/ Parenting

Time to put school uniforms in detention?

This week a young Cambridgeshire boy wore a skirt to school in protest of his school’s uniform policy to ban boys from wearing shorts. Yet, this raises another question – should kids have to wear school uniforms at all?

Chris Whitehead had a knees-up this week, protesting against his school’s policy to stop boys wearing shorts.

In 2009, Impington Village College near Cambridgeshire decided that boys wouldn’t be allowed to wear shorts, a policy that year 8 pupil Chris wasn’t happy about.

The aspiring politician marched through Impington in a girls’ knee-length skirt alongside half a dozen pupils waving banners. If girls can cool down in a skirt during the summer months, why can’t boys wear shorts, he protested?

Fair play to the lad, I say. And amusingly, due to a loophole in the school’s uniform policy, boys are welcome to wear skirts. Headteacher Robert Campbell adds, ‘we would be discriminating against them if we did not allow it.’

Do school uniforms make the grade?

But skirting around that issue, there’s another around the corner – should schools impose set uniforms at all? What problem would there be if kids were allowed to wear what they wanted?

Surely school is for learning and not for telling children what to wear. School uniforms seem to come from an old-fashioned and almost militaristic tradition that says children aren’t individuals – that they should all be drones taught under the all-seeing eye of the headmaster.

But why not let them fold away the uniforms and get dressed in their own attire? An eternal mufti day if you like. Most US schools hold this view, and it’s the philosophy we take in Which? towers – wear what you like (within reason) and you’ll be more comfortable in your work.

A rise in fashion victims?

There is one potential problem that I can see with school uniforms being left in the closet. A set uniform makes it easier on families of all means – parents don’t need to splash out on school clothes, as in 2010 we found that it’s easy to find affordable uniforms that last.

Whereas an eternal mufti-day could leave some children to worry that their clothes don’t match the quality of their friends’, or that their parents can’t afford to keep up with the current fickle fashion trends. Plus, different clothing could be one more thing that bullies can pick up on to torment others.

But what do you think – have we come to the end of the age of school uniforms, or do you think that matching school garbs still holds some value?

Should children have to wear school uniforms?

Yes (92%, 465 Votes)

No (8%, 42 Votes)

Total Voters: 507

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I have incredibly mixed feelings on this issue and I cannot make my mind up at all.

It’s something I have thought about almost all my life.

With one hat on I recall vividly how, as a Junior School pupil, where we did NOT have uniform, I was pilloried by other pupils and also their parents and the staff for being “unfashionable” because my parents would not buy fashionable and expensive clothes for school and made me have “sensible” plain clothes, mainly from M&S in an era when M&S was seen as a Granny’s shop. It was a massive relief, therefore, when I started secondary school and we all had to wear grey or black trousers, grey or black socks, black shoes (NOT trainers), white or grey shirts, school tie and school blazer with school badge. And in 1979 that was NOT a “posh” or selective school, that was every ordinary council run comprehensive. Both my secondary schools had virtually identical uniforms (only the tie’s stripes and the blazer’s badge differed) and both made Girls wear skirts but NOT trousers and none of us could wear shorts. Laughably in summer we were permitted to remove our ties but only on condition that our open shirt collars were worn on top of the blazer’s collar, in a very untrendy way that the head presumably thought would make us all want to keep our ties on (it didn’t!), but we were not permitted to remove our blazers and no one could wear shorts.

Despite being uncomfortably hot much of the year, none of us (nor our parents) complained and there was no bullying nor theft of trendy trainers, etc., as has been prevalent in the intervening years.

From that side of the argument I am 100% for uniform, as I also am in terms of saving money for parents as over-priced fashion garments would not then be at risk of damage in a school environment.

On the other side of the debate, as a teacher, it is a thankless and pointless task fighting against parents and students to try to get them into uniform and it makes not one iota of difference to the behaviour of utterly out of control pupils in schools that have a discipline issue (i know, I’ve done 8 years in one such place and it nearly killed quite a few of us, and the school did have a uniform). I have worked for the last 7 years in a different place where there has never been a uniform and where most of the students do come from backgrounds where stereotypically you might expect issues over compliance, bullying, parental objection, etc. We have never ever had a discipline issue and I can still count on the fingers of both hands how many times I have had to raise my voice or take any sort of disciplinary action against any student. Clearly, then, the lack of uniform doesn’t mean automatic poor behaviour.

What DOES happen in my current place, though, is that students don’t spend even one second thinking about complaining about what they have to wear, they don’t skip lessons because a given teacher is known to always pick them up on the smallest breaches of dress code and, for whatever reason, there is virtually no bullying for any reason at all, and it certainly isn’t over what people are wearing.

As for Chris in Impington, I admire and wholeheartedly support him and I absolutely agree that if a uniform is required by a school then it must be one that is minutely checked for practicality and to ensure no possible discrimination.

