/ Parenting

School uniform – it’s time to ditch the scratchy blazer

Primary school children playing in school yard

A stiff blazer, plain skirt, blouse and black shoes make up my uniform, and I don’t like it. Why do I have to wear this uncomfortable clothing? Why can I not, within reason, wear what I want?

My uniform’s strict and there are various rules about how it can and can’t be worn (skirt on the knee, sleeves rolled down, shirt tucked in).

Teachers spend a lot of time meticulously checking we‘re wearing our uniform correctly. This is time when we could be learning, if we all wore our own clothes.

My school wants us to look smart, give a good impression, and to instil in us a sense of belonging to the school community. But how much does a badge on my blazer make me feel part of my school? Surely the atmosphere in school is more important than what the pupils are wearing.

The pressure of fashion

Another counter argument is the pressure no uniform puts on parents and pupils alike. If we dress in our own clothes, it will make us feel the demand to keep up with fashion trends and our peers. This in turn will press our parents to buy more clothes, which is expensive.

However, the uniform we wear isn’t cheap. My school insists on uniform from only one supplier, so the prices are high.

I also hear a lot that if we didn’t wear a uniform, there may be more bullying as people pick on those who don’t have the latest fashions. I don’t think a uniform is a guard against bullies. Being picked on for a hand-me-down skirt or badly fitting blazer is surely just as likely as for last season’s trainers. In 2011 RandomThingy, in Year 9 at the time, commented that he ‘thought uniforms were supposed to prevent bullying, yet all they did was encourage it’.

On the occasional mufti days my school has, the range of clothes worn is a positive conversation point and encourages many compliments where normal uniform gets none. A no-uniform policy gives pupils a chance to display their individuality, rather than being hidden behind regulation clothes.

Uncomfortable uniforms

Uniform is often uncomfortable, too. My blazer has the amazing ability of being too cold in the winter yet too hot in summer. As well, it’s not practical for some of our lessons. Many blazers bear paint stains from art, so wouldn’t it be better to let us choose something practical for our lessons, and the weather, so we can feel comfortable and focus on learning?

Do you agree that school uniform is in need of a rethink? What about giving pupils the freedom to choose their own clothes, but with guidelines on what is acceptable?

Comments
Member

I think you can see why primary and secondary school heads like to have a prescriptive uniform policy when you look at the students emerging from any further education college or university – or is their rebellious appearance just the reaction against years of conformity with repressive school uniforms?

Member

I think all schools should have a uniform dress policy, but I do agree old fashioned policies should be revised. There is no need to force purchase from 1 supplier nor these days should blazers or ties be required, but set rules on colour, length and type of clothes should be maintained. It sets a standard so that the only topic on clothes is a common dis-like of the uniform. It also does show the school and therefore its pupils in a good light, or at least in my day meant outside school you could spot trouble or know where the trouble makers came from. Whilst allowing own clothes would quickly turn into a parade of fashion, and add one more thing to differentiate one from another. The cost to parents would also take a toll.
As an adult I effectively wear a uniform of smart short and trousers with black shoes. I ignore dress down days as I cannot be bothered to think about what casual clothes to wear. Also I am there to work and the “uniform” means I feel in work mode.

Member

One of the purposes of rigid school uniform policies is obviously to instil team spirit and a “corporate” ethos, as well as to eradicate invidious attitudes related to how much parents spend on school clothing. Uniformity eroded class distinctions, except at my grammar school where there were two approved outfitters one being distinctly more upmarket than the other in terms of the quality of the fabric and certain details, reflected in the price of course. Tthe trick at my school was to wear all the right garments but not necessarily in the right manner, and to progressively “bohemianise” the appearance without incurring the masters’ wrath by doing anything too outrageous. I expect this is taken to a higher level today with the easy availability of body piercings and tattoos [are these adornments permitted in schools, or is it only the teachers who are expected to have them?].

Perhaps another purpose of uniform is to prepare young people for the world of work where nearly everyone has to wear some form of uniform whether it be the company sweatshirt, a conventional outfit [as in the hospitality trade], protective clothing, or a military or official uniform. Even office wear follows certain conventions that amount to a form of uniform. And the whacky outfits sported by people in certain media and high-tech businesses seem to conform to a sort of code as an identifier [woe betide anyone who turns up in a smart suit, or with a necktie, or with normal hair!]. Sadly today head masters and headmistresses fail to set the correct example and rarely wear their academic gowns.

