A couple of weeks ago while half listening to the news, my ears pricked up when I heard the words ‘headmaster’ and ‘uniform’. It turned out a poor headmaster in England was unlucky enough to send some pupils home for not wearing correct uniform on a day when there was little news and so he hit the headlines. It sparked the usual run of debates across the country, such as:
- Why wear a uniform?
- Is uniform a good thing?
- Do some schools make unreasonable demands on parents when it comes to the expense of uniforms?
The list goes on. I must admit I’m on the fence when it comes to uniform, but if pushed I might fall on the side of favouring them. Perhaps the article will help me decide once and for all.
In most schools in Europe pupils don’t wear uniform, I’ve visited schools in Spain and France and been envious of the outwardly looking relaxed atmosphere. The school may have the same issues to deal with when it comes to working with their pupils, however there seems to be one less issue to tackle; one less barrier between pupil and teacher removed in schools when uniforms don’t exist. Staff in schools continually have to chase up students in incorrect uniform. Most of them want to be individual, but we try to quash this and as a result, hours of staff time and learning time for students are lost due to, lectures from staff, letters sent home, detention set and meetings with parents. What may have started as being a small thing can sometimes build until eventually parents and governors have to meet. Some schools even exclude.
So why have uniform if it can cause such a headache for schools? Tradition is a strong reason and we certainly have a tradition for uniform in this country; we are famous for it. We are still a class-conscious country and with it there is perhaps an unconscious, collective view that collar and tie look good - it’s smart and something to aspire to. Perhaps this is the reason blazers, ties and white shirts now prevail across most of the country.
I was Deputy Head in one of the first Academies in England and so have to admit to playing a small part in the huge shift towards blazer and tie over the last 14 or so years. Academies, set up initially in deprived inner-city areas, wanted their students to stand out, look good and feel proud. Before this most other schools (especially city schools) had uniforms that largely consisted of a sweatshirt with polo shirt under it and black trousers or skirt.
At the time, there seemed to be an unwritten agreement amongst academies, that blazer and tie would be the way to go. Interestingly we surveyed pupils and parents at the time and the majority came out on the side of blazer and tie, so we went for it. I was dreading the first day, but my worries were unfounded for they all turned up on that first day looking brilliant. If you asked any groups of pupils, they would say they hated it and wanted rid of it, but on an individual basis, their comments all suggested that although they initially hated putting it on for the first time, on the way to school, when they saw other pupils walking with the same uniform, they realized they looked good also and so began to feel a sense of pride in what they were wearing.
Those that argue against uniform may mention the cost, and while I have seen some schools choose uniforms that are completely impractical, and ridiculously expensive, most schools however do choose affordable uniforms, which can be bought cheaply at a number of outlets. Imagine the cost to parents when faced with children demanding they buy the latest fashions, if uniform didn’t exist – one pair of trainers would cost a lot more than the average uniform. Uniform takes a lot of pressure away from parents. It also takes the pressure of pupils.
On non-uniform days, pupils regularly mention the hassle of having to set their alarms an hour earlier so that they can ‘get ready’ for school. I’m sure if we had no uniform, the novelty ‘dressing-up’ everyday, would soon wear off. However, this wouldn’t take away from the inequalities that would begin to show amongst students. There would still be some students with the latest branded jacket and those without, presenting a whole host of new issues to deal with.
At the end of the day, uniform does what it says on the tin – it makes pupils ‘uniform’ and removes self-consciousness (so acute in teenage children) and opportunities to bully or ridicule. Pupils don’t openly admit to liking uniform, but secretly, if they thought about it, I think they do. So I guess I’ve fallen firmly off the fence on the side of uniforms. Blazer and tie or sweatshirts? Personally, I’d go for the former. They work out as cheap and they do look smart.
One final thought. If you do happen to see one of our pupils misbehaving on the way home from school (which of course rarely happens!), and call me because you recognize the uniform, I may have to jump back on the fence.