File picture - Paramedics fear that heavy school uniforms in Durban could result in pupils overheating and suffering from dehydration. Picture: Adrian de Kock

Durban - Paramedics fear that heavy school uniforms in Durban could result in pupils overheating and suffering from dehydration.

With temperatures regularly over 30ºC and the humidity factor, questions have been raised about the strict dress codes enforced by some of the city’s schools.

Retired school teacher Patricia Rockey expressed concern about students being made to wear formal uniforms in summer in a letter addressed to the editor. “Corporal punishment has been banned in schools, but I consider that this is an even greater act of torture,” she said.

It is Rockey’s belief that the onus lies with school management to do away with stringent uniform policies.

Chris Botha, a spokesman for Netcare, warned against over-exertion while wearing layered clothing in the heat. “When people are outdoors and in excessive heat, they should not layer clothes because layering increases body temperature and could lead to heat exhaustion.”

Schools must weigh up tradition with practicality, believes Reginal Chiliza, chairman of the National Association for Schools Governing Bodies. “I think that in this kind of heat, surely there has to be some consensus to relax the code. Personally I hate the heat, and if I were in this position, I wouldn’t like it.”

Trevor Kershaw, headmaster of Glenwood High School, believes the uniform that has been in place for 100 years is appropriate. Glenwood High School pupils must wear blazers to and from school, as well as at official functions, even during summer.

“They take them off when it is hot during the day and leave them in their lockers. Big boys don’t run around like young children and so they don’t get as hot. They sit still during breaks and during lessons.”

Durban High School expects pupils to wear blazers for the first school week of the year, but during the summer months they are not required to wear them.

Clifton College, Westville Boys High School and Maritzburg College have adopted a policy of two uniforms, one in the first and fourth school terms, and another for the winter months.

“Because of the heat and humidity in the summer months and after consultation with our boys, we introduced a summer uniform eight years ago. The boys helped us with the design,” said Westville Boys High School deputy headmaster Nestor Pierides.

The summer uniform consists of an open-necked golf shirt and charcoal pants.

The school has done away with the need for blazers in summer.

“As per our policy, we try to ensure our boys are as comfortable as possible in the hot summer months, and we are very aware of the potential dangers of overheating.

“This uniform policy has been in place for a long time and has proved to be very practical,” said David Rogers, director of business development at Maritzburg College.

“Michaelhouse boys have access to a multiform as opposed to a uniform during class time. They have the option to wear golf shirts with open shoes and shorts, or closed shoes and long trousers – depending on their mood, time of year, weather on the day and how tough they are feeling,” said Murray Witherspoon, director of marketing at Michaelhouse.

Werner Vermaak, a spokesman for ER24, said that while layering up in formal school clothing cannot directly be linked to heat exhaustion, it can play a role in students becoming dehydrated.

“I wouldn’t go as far as say it triggers heat exhaustion, but it plays a part in it. It depends on what you’re wearing. If it’s a blazer, I would probably say yes, it’s not really something you’d want to wear. Being in the sun, running up stairs, lots of movement play their role in students feeling the effects.”