Member

Nothing is more pleasant, I think, than to see Children from one School all wearing the same Uniform. Having said that, for many legally appointed Guardians this can be a devastating expense, especially when the Children dislike having to wear their Uniform when they are not at their School and the Guardian has to provided them with other and more suitable Clothing for their after School activities, as well.

I think all Schools should provide a Dress Uniform that Children will be comfortable wearing and will want to wear even after their School Day has ended.

I live in North West London and a local Comprehensive (Queens Park Community School) has for many Years got it’s Pupils to wear Track Suits. Every Evening and at all Weekends, all I see are Children of School age going around in groups wearing this School Uniform and I think this is a most worth while choice of Uniform and expense for these Children’s legal Guardians, many of whom because of the current Economic Climate, would have difficulty purchasing not just a regular Uniform but after School activity Clothing, also and because the Uniform is of a design which current Day Clothing Manufacturers mass-produce, these Garments have the added advantage of being able to be purchased at a minimum of cost.

Here’s an example of the cost. I’m old and will not wear a Track Suit outside my home but I think they are comfortable and do when I’m at Home. Last year and from Primemark, I purchased six Designer Labelled Track Bottoms (Nike) for £1 each.

“QPCS” is the only School, in the area in which I reside that has adopted this most affordable and hardwearing Uniform that current Day Children want to wear. During any evening when I’m out walking my Canine, I see Children wearing this Uniform and in the company of friends that are wearing other Track Suits (that their Guardians have had to buy for them), like these Pupils because, presumably, these other Children’s School Uniform is of a regular design and those Children don’t want to wear these outdated and “not Cool” (in my Day this used to be called: “Square”) Clothing when their School Day has concluded.

Member

Is there a possible compromise? I recall being taken by my mother to the school outfitter appointed by the grammar school that I would be attending at the end of the holidays. I wore my school cap for part of the first day and never wore the confounded thing again. I managed to cope with the rest of the uniform, though was pleased to be able to wear a jacket of my choice from when I entered the sixth form.

Member

One thing that I learnt at school was that it is in German, and not in English, where every common noun must start with a capital letter! 😉

Member

Well done, Fay Amstutz, for posting this article! I don’t agree with all you’ve said, but that is the point in starting a Conversation. And shame on you, NFH. Are you part of the ‘Grammar Police’, to whom only one level is permissible for all of the English-speaking world? Jon is being gloriously idiosyncratic: very English! His meaning, too, is completely clear, even though he doesn’t consistently follow your or any rule.

Member

It occurs to me that secondary school pupils might be safer on the streets if they are wearing a proper uniform rather than trying to look too adult [I recognise that there is a counter argument to this that I won’t go into and I consider the risk negligible].

Schools used to administer a “Necessitous Clothing Allowance” for children whose parents or guardians faced financial hardship. Horrible name and probably a horrible system based on a means test and a ration of clothing. However, I hope there is some mechanism in place these days because specified uniforms in unique colours or designs can work out rather pricey. Most schools where we live seem to limit the number of non-generic items to one or two at most [like a blazer or top and a tie or scarf] the rest being standard apparel that cn be purchased at the larger supermarkets.

I am not sure why blazers have to be stiff or itchy – the more they are worn the smoother they feel!

Fay doesn’t like being checked for how high her she wears her skirt or whether her sleeves are down or whether her blouse is tucked in. I wonder what her parents think.

Member

We were quite proud to wear a uniform when I was at school. It helped with a community spirit, and with behaviour when travelling – the badge made it clear where you belonged if there was a complaint! It is a leveller – no peer pressure on expensive fancy fashions. Cost is the issue, especially renewing each year as we grew. In my day end of year school sales passed clothes on. If, however, there was a national agreement on a limited range of colours and styles of school garment, to which school badges and logos could be attached, the need to buy from expensive school outfitters would go in favour of large stores and the internet.
On blazers, when at school and work I was a jacket person – I wouldn’t know where to keep all my useful bits and, pens, comb, diary, reading specs, without those outside and inside pockets.

Member

Revision but not a free-for-all abandonment of uniform. Children go to school to learn, not to be fashion objects dressed in designer clothes.

