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School uniforms

New South Wales

 If you are under 25 and you are unsure about your rights or responsibilities or what to do next, you can get free, confidential legal advice at Lawmail.

Can my school make me wear a uniform?

Q: Hi, my name is Aaron. We have to wear black shoes to school but they are so lame and I wore my really cool Nike Airs to school today instead. My teacher got really annoyed at me and said that if I wear them again to school tomorrow she will send me to the Principal’s office. I know the Principal will tell me off, but can she do anything else?

A: Hi Aaron the short answer is: your principal might be able to punish you. The consequences of wearing different shoes depends on whether you go to a private or a public school.

If you are in a public school, your school isn’t allow you to suspend you, expel you or leave you out of class just because you don’t wear the right clothes (unless it poses a safety risk).    But the school is allowed to make appropriate efforts to encourage you to follow the school rules.  Whatever they do has to be fair, and they can’t treat you differently from other students who don’t follow the policy.    It’s a good idea to check you school rules about discipline to see what your school can do if you don’t follow the uniform rules.

If you go to a private school, the situation is a little different. Private schools can set their own rules (as long as these rules are reasonable and aren’t harmful to students) and can discipline students for not following them. This is because when you enrol at a private school your parents will sign an enrolment agreement promising to follow these rules. The school rules (and the consequences for breaking them) should be clearly set out in a policy and should be applied to all students in a fair way.  So first and foremost, you need to have a look at your school’s dress code.  You can ask your school for a copy of this if you don’t have it.

If you have a question that we haven’t answered here, please send us a Lawmail.

What can I do if my parents can’t afford the uniform?

Q: Hi, my name is Peter and I go to a public school in NSW. My dad lost his job and my family is struggling to pay for things. Mum told me that we might not be able to afford a new school uniform for me this year. Will I get into trouble?

A: Hi Peter. The short answer is you probably will not get in trouble.
You will not get in trouble if your family cannot afford to buy school uniform,  but your family should write a note to the school principal explaining why you do not have a uniform.
Most schools are understanding if parents cannot afford a uniform. Some schools also have a second hand clothing exchange with cheaper uniforms. There may also be a fund to help parents who find it hard to afford all the rights parts of the uniform. 

If you have a question that we haven’t answered here, please send us a Lawmail.

Can my school refuse to allow me to wear items of religious or cultural importance?

Q: Hello, my name is Esmerelda and I go to a public school. I’m being confirmed in church on Sunday and my grandparents are giving me a gold necklace with a cross as my confirmation present. I want to wear it at school but my friend says I can’t because we aren’t allowed to wear jewellery at school. Is she right?

A: Hi Esmerelda, the short answer is that you will probably be allowed to wear the cross at school.  In New South Wales, schools should make sure that their dress codes/uniform rules don’t unfairly discriminate against students from a particular cultural or religious background. 

If you’re having problems with your school, you should arrange a meeting with the Principal to talk about the situation.  You may want to bring your parents to the meeting as well.    If you’re still having problems after that, you can make a complaint to the Department of Education in NSW, or also make a complaint to the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board or the Australian Human Rights Commission.   If you would like more information about how to make a complaint, please send us a Lawmail.

Can my school make me wear my school uniform outside school hours and on excursions?

Q: My name is Tatiana. My teacher gave me a detention because he saw me walking through the local shops without my hat and blazer on after school. Is he allowed to do that?

A: Hi Tatiana. Generally, a school can make rules about what you have to wear when travelling to and from school and when doing school activities outside of schools hours.   It’s a good idea to check your school uniform policy and school rules to see what the rules say.  You might be able to find these on your school website.  If not, you can ask your school office for a copy of them.   The school has to make sure that the rules are clear and can’t apply them unfairly to some students and not others.

If you think you’ve been treated unfairly, you might want to have a meeting with the teacher.  You could bring your parents with you to the meeting if you want. 

If you have a question that we haven’t answered here, please send us a Lawmail.

Can my school tell me how long my hair can be or ask me to remove piercings?


Q: Hi, my name is Rocco. I have a nose piercing, so when I go to school I change my normal stud to a clear stud, but the teachers still hassle me about it and say I can’t even wear a clear stud. Can I get into serious trouble if I continue to wear a clear stud?

A: Hi Rocco.   All schools can make and enforce dress codes, including rules about piercings. However the situation is different depending on whether you go to a public or private school.

A public school can have a rule saying students can’t wear nose jewellery. The DEC’s Guidelines let schools ban students from wearing jewellery that could cause an injury to themselves or other students.  Your school may have decided that nose jewellery could cause an injury in activities like sport or physical education if it is bumped accidentally or catches onto clothing.

The school can punish you for breaking the rules, for example, by putting you on detention. But the school can’t suspend or expel you for breaking the uniform rules.   

If you still think you’re being treated unfairly, it might be a good idea to meet with the principal and your parents to see if you can work out a solution that suits you and the school.    The school doesn’t have to agree. If the student has good reasons, the school may give them an exemption or consider changing the rule.

Private Schools

A private school can also make rules about nose piercings and these can be tougher than public schools.

Generally private schools can set their own rules (as long as they are reasonable and not harmful to students) and can discipline students for not following them. The school rules and consequences should be set out in the school guidelines for you to view. This is because when you enrol at a private school your parents will sign an enrolment agreement promising to follow these rules..

If you break private school rules, you can be disciplined under the school's policies and enrolment agreement. Discipline can range from a meeting between you, your parents and school staff to detention or even suspension or expulsion.

If a private school decides to suspend or expel a student for not following rules, it must follow proper procedures. You have the right to know why you are being suspended or expelled. The school must give you the opportunity to give reasons why you should not be suspended or expelled, and the decision should be fair and unbiased. The school should also tell you how to ask for a review of the decision.

If you have a question that we haven’t answered here, please send us a Lawmail.

This page was last reviewed in March 2015.

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