The debate continues to rage about the relevance and need for school uniforms, which has set me to think about how much they cost, their respective advantages and disadvantages, and whether in this day and age whether they are really necessary.
Lets start with the cost. According to a survey conducted by the charity, Family Action, the average cost of a school uniform for primary school students stands at £156, while secondary school uniforms set parents back some £285 per year. Family Action are rightly concerned, since parents on the poverty line are being forced to spend up two fifths of their income during the month of August on uniforms.
The Local Government Association has highlighted that some schools are forcing parents to purchase uniforms from only one supplier, rather than allowing them to shop on High Street or supermarkets for their kids’ school wear. Indeed, an investigation by the Office of Fair Trading found that being forced to buy from named suppliers instead of supermarkets means parents of school age children costing parents an additional £52 million each year.
The Education Secretary Michael Gove ‘helpfully’ argues that people who find themselves unable to buy essentials, including school uniforms, have themselves to blame for being unable ‘to manage their finances’. Well, that’s easy for him to say, I dare say that finding the money for school uniforms would be easier were they fairly priced to start with. Are they really cheaper than casual clothing – anyone whose taken a trip to Peacock’s recently will confirm that casual clothes are pretty keenly priced these days.
Putting aside the cost, why bother with school uniforms at all? Here a few reasons usually mentioned:
1. Equality: When children dress alike, social differences don’t stand out so glaringly.
2. Uniforms are easy on teachers: The use of a uniform makes it easier on teachers, who don’t have to examine every child daily to ensure they are complying with regulations regarding which garments can be worn and which are prohibited.
3. Time saving: Uniforms eliminate the time wasted in deciding what to wear every morning. They also remove the need to make frequent shopping trips throughout the year, since all garments can be bought at the beginning of the school year.
I would take issue with the cost and time saving (with 2 boys who would wear the first thing that comes to hand anyway). I am not one for making everybody conform to the same dress code …. erm, to help the teachers.
I can see why we might want soldiers to dress the same for example, but schoolkids … really? Lest not forget that a soldiers uniform is provided for them as a basic necessity, so that they can carry out their military duties, without having to worry about their own needs. They also signify rank and help identify friend or foe in battle. Hardly the classroom, is it?
Some people believe that uniforms will have a positive effect on student achievement – students will take their schoolwork much more seriously if they don’t have to worry about what the wear in the morning. Quite the opposite is true, a study by the University of Houston shows that they are effective at improving student attendance and (strangely) teacher retention, but have no real impact on improving student achievement.
The question I am left asking myself is what kind of people do we want coming out of the education system, and whether this is helped or hindered by school uniform? Do we need a production line of workers, or has our society progressed far enough that we can now accommodate inquisitive and curious individuals, not bound by conformity? Self expression is something to be encouraged, I think.
For those who say that the world of work is different and requires conformity, I would argue that those days are passing, business dress is not as formal as it once was. School kids are not so naive that they don’t realise that they may have to dress differently when they leave school and start working, surely.
It should be pretty clear by now what I think about school uniforms. Why not share with us what you think, via the comment box at the bottom of this blog post.