These days, it isn’t just schools and the military that wear uniform. Many businesses that face the public, whether shops or services, wear some sort of uniform to identify them.

But we need to get away from the expensive school outfitters (what a rip off). A standard colour golf shirt with school logo badge on the sleeve or breast and similar for winter jacket, so that parents can purchase on line or at the local market and iron-on their own badges… something along those lines.

Member
Kess says:
9 June 2014

The problem is, even when wearing uniform, school kids are often still objects of fashion because poorer school children maybe wearing a second hand uniform that doesn’t fit quite right, or their shoes are not the latest fashion (Even within a uniform system of colour, shoes can still be a problem)
My partner grew up with uniform but wore second hand uniform with the badge stitched on as opposed to new uniform with the badge already printed on. I don’t really believe every school kid or parent is asking for a free for all just a fairer one. I might add, it does nothing to prepare you for the world of work, where a person normally does not have a uniform but a choice of clothing attire. Being smart and wearing a uniform are two totally different things. School uniform can also be modified (ie skirts hitched up) In most work you cannot do that. Wearing a uniform does nothing to teach kids about the world of work unless it’s taught as a subject.

Member

I remember distincly one day, when I was fairly young, realising that my father did not have unlimited money. We could not have all we wanted. My first school mac was a couple of sizes too large “so that I would grow into it”. A sensible move in hindsight. Such is life.

Member
Shaz says:
14 June 2014

I agree about badges you can put on your self , my kids school is a sports school and even though the uniform is comfortable using polo shirts and a fleece instead of a blazer, everything has to have the school logo on it even the tracksuit pants for PE. the only place you can get the uniform is from the school itself. the only stuff I can get cheap from else where is the black trousers which are £3 from Adsa, even the PE socks have to have the name of the school in their design :((

Member
Isobel cameron says:
9 June 2014

It took me a long long time to realize that uniforms are a very good thing ,otherwise some children are so very different to others,if all of them are in smart clean and pressed skirts / trousers shirt/ blouse,ties,black polished shoes,and blazers then all they have to concentrate on is their schoolwork and not who’s wearing what……yes they are not cheap but neither are the scruffy clothes that a lot of children in a lot of schools wear..and as for Blazers ,well the colour and badge allow the public to know which school they are from ,so that bad behaviour on buses or in the street can be reported…..

Member
Liz says:
10 June 2014

I think that Uniforms can be a great equaliser and tough if the kids don’t like them, they are already indulged in their every whim it seems. No wonder they grow up without any sense of discipline. Having said that I think to stop some children having to have poorer quality uniforms than the better off pupils, that the uniforms should all be provided by the school, and charged according to parental income. That would do away with the expensive school outfitters- my grandson who’s mother is disabled and unable to work, had to have a school blazer two years ago costing £70. There was no financial help towards it but the school insisted they had one.

Member
Hated School says:
12 June 2014

I went to a boarding school with a mixture of scholarship and kids from rich backgrounds.
I was a scholarship kid from a poorer background, my mother had no sense of fashion so my mufti clothes were dreadful.
I was ridiculed and bullied mercilessly by the richer kids.
So yes, uniforms are sensible.

Member
Paul says:
13 June 2014

A choice of supplier, rather than just one, would be good.
Cotton trousers, instead if polyester, would be nice too.

Member

Ah, yes, good old cotton trousers, as worn in Mao’s China! Crease delightfully, need constant ironing, worse for the environment than synthetics (water and pollution). And cost more. I well remember the joy of getting the new ‘Terylene’ – branded polyester clothes instead of wool or cotton in the 1950s – non-iron, quick-dry bliss! So now, they’re unfashionable. Perhaps we should kit our kids out in delightful silk clothing – or is that not PC?

Member

As said on Radio 4 only the other morning: synthetic clothes make you smell, therefore more need for de-odorants, causing pollution in another way. Also, synthetics are horrible when it is really hot, and pretty uselss when it is really cold. Natural fibres are best!

Member

The best deodorant is crystalline or spray Alum, readily available, natural and cheap (£3-£5 for several months’ worth). But that’s not the point. The fabrics you wear should be appropriate for what you’re doing and the climate.

