It’s important for equality, it removes prejudice and creates a sense of community. That’s the idea behind school uniform – one of the most famous aspects of British education.
Whenever I ask students about British education and learning, they always mention the uniform, without fail. It’s become part of the British culture that is known all over the world – something that you can take as a nice reminder of our history or a painful reminder for students that everyone notices what they’re wearing.
The specifics of the uniform are down to the individual school, many of whom like to consult the students on different things such as colours and styles – all within the practicalities of making the uniform and keeping a professional look to the school, naturally.
I can remember going through two types of uniform at school, ranging from the all-black attire to a rather nasty dark green blazer – not the best look but it was in keeping with what the school wanted to achieve, which was a smart-looking uniform that was always recognisable.
Of course, one of the great drawbacks of school uniform is that it can be a rather expensive investment, especially when you consider that kids grow and schools don’t mind making the odd few pounds out of you from time to time. Plus, if you’re anything like I was at school, things are bound to get broken/torn/covered in mud so you’re likely to get through a fair bit of money on behalf of your kids – all part of the school lifestyle, I hate to say.
Such an expense is not without its own challenges – some parents do at times find it difficult to ensure that their kids get to school in a smart uniform everyday. That said, schools have been known to be painfully uncomprimising over the subject. It’s a purely reputational thing, where the students without the correct uniform look out of place or unruly in the school environment. As a result, you do get some instances of action from schools that can only be described as heavy-handed at the very least.
A case in Wrexham recently hit the news when a girl was forced to wear different shoes to school after her old ones broke. The shoes, in my view, probably weren’t that bad – merely dark canvas-types ones made by Converse. Given the situation – her mother would buy a new pair as soon as she could afford to – this seems like a sensible alternative. Nothing too flashy, keep it simple and everything will be OK.
The school’s decision was not OK, however. The student in question was heavily punished, being forced to work in isolation for the day, despite having a note from her mother saying that there wasn’t much of an alternative in the mean time. Initially she was sent to a ‘work room’ – normally reserved for students with poor behaviour. However, when that was full, she was made to work in what she described as a ‘storage cupboard.’
So, despite knowing her mother’s unfortunate situation, the school opted to treat her as if not being able to immediately afford a replacement was a transgression worthy of being sent to isolation for. Her mother argued that the rules don’t have much leeway, and I am inclined to agree there. Despite being a good student who attends school all time, it appears that something as small as the wrong shoes can get you into trouble.
At the end of December we heard about schools trying to make incredible profits out of parents. Exmouth College was one school that got on the wrong side of parents with it’s school uniform, making them buy the necessary uniform from a single approved outlet that charged £40 for a jumper, tie and sports top. According to complaints made to the school, the uniform was also sub-standard and several parts of it would only last a couple of months before having to be replaced.
All of this rather grates with me. I am not from the poorest family out there, yet I can still remember thinking it was awfully expensive and my parents probably were inclined to agree with me – what with two teenage boys with some tendancy to forget things every once in a while.
The reaction from the government? Well, the Welsh Government (who is in play in the case in Wrexham) issued a statement saying that ‘no school uniform should be so expensive as to leave pupils or their families feeling unable to apply for admission or attend a particular school.’Unfortunately, they then made a mess of things by saving the policies on uniform were down to the individual schools themselves. Rather gutless, if you ask me – they believe something but don’t want to get in the way of the profits that schools make.
Schools have to learn to be realistic in these things, especially if some parents are financially less secure than others. The idea of ‘one size fits all’ is rather embarassing as they continue to get negative press from the media thanks to some heavy-handed tactics.
I also find making vast profits on bad-quality garments rather shocking too. I bet that school wouldn’t mind punishing their students for turning up to school with the wrong uniform. The double-whammy, if you will.
The whole idea of school uniform is to promote equality and fairness among pupils. Funnily enough, if a school starts to single out pupils because they got it wrong or can’t afford to, surely that’s defeating the object of school uniform itself? I’m not saying that we should scrap uniforms altogether – quite the opposite actually. Instead, I think schools need to stop making a business out of it. One way they could do that is to ask parents to dress their kids in a uniform that looks smart that doesn’t cost the earth. Specify what sort of thing they want to see but don’t make them buy it from the same place, with vastly inflated prices.
A shirt and tie and jumper looks better than a blazer in my view. And it’s a lot better for the parent’s wallet.