A few weeks ago I posted a picture of my grandson on his first day at primary school. He looked a little bewildered that day and a number of you took pity on him. Wouldn’t that ridiculous uniform get anyone down? A shirt with a collar, a tie and a blazer for a four year old? With a pair of grey, flannel look pants? Jeez, you said, what are you Brits like? People from countries where kids wear kids clothes for school find the whole phenomenon rather strange, so I thought I would share my views and experience.
Well not all Brits do this to their children, far from it. Lots of schools allow the children to dress as they wish (within reason). But the incidence of school uniform is widespread in UK schools, not just for the upper classes. Many ordinary state schools, church schools, comprehensive schools, academies and free schools stipulate a uniform for the children. And while some have a “casualised” version based on sportswear, and nearly all now have trousers as a choice for girls as well as headscarves for Muslim girls, most school uniforms are traditional and non-fashionable. Why are school uniforms tolerated and even supported by many parents and school children? And why does this tradition continue in the UK whereas it has gone in most other countries (unless they used to be British colonies, where the uniform still survives)?
I thought I would give you a second view of Ted in his uniform, so that you can see his discomfort was probably due to the newness of the school, rather than his collar and tie. The photographs below incidentally also show how North American traditions have mixed in with our own – pumpkins, maple syrup and American style pancakes.
The posher, private schools have a more “exclusive” uniform – slightly unusual colours, better quality materials. The state schools often have items that can be bought at high street stores, with just a blazer or even the badge being specific. The private schools often have a hat or cap whereas the state schools tend not to. I was going to have a quiz but it is just too obvious!
But why bother at all? The positive reasons for a school uniform are;
- A sense of identity and belonging
- Less pressure on parents to buy the latest trainers, jackets etc
- Less fuss in the morning as the clothing choices are almost non-existant
- Ease of handing down to other children or selling/giving second hand
- Increasingly non-gendered
- Arguably it helps with “discipline” in that the rules must be obeyed
- Easy-care fabrics that don’t need ironing
- Less clothes needed overall as there are only two days a week wear own clothes are worn
- Helps prepare young people for work where (effectively) we all wear a uniform
- Behaviour outside school is moderated due to the child being dressed in the school brand
Of course on the other hand
- Shirts and ties on kids is ridiculous (is it more ridiculous to expect grown men to wear them?)
- Some of the styles are unsuitable for school use (eg hats, skirts (eg for energetic physical play), blazers)
- Class differences are always obvious even in the clothes, but also in so many other ways
- A real drag for teachers who have to police it when they should be concentrating on teaching kids
- Suppresses individuality
- Retards young people’s ability to make good stylistic choices about clothes
There are probably other pros and cons. My kids went to schools with uniforms (at least until age 16) and, on the whole, I like them. Surprisingly so did my kids, mainly on the grounds of the unifying factor that made differences of background less significant.The other week I was eating my picnic lunch at Alexander Palace and I saw these young women. When they are at sixth form I think it is time to let the students wear their own clothes.
What do you think?