There’s a choice of correct synthetics to match any natural fibre, but, like cotton, linen and wool, well-made clothes are always expensive and a lot of people haven’t the money to buy them, especially for kids who can wreck a suit of clothes and shoes in a week (like my son at one time)! For school and play, cheap synthetics may be the best balance, with more expensive clothes for best.

Right now, I happen to be wearing all cotton, but my walking shoes are synthetic. Another day I may be wearing all synthetics (shirt & suit) with leather shoes and 30-year-old nylon socks. There’s no one single answer.

Member

I don’t agree that there is any synthetic which can match a natural fibre, because of the cellular structure. It sounds, too, as if your son needs a tad more self-discipline; I would certainly not tolerate the behaviour of a child who destroyed shoes and clothes in such a short space of time.

Furthermore, I’m obviously not living in the same world as you seem to be, if you have such a choice of clothes. One set for summer and one for winter, and make them last five years at least. I could not afford more. When you have less money, you treat your clothes better…

Mind you, I wouldn’t like to be anywhere nearby when you are wearing your 30-year-old nylon socks 😉

Member

Cotton-and wool-equivalent synthetics are expensive. But if you go, say, to Everest, you’ll wear mostly these pricy synthetics because they work best. And they’re still improving. But I do like naturals. My clothes DO last well, in general – most of mine are over 10 years old, so good value. And do I detect a ‘sniffy’ reply about my well-washed old socks? I’ve just gone back to them after 15 years wearing something else, and they’ll keep performing well until they hole – darning isn’t very effective or efficient unless the socks are thick.

Member

As a teacher in schools for nearly fifty years, and a parent of four children, I say: No,no,no! Firstly I do not think school uniform need be expensive. All the schools which my children have attended have had excellent secondhand shops, and the better the quality of the original uniform the better they wear, and even some staff kitted themselves out with items from the secondhand shops. Secondly, when my children have had choice in the sixth form, they have not liked the constant concern over what they are to wear; they would rather get on with their studies. Thirdly, as a teacher I loathed ‘home clothes days’, and organised my timetable not to be teaching those days if possible. The relationship between teachers and students on those days was noticeably worse, behaviour deteriorated, and it really does mark out the attention-seekers from the normal children. Fourthly, and I digress here (but not much) even my wife would prefer to work in a uniform; she hates the constant decision-making as to what to wear and would gladly wear a uniform which she could get up in without pressure or concern.
As for ‘showing individuality’ and all that rubbish, surely the last thing an educational establishment should be doing is encouraging the idea that fashion matters, and instead should be looking for individuality in a pupil’s work?
You only have to look at the garb of the public in a shopping centre or tourist attraction to see what horrendous clothes sense most Brits have; letting them have free rein in schools as well is a dreadful thought!

Member
Alex says:
13 June 2014

I grew up in the Netherlands where school uniforms are unkown. My children grew up in the UK with school uniforms. I believe there are two issues here:
1. Like in many small countries there is NO strong sense of Nationhood or “belonging to”. Instead the emphasis is on individuality and a recognition of self and uniqueness. Most Dutch people have an instinctive disklike of uniforms. In the UK it emphasises pride, belonging to- and being British.
2. Affordability: Since probably 80-90% of the Dutch population belong to the “middle classes” the issue of not being able to afford the latest designer kids clothes is a non issue. In the UK however, sadly, the class society is alive and kicking. A strong reason for keeping uniforms so you cannot tell who’s parents are well off and who’s are not.. However, thanks to the large private education system in the UK, despite uniforms, the class society is perpetuated.
I would say keep the uniforms, but schools should make a bigger effort to source them from different suppliers in order to keep cost down.

Member

Oh, dear: the old thing about class again! Class is not about money: one look at well-off Americans tells you that! There is no ‘class system’ or ‘class society’ in Britain, unless you count the relatively few titled people who, in many cases, are not well-off. The idea of ‘class’ in Britain is perpetuated by sections of the media who, as always, go about fermenting division wherever they can find it. Maybe the Netherlanders (and others in Europe) give more of an impression of being classless because they seem to speak their native language with so much more respect than the English. Even Scots speak English better than some English. Likewise with clothing: on my trips to European countries I rarely see such slovenly dressing as in England. Perhaps the foreigners who thing the British are class-ridden are judging us by speech or clothing? In which case, may I say, we deserve all we get!

