Seeing so many of my contacts on Facebook posting photos of their children trussed up in new school uniform has reinforced my distaste for it. After so many weeks of running free wearing loose casual gear that they feel supremely comfortable in children suddenly have to put on uncomfortable, unflattering clothing and abide by a dress code. The primary school where my wife works part-time has become an academy and introduced a strict new uniform regime. There was a uniform of sorts before, but really just the coloured sweatshirt variety that has, up until now, applied in most state primary schools.
If you’re going to make young children wear a uniform, keep it simple and practical. Where is the sense in dressing very young children up in blazers, ties and checked skirts and then compounding the rigmarole with rules such as allowing children to take off their blazers in class but insisting they put them back on whenever they leave the classroom even to go to the loo. How have we come to the point where even children as young as six years old are having to live according to such rules?
I remember all my school uniforms with varying degrees of distaste. I attended a small fee-paying preparatory school. The uniform was brown. A rather disgusting shade of brown. I was very jealous of the uniform-free neighbouring state primary school where my best mate Pete went. [Although Pete was jealous of me in the summer because we got two full afternoons of cricket and he got just one short lesson a week.]
My first secondary school blazer had very conspicuous maroon and black stripes. What I disliked most about it was the pink badge I had to wear on the front pocket denoting the ‘house’ I was in. But the blazer was very well tailored and made from a sleek light-weight material. A few years later when we moved south and I had to exchange the maroon and black stripes for a plain maroon blazer, the new jacket was anything but well-tailored and made from a horrible thick felty woollen fabric that leaked dye into sweaty adolescent boys’ armpits.
For all these reasons blazers tended to be worn only on the way to and from school. I may have forgotten but I honestly can’t remember at any of the schools I attended there being rules about when blazers MUST be worn during the school day.
Once a school uniform is in place those in authority seem to take delight in adding unnecessarily stringent requirements to it. As a staff governor I used to be surprised by the vehemence with which other governors would try and insist on boys wearing grey trousers. Black wouldn’t do. They had to be grey. Parents objected that grey trousers could not be easily bought in the local town whereas black trousers could. Obviously it was sometimes difficult to determine where charcoal-grey finished and black began. Oh, such mighty matters!
Then there is the question of shoes. I know there are family panics about what style of footwear is going to be acceptable. Again, I don’t remember any such strictures about what style of shoe should be worn during my own schooldays. Admittedly in the period I am talking about (1950s and 1960s) there was a clear demarcation between shoes and trainers – well, actually between shoes and plimsolls – so it was always pretty clear that what you had on your feet were shoes and there couldn’t be any debate about it.
At that rather smart marooon-and-black striped school (attended by Prime Minister’s sons no less) I wore newly-fashionable elastic-sided, shoelace-less shoes (the first pair I ever bought for myself using my own money back in 1963) in both black and brown without anyone quibbling.
One of my first teaching jobs was in a church-aided school that liked to hold itself apart form ‘local authority’ schools and had something of the air of the independent sector. I was there during the 1980s and, a basically blue school uniform notwithstanding, I remember the older girls being free to dress quite stylishly and idiosyncratically. When I moved to become deputy head of a more orthodox local authority primary school in the 1990s one of the first things I noticed was the uniformity of the uniform.
Of course some of the dafter insistences described earlier on in this post usually start to unravel as the school year proceeds, but that makes insisting on them in the first place all the more tiresome.
It’s not very fashionable these days to be anti school uniform and I know all the familiar arguments in favour of it (level playing-field and all that) but I still feel schools would be happier places without it.