If I had children of my own my gut feeling is that I would prefer them to wear uniform until they reach the end of compulsory education, then be allowed to dress as they wished if they continued in education; but I’m happy to admit that if I actually found myself with a child to care for, I may well change my mind, so I’m as undecided as I said at the start of this post!!!

I’ll be very interested to see what others have to say.

Uniform until 6th form. This makes it
a) cheaper for poorer parents
b) ensures kids aren’t mocked for their lack of latest brand
c) keeps personal clothes clean
d) instils a sense of togetherness
e) helps them unconsciously to be a team

We all have to conform to various rules and regulations later on in life, a uniform helps us to understand that there are many rules which literally make no sense at all. Therefore it helps to just accept that institutions are what they are, indoctrinations.

Sorry, a bit heavy for monday morning 🙂

Patrick, I see what you mean, but I think what dean is alluding to is that uniforms provide a visual symbol of a common unit, rather like those used in the military.

It also helps identify who’s on your side in fights!

I have enough balls to juggle without the extra one of investing in and managing my kids’ clothes. School uniforms mean that I know exactly what clothes have to be on hand for five days and I do not have the debates about where a particular item of clothing is at seven o’clock in the morning. On top of that I don’t want my kids to be at the mercy of peer pressure on what they should/should not wear.

Not a good life-lesson I think, to give in and go-uniform because otherwise the pressure will be too great.
Children need to be encouraged to make a stand and feel free to make their own choices with the benefit of support and guidance rather than pressure and conformity.

definately, they should wear uniforms, but the bigger issue is the closed shop system of only being able to buy them for over inflated prices direct from the school itself.
any local business should be able to supply uniforms and school badges.

Absolutely. Why can’t schools have a colour-system so we can get the uniform from anywhere and then a ‘badge’ that we can put on sweatshirts etc????

Yes, this is a terrible “invention” of modern times. When I was at school (see earlier post, 1979 – 1984 for the purposes of Uniform) ANY plain black shoes, ANY plain black or grey socks & Trousers, ANY plain white or Grey shirt and ANY plain black blazer were absolutely fine and coudl be obtained from anywhere from the Co-Op to M&S to John Lewis to Poundstretcher. In moderns times Asda, Sainsbury’s, etc all would sell (probably do) suitable items. Only the Tie and Badge had to be bought from a school recommended supplier.

Somewhere between me leaving school (1986) and starting teaching (1997) something happened and the closed shop (as Frugal Ways accurately describes it) came into being. When? Why? How? and how can it be abolished and get us back to the times I recall?

In the last school I worked in the uniform was sold in school only, and the school made a massive loss on the items as no one would ever have consented to buy them at the prices the suppliers charged the school, so it can’t be a way to raise funds for schools.

I don’t get it – can anyone help me understand where that system came from?

Fat Sam, Glos says:
16 May 2011

I am definitely in favour of a FORM of uniform (for the same reasons as dean above) but maybe not the regimented shirt/smart skirt and tie adopted in many schools. I’d advocate something a little more casual, like polo shirts, and something more hard-wearing and practical.

Although I’m no parent, I imagine peer-pressure is enormous at that age and clothing style will be used by some to poke fun at others who may not be able to afford the latest fashions, or even may want to follow the latest crazes. A uniform imparts a sense of togetherness and, well, uniformity without discrimination. But I think you can achieve this without being too formal. I also agree that schools shouldn’t be tied to a particular supplier – someone remind them what century we’re living in!

I think kids attending schools where there is no uniform just look scruffy, regardless of what chic high street label’s attached.

I agree, and I’d go further and add that “traditional” uniform tends to promote sweating and there is nothing worse than a room full of hot sweaty kids on a summer afternoon!

Furthermore items like blazers and ties have to be dry cleaned usually, so easily machine washable items make far more sense.

evie says:
16 May 2011

As a child (fifties and sixties) I wore no uniform at junior school – only posh schools had such a thing, and none of use were posh, so it really didn’t matter – but I can remember being quite relieved that we had a uniform at grammar school, because it meant that I did not have to try to compete with those who were much trendier than I was (although there were certainly “right” and “wrong” ways to wear hats and ties, and skirts were rolled up quite short!). When my own children were at school there was a bit of an anti-uniform movement in our area, and again only the posh schools had it. I have had arguments over what clothes (and especially shoes)should or should not be worn to school, and my son at the age of 12 was even mugged by older boys for his new (birthday) coat, trainers and sports bag. Uniform definitely makes life easier, but as has been mentioned above, it should be practical, cheap, easily available, and most of all wearable from the children’s perspective.

Random Thingy says:
16 July 2011

Wow, Last year I also had issues with school uniform and shorts except the exact opposite issue we had to wear shorts all year round, no trousers. Let me tell you more about the uniform so you can understand my issue in further detail. First of all I live in South Africa where it can get very hot in summer and very cold in summer (don’t think it doesn’t). In SA most government (public) high schools are seperated into all-boys and all-girls (possibly due to distractions).