Member

Wrong, wrong, wrong, delldweller! MOST English and other British people not only agree that there are social classes, but know exactly where they are on the scale! And no, it’s not entirely to do with money, but much more with preferences and chosen behaviour. Kids pick it up from their families and their friends’ families. The best summary of all this, from decades of meticulous research into what English people do and prefer, what they like and dislike, is Kate Fox’s very readable 9-year-old book “Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour” (ISBN 978-0340818862). It lays out the class system in meticulous detail; the key point being that it’s not prejudicial, it’s just how we are!

As for the way people choose to speak and dress, I seem to understand that you have a personal view of how ALL the British ought to behave – a single standard – and any who don’t conform to your standard are ‘slovenly’ or worse. Is that what you mean?

This conversation is about school uniform. I’ve seen in action all the points people have made above so far, and I reckon that the most important one is about how kids treat other kids, whether in school or out. If some want to pick on another – and this will always happen – they can find a reason. It might be clothing, speech, mannerism or physical appearance; it doesn’t matter because their own little group bonds better by forcing someone else outside, to be different and so ‘wrong’, and so worthy of punishing. Some see uniform as a way to minimize this; others think the opposite. Best would be for the behaviour to be challenged, which all good teachers will. But it’s not easy, and groups that are ‘in’ and victimize the ‘out’ will always happen.

I love your use of the media ‘fermenting division’, delldweller! You may have meant ‘fomenting’, but that slip brings up wonderful imaginings of how the Press work. Thanks!

Member

To start at the bottom, fermenting was not a slip. I thought of using fomenting, but the image of the fermentation process seemed to add to what I meant. In any case, the word can be used for precisely the same meaning as fomenting (see Oxford Dictionary meaning no 2).

I don’t understand where you picked up the idea that I have a personal view of how people should behave or dress. Slurred pronunciation and a lack of articulation lead to misunderstandings of meaning, and therefore are of an undesirable standard. Clothes which are ill-fitting and which expose parts of the body which one would prefer not to see are clearly inferior. I am sure you would not argue with that.

As for the ridiculous idea that class is defined by chosen behaviour, well, I suppose you could think like that, but why would you? To my mind there is only good behaviour and anti-social behaviour. I have met people who think a lot of themselves but who behave in the most selfish way. I have met people who are not well-off, who behave meticulously and without thought for their own benefit. Which class are these two categories in?

Saying this class business is not prejudicial is exactly the opposite of the truth: pre-judging people by their so-called ‘social standing’ is just what the media try to do – witness the snide remarks about where top politicians went to school and so on.

I’m afraid, David, that you just seem not to ‘get it’ as the current jargon goes. I don’t think I can have gone through nearly seventy years, not encountering the slightest bit of class distinction in work or at play, having taught in schools from inner-city secondarys to high-achieving independents, without getting perhaps a rather better idea of things than the ‘meticulous research’ which, in my experience, always seems to ask the wrong questions.

Maybe it’s because I treat my pupils, relations, friends, acquaintances and those that I meet in day-to-day life as mature, thinking people, that I find little of class-consciousness apparent anywhere I go.

Member

We’ll have to disagree here, delldweller, on the idea of ‘class’ that’s so clear in most people’s minds in GB. Read that book – it’s based on 20 years of researchers observing people, talking to them and finding out what real people think and say – then publishing the results for everyone to see – most agree.

And I (and the experts) don’t see class as either prejudice or simply a hierarchy. It’s how people choose to behave and who they choose to associate with. True, generally voluntary social grouping. What’s different these days is that classes aren’t so rigid, and people seem to migrate between Working and Middle during their lifetimes, quite a lot – both ways. People KNOW their Class – and are usually proud of it. Comes up in interviews with folk all the time. Of course, you don’t have to call these groups ‘Classes’. Just that most people do.

Member

And – now I think of it – because we’re British, we rarely DO talk about class. But we’re judging it all the time, and acting on those judgements to oil the wheels of social interaction. Kids pick it up quickly. One of the uses of uniform is that it obscures class distinctions – until people speak or act, signalling their class right away. You can take a course to help you recognize this (useful if you’re not a Native!)

