardless of how differing the initial stances may be. We welcome the opportunity to participate in a community-wide consultation and therefore gain the views of all community members.’

Wearing uniform is not compulsory in Argyll and Bute but schools are free to encourage wearing it.

Recent changes to the school’s online uniform policy headed OHS Uniform Guidance and Uniform Expectations  spell out that any pupil not wearing appropriate school uniform will be offered replacement items to be worn that day. A text message will also be sent home and if it happens three times, a meeting with parents or carers will be requested.

Items listed on the current ban list are coloured shoes, coloured trainers, jeans, denim, jogging trousers, leggings, plunging and low shirt necklines. Pupils with PE in the mornings must come to school in uniform first and get changed later.

The school says it promotes fairness and equality, which is why it expects pupils to all adopt a similar dress code. Other reasons it gives is taking pride in appearance, building whole school identity and helping prepare youngsters for life and work.

But Councillor McKenzie has told Mr Hendry it concerns her greatly that reports she has heard from parents and pupils only serve to highlight that some of the tactics being used at Oban High School to enforce uniform wearing appear to be in direct contravention with that council guidance and its ethos.

Reports of ‘unacceptable’ enforcement tactics she cited to Mr Hendry included targeting mainly girls, singling out and ‘shaming’ pupils in front of peers as they enter the school, sharing a stock of school uniform during Covid and taking pupils out shopping for uniform during class time.

‘The parents of the OHS Reform Group would like to ask the council for a uniform
policy review at Oban High School. They wish to request that any enforcement is
ceased and that an urgent consultation on policy is opened by the school, working in
partnership with their group, parents, pupils, the Parent Council and the wider
community,’ wrote Councillor McKenzie, who has since had a holding reply from Mr Hendry.

‘It is clear to me from his holding letter that the council are looking for a positive way forward. I’m heartened they are taking the issue seriously to establish the full facts behind the uniform issue so a solution can be found,’ she said.

Contacted by The Oban Times, the school’s response was: ‘Oban High welcomes the views of its pupils and parents and we would urge anyone with any concerns about the uniform to take up the school’s offer and get in touch with them directly.’

OHS uniform reform group has a Facebook page and can be contacted by emailing ohsuniformreview@gmail.com