The Race Relations Commissioner is calling on schools to have more progressive uniform policies, taking into account the wide range of cultures and values within the student body.
The Human Rights Commission has created a uniform guide for use by schools and says it will help reduce racism and bullying.
These include calling on schools to accept more students with tā moko or wearing pounamu.
Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon said morning report there had never been a guide before.
He said school boards need to embrace diversity.
“We really want to encourage schools to create an environment for children to be safe, respected, valued, so they can thrive and thrive as well.”
Many schools had progressive uniform policies, he said.
He gave examples of some schools allowing girls to wear pants, some adapting their uniforms to Muslim students, and others allowing students to wear a uniform consistent with their gender identity.
The Human Rights Commission said the guide recognizes tino rangatiratanga and oritetanga Maori, affirming Maori’s right to self-determination over themselves and their taonga and ensuring that Maori status symbols are given the same status as Pākehā status symbols.
“Certainly Maori children should be allowed to express their culture as they wish,” Foon said.
New Zealand’s school attendance statistics were “very poor”, he said.
“Only about 55% of our children go to school weekly and daily and bullying is very high – 40% in schools…so anything that will help our children be safe at school, embrace the culture, to embrace their values, to respect them and really attendance is really important.”
Everyone has human rights, he said, but schools should ultimately decide their uniform policy as it is not mandatory but a guideline.
The guide was created after consultation with students and teachers from 11 schools across the country.