Member

As a retired teacher, I can testify that school uniforms cause more problems than their advocates claim they solve. They are a waste of time. This is demonstrated by the fact that many primary schools do not insist on their charges wearing them – which is also the case with further education colleges and universities.

Let is dispense with them, as they do in most European and north American countries.

Member
Cathy says:
17 June 2014

I totally agree with Fay’s comments on school uniform. Many uniforms are simply impractical and out of date. Blazers are a particularly useless form of clothing for children. As Fay claims, they are not warm enough in winter and too hot in the summer. I hated them in the 1960s when I had to wear them and in the 1990s when I had to spend exorbitant amounts to send my children to school in their official uniform. At their school in northern Scotland no child would dare to step out of line and wear an overcoat, even in winter blizzards, so hundreds of children made their way to school dressed in blazers which gave scant protection against the weather. When wet the wool blazers would smell all day long as the children sat through their lessons. Schools should ensure uniforms are practical and preferably consult with pupils and parents on a regular basis.

Member
Doug says:
18 June 2014

The academy in Kent that my granddaughter attends has a strict uniform policy that extends to overcoats, which must conform to their rules (too expensive for the normal family). The result is that pupils have to go to school in all weathers wearing only their uniform blazers. They are then required to sit in classes all day in wet clothes! Surely schools have a responsibility to protect the children in their charge and doesn’t this extend to their health? It is hardly conducive to comfort and must impact on their learning environment.
How can this ridiculous and unnecessary policy be justified?

Member
Liz says:
20 June 2014

I agree with Doug. I cannot understand why schools make children wear clothes which are impractical and uncomfortable – and why so many parents don’t seem terribly bothered about it.

We have been fortunate that my son’s primary school has a reasonably practical uniform and displays some flexibility e.g. own jackets/coats or none as appropriate, short-sleeved polo shirt, no rules re how many layers you wear when inside the school or in the playground – the weather/temperature dictates that. Moreover, on request, they let my son wear warmer tracksuit trousers in freezing weather and they allow shorts for boys in summer. Trousers are not on the uniform list for girls but can be worn on request.

However, my son is about to start at a secondary school which, in common it seems with most post-primary schools in Northern Ireland where we live, makes the poor kids wear blazers the whole time – including while in class all year round, although some teachers – at their individual discretion – will let the kids take them off when in class although not going between classes. The blazer is thick, the trousers will be polyester and there’s a sweater which we’re told has to be worn year round. Girls have to wear skirts. Outside school in cold or wet weather, they are only allowed to wear ‘coats’ in certain colours which are expensive – so he’s likely to be cold/wet for much of the year unless they show any flexibility on this and allow a waterproof hooded jacket.

Many pupils attending post-primary schools here look a complete mess as they try to rebel against their uniform or get round the impracticality of it. Uniform – and sports uniform – is also a huge financial strain for many parents.

I don’t object to uniform if it’s kept practical, flexible, affordable and simple. But the sort of rules I’ve described at post-primary level send out a really bad message to children about what’s really important in life. Most workplaces don’t require any uniform and, where they do, it’s generally practical, flexible and adaptable to weather conditions. I really question the priorities and values of schools which are obsessed with enforcing impractical uniform rules which don’t place the children’s comfort first.

Member
Sarah C says:
20 June 2014

I have three granddaughters, twins aged 7 and a younger one aged 4, who attends the school nursery. At primary school level, uniform is a godsend. It saves busy working parents the problem of what to wear every morning. It is cheap from supermarkets. The school kids are identifiable (the red school, the purple school , the blue school, the green school), and should there be an accident (more common at nursery level) substitute clothes can easily be found.

Member
Luke Pressman says:
7 March 2015

I’m weary of this debate. Uniforms are good, here to stay and the good news is high school uniforms are getting smarter and more rigorously enforced. The argument is over ; uniform is good ;in fact very good in standards pride and social inclusion. The money aspect is total red herring. Most who moan pay more for one pair of trainers than entire uniform ; trousers shirts are cheap

The debate is over; uniform is here to stay so move on – I for one am celebrating as son just wears his uniform, wears it as he should with tie done up, button fastened , blazer on and guess what ; he doesn’t get in trouble ! Really tricky isn’t it?

Lot of fuss about nothing. Uniform works so get on with it.

Wouldn’t touch high school with no uniform or even “polo shirt” style – says it all about school.