The best-dressed students are known to enjoy a certain social edge over their more unkempt peers.
But, in what may be another argument for school uniforms, teachers also judge their students on appearance. According to a large study of 1,311 fourth-grade Canadian students, teachers rated better dressed students higher on academic competence, engagement and adjustment than messier classmates,.
“Students described by teachers as appearing poorly dressed, tired, sleepy, or hungry were rated by teachers as being less competent academically, less engaged, and as having a poorer relationship with these teachers,” according to research published in The Elementary School Journal.
Teachers also reported having less positive interactions and less effective communication with the parents of students they rated unfavorably on appearance.
“These results suggest that some students may be experiencing difficulties in school because they appear inadequately physically prepared for the classroom.”
Researchers controlled for parental socioeconomic status (parental education, income and occupation), concluding that appearance has an effect on teacher perceptions of academic competence and adjustment independent of socioeconomic status. One explanation for the “halo effect” of a pleasing student appearance is that teachers may have the impression that these students are from a high-status social group as opposed to a lower-status minority group and therefore, unconsciously hold them in higher regard.
Researchers also controlled for school readiness and maternal hostility (maternal coercive parenting with the child) and family functioning (effective communication and organization within the household), which have been shown to have strong influences on academic success and adjustment along with socioeconomic status.
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The 1,311 children were enrolled in the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development (QLSCD) that has examined children’s developmental context and trajectories from birth to fourth grade.
The measures used in this study of the children in fourth grade include: math achievement in the Canadian Achievement Test and teacher rated measures for classroom engagement , global achievement, teacher-child relations, teacher-parent partnership and general appearance.
At the end of fourth grade, teachers completed the general appearance measure, which included questions on class attendance, on whether the student was over- or under-dressed for school activities, whether the student was too tired for schoolwork or whether the student came to class late or hungry. This measure has been used in a prior study to assess student-teacher relationships, according to the researchers.
School uniforms may help reduce some of the stereotyping that takes place based on student dress, but uniforms don’t address other aspects of student appearance or demeanor, according to the researchers. Large classes or classes with a higher proportion of challenging students set the stage for stereotyping as well as under-resourced schools with a lot of stressed teachers.
“Because individuals are generally not aware of their own tendencies to stereotype, training that improves teacher awareness and sensitivity by promoting cognitive restructuring may also help reduce the negative influence of stereotypes in the classroom,” the researchers write.
“Dressed and Groomed for Success in Elementary School, Student Appearance and Academic Adjustment,” by Caroline Fitzpatrick et al., The Elementary School Journal, September 2016, Volume 117, Number 1, p. 30-45.