Hair is a big issue for most people and it's especially an issue in schools.
Many schools have strict rules about appearance, including hair colour, the use of make- up and the length of skirts.
So imagine if school children had to submit Natural Hair Certificates and were told that they had to dye their black to conform to the school rules. Forget equality, inclusion, diversity, freedom of expression and human rights, you will do as you are told.
In the UK, such a draconian measure would cause a system meltdown, the NEU would probably explode and lawyers would be rubbing their hands with glee.
It sounds like something that would have happened decades ago but actually forcible hair dyeing is the here-and-now reality faced by pupils in Japanese schools.
60% of public schools in Japan require that all pupils submit a document called Natural Hair Certification, which confirms the natural colour and degree of curliness of their hair. Some schools make their male pupils shave their heads. Gulp!
Now we know that Japanese society is deeply homogenous and it's no secret that collective uniformity is valued over individuality but this is taking things to the extreme.
And things could change thanks largely to a video by the shampoo brand Pantene and their #HairWeGo What's Wrong With My Hair? campaign.
They surveyed 1,000 current and former high school and middle school students and teachers about hair dyeing and other hair care rules and found that one in 13 had been "urged" to dye their brown hair black. Research finds that about 93% of teachers feel that "school regulations need to change with the times."
The campaign's video has had nearly 10 million views at the time of writing.
Two years ago, an 18-year-old girl brought a lawsuit against the government of Japan’s Osaka prefecture for mental anguish after she was repeatedly forced to dye her naturally brown hair black.
Would we accept this in our schools? Of course not but cultural differences often shock and outrage especially when looked out from the outside and when another culture attempts to impose its value system on another country. I'm not saying I agree but who decides where lines are drawn and what is 'right'?
Schools expect high standards of uniform and appearance but what is deemed as appropriate?
British schools are no strangers to controversy when it comes to school uniform dress codes. Here's a typical example of a school dress code policy in relation to hair:
The learning atmosphere can be disrupted when students alter their hair therefore:
- Hair may not be worn in extreme or outrageous styles but neat, clean and conservative.
- Students are not permitted to be shaven bald or Number One cuts; haircuts where patterns, stripes or letters have been cut into the student’s hair.
- Hair colour must be that of natural shades.
- Excessive amounts of hair products are not acceptable.
- Hair extensions, wigs and other hairpieces may not be worn.
- We may ask students with long hair to tie their hair back in certain situations for health and safety reasons.
Can we argue that these are 'draconian' and don't allow freedom of expression or respect diversity? Some say that our own policies are outdated and restrictive because they discriminate on the grounds of race, culture and religion.
A study led by De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) has found that one in six children with Afro-textured hair are having a bad experience at school. The report showed a 66% rise in negative hair policies towards Afro hair, while 95% of adults surveyed said they would like to see the introduction of hair protection laws – similar to those in the USA – brought to the UK.
STAPAW (Support Tattoos and Piercings at Work) say that "Merit, character, work ethic, drive, and values should be the focus of the education system, and not appearance. Hairstyles do not affect the personal growth, rate of learning, or grades of students."
Hair policies need updating to reflect changes in our own societies but demonising students because of their natural hair colour is out of order.
As Andre Perry (2019) says, “Reductionist uniformity in hair has no place in our schools, though many dress codes try to enforce it. Schools must be open to the diversity of their students.”
Hair is a fundamental part of our identity and who we are. Pupils have a right to be who they want to be and free from discrimination. Harsh uniform and strict behavioural policies can and do disproportionately affect some students more than others. Is it time we had some hair protection rules in place recognising that targeting pupils based on their hair or hairstyle at school is discriminatory?
It’s time to revisit your dress code and take a look at what you say about hair. You might not like what you see.
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About the author
John is an ex-primary school teacher and Ofsted inspector who has spent the last 20 years working in the education industry as a teacher, writer and editor. John’s specialist area is primary maths but he also loves teaching science and English. John has written a number of educational and children’s books, and contributed over 1,000 articles and features to various educational bodies. John is eTeach’s school leadership and Ofsted advice guru, sharing insights on best practice for motivating and enriching a school team, as well as sharing savvy career steps for headteachers and SLT.