Gone to blazers – why do we bother with school uniforms?

A note came home from school the other day about uniform. It referred parents to the relevant page in the handbook about what was and wasn’t cool for school.

tutorhubIt stated that pupils aren’t allowed to wear “denim clothing; coloured shirts; jumpers/sweaters with stripes or logos; hooded tops with logos; round neck sweaters which do not allow the school tie to be visible; baggy trousers; trainers; combat jackets; full length coats; baseball-style caps; low cut tops; cropped tops; immodestly short skirts; fashion belts; fashion jewellery; shorts; tight clothing; skinny jeans/trousers”.

Anyone know how short is immodest? I believe it was more than six inches in my day if measured while kneeling from floor to hem.

The whole thing took me back. To pupils school uniform is a challenge. Once we’d grown out of trying to cultivate the grubbiest cuffs and collars, we moved on to more subtle customisation.

Apart from ever shorter skirts (turned-over waistband anyone?), there were badges on the back of lapels, fat and fatter tie knots, pretty cardis, earrings, socks pulled up like stockings, skirts hobblingly tight, coloured buttons, Doctor Who scarves and laces with jolly beads on them.

So, it seems, nothing much has changed. I wonder how much energy has been expended over the years by school staff and parents trying to impose uniform rules and pupils bending them like fury.

Maybe we should put that energy into something more worthwhile, like teaching. What do you think?

The arguments for school uniform start with money – all pupils are equal. Theoretically yes, although anyone who was ever a pupil will know that’s not true. Look to shoes, pens, gadgets, coats and bags and differences are clear.

Uniforms instil a sense of identity and work ethic. Apparently there are studies that show this. And yes to an outsider it seems so, but surely a resentfully and badly worn tie must do the opposite.

My son’s school say safety is a factor – it’s easy to see if there’s a stranger in the midst. On the other hand some say that as soon as you put a teenage girl in a school uniform she’s the possible target of unwanted attention whether she knows it or not.

So, as the world turns onward and changes make flexibility and ‘the individual’ much more significant. If possibilities grow endlessly and the world is the oyster for our children then why should we care if they dress the same as their peers?

I care that my kids wear school uniform because – and perhaps the main reason for me – it makes my life so much easier. We all know what they’re going to leave the house wearing so we can save our energy for arguments about other things.

As for the rest, most of that stuff about pride, identity and enthusiasm for work comes from good teachers and a well-led school first, what the children wear and how comes second.

About Ellen Arnison

Journalist, writer, blogger, mother, wife, feminist and occasionally whole person. Usually only one load of laundry from changing the world.
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10 Responses to Gone to blazers – why do we bother with school uniforms?

  1. Nice article
    The question came up a while ago on the Skeptics stack exchange site, asking for evidence on whether School Uniform actually influenced behaviour/performance.

    Evidence on this is contradictory, and as I pointed out in my answer

    “I think this quote highlights one of the problems with researching the issue of school uniforms. School’s do not exist in a vacuum, and a whole host of things change from term to term when there is a problem with behaviour in an attempt to sort out issues.

    It is difficult to tell whether benefits are anything to do with the school uniform itself, or other reforms which happened around the same time. One can also guess that schools with strict dress policies and/or uniform policies will also be more strict on behavioural terms (just being consistent) so any study just considering uniforms may be skewed.”

    Few links to some of the research etc. in my answer too….


  2. Hollie Smith says:

    Hmm, interesting one Ellen. I could do without uniform I think, on balance. It costs a lot of money (which their everyday clothes don’t because they’re usually bought in Tesco or secondhand), and it’s a pain keeping it all sufficiently clean and ironed. Having said that, I can now picture myself having a ‘you’re not going to school wearing that’ argument with my older daughter every morning of the week. So on reflection, maybe uniform is a better bet…

    • HI Hollie, Pros and cons I think. It also depends on the uniform. Both my big boys go to schools where the uniform is fairly generic so cheap (ish) from the supermarkets. Specific blazers would change this.

  3. Clair says:

    One thing that I think uniform does give is the concept of appropriate attire.- something useful for moving into a work environment. After years successfully (and unsuccessfully) recruiting numerous young people straight from school it was clear that very few understood the concept of “smart” or how to tie a tie. I could predict with almost perfect accuracy based on High School attended- regardless of achievements- their dress code.
    But then you know I’m already pro uniform, but I’m also pro customisation.

  4. Is this ok to add this article to my facebook fan page, i think they would love this stuff

  5. As a teacher who works in a uniformed school I certainly notice the difference on “non uniform days” in terms of both behaviour and attitude towards school.

    “Uniforms” are a part of everyday life, we just tend to be allowed to personalize a bit more. You wear a different “uniform” to the gym than you do to a dinner or to a friends.

    I think that the subconscious act of putting on specific clothes and going to a specific place to do specific things is useful for students. It creates a mental aspect of “I’m here to learn”.

    And, as I always say to students who claim they can’t demonstrate their personalities – “Do you really think we want you to demonstrate who you are through what you wear rather than what you say and do”?

  6. Pingback: Are School uniforms really necessary? | Tutorhub Blog

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