My School Uniform:
White long-sleeved shirt
Red and Blue striped tie
Navy Blazer with school badge
Plain Black lace-up shoes
Grey or black socks
Grade 9-12: long charcoal trousers
Grade 8: SHORTS

Yep that’s right grade 8’s had to wear shorts and the rest of the school trousers. Talk about discrimination. I hated the shorts as they really looked bad with the blazer, sometimes so short they would be hidden by the blazer and look as if you weren’t wearing pants. Also they were really cold in winter. The rest of the school wore trousers. This led to the other grades bullying the grade 8’s as they were easily identifiable. IRONY: Thought uniforms were supposed to prevent bullying yet here all they did was encourage it. I was stuck with those shorts for a whole year. I got used to them by the second term and the other grades got over them.

Now I’m in grade 9 and there are no more shorts. I am glad I am in long pants even though it got hot in summer, I did not have a problem with the heat (I can endure it) but some of the other boys did as they were rolling them up. The school does have a summer uniform, more like a summer shirt, which does not include shorts as those are for grade 8’s. All the summer uniform is: a short sleeved golf shirt with no buttons and school badge. I prefer the blazer as it has more pockets (summer shirt has 0 whilst blazer and collared shirt has 6), they could have at least made 1 pocker, and the summer shirt really looks stupid with long pants. Luckily I have a choice whether to wear blazer or summer shirt, only applicable in summer. I’d much rather have prefered a short-sleeved collared shirt instead of the current summer shirt because it will look better with the long pants. I hardly wear summer shirt and due to that I get annoying questions as to why I don’t wear and sometimes even get pressured by peers to wear it.

I am much like Chris except less daring, I hate the current summer uniform thats why always where my blazer even when boiling which is perfectly legal according to uniform regulations and not the only 1 who does.

Random Thingy says:
16 July 2011

BTW I think they should wear uniforms since that is what I have grown up with and changing it now would be too much. I think they should be less strict about the regulations, my school is very strict, too strict they will send us home if 1 of our sleeve buttons on our blazer, which serve no purpose, are missing, if both are missing or both are there its fine but if ones there and ones not, they make it a huge problem, ridiculous.

To all those talking about expressing personality you CAN express that through your uniform. EG: if your a scruffy and lazy person you can wear your tie with a messy knot loosed down and improperly positioned on your collar however if your an overly neat person you can make an overly neat not and spend every second of every day making sure your tie is properly positioned and in proper fassion.

Random Thingy says:
17 July 2011


LOL I made quite a few spelling errors so I am surprised you think I am well written. Guess you were talking about my choice of words and the type of language I used. Not everyone in my school uses this type of language, very few actually.

peter says:
7 September 2011

Uniform has its advantages and disadvantages, but I think the balance tips to advantages. There is a youtube site for Clifton Prep School that shows Grade 8 dressed in a grey uniform short trouser suit, with long grey socks. This may sound strange abd old fashioned but in reality looks quite smart even on taller boys. Schools should be free to make a choice of uniform.

Marc says:
6 October 2011

I do not know if I am the only american posting on this given the story is from england. I have mixed feelings on uniforms for schools. Here most of the schools who use uniforms are all basically the same style. If their were different types of uniforms I would pressume it would be more open here for a thought. I went to public schooling until I was in 7th grade then I went by court order and lived with my mother. She insisted that I went to here old school and they well had uniforms I didnt warm up to them well. But as a matter on the topic of being picked on no matter what you do get rid of individual clouths or even gender based classes their will alwas be bullies and people looking down at you unless your popular. Ive had alot of problems with bullies. PS didnt help my mother was a germaphobe and had me shave my enter body child abuse but thats over.

Sadly school seems generally to have become a place where empty vessels are filled with the national curriculum, to become useful and productive work units. Uniform has become a symbol of this unvarying conformity. Even the name “uniform” indicates this.

Personally I would prefer to see school as a place where talents can be explored and developed to benefit children and ensure they can make best use of the talents they are good at and enjoy (even if their abilities are not on the curriculum). This happens in pockets with good teachers when they are allowed the time.
“Uniform” is the opposite of creativity.

Leila 14 says:
8 June 2012

the uniform regulations at my high school are ridiculous.. blazers are awful to wear! and the horrible teachers make you keep it on even on those hot summery days.

In modern society,your appearance at school is more important than your educational needs and these regulations prevent you from being an individual. My high school is one of the worst in the area,however the school tries to cover up its bad name with
overly posh and unflattering school uniform.

Just found this discussion and I wonder what the problem is with boys wearing skirts. Girls wear trousers.

Just guessing here, but they might have to reconfigure the toilets at considerable expense, and there might be some other potential drawbacks.