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Matt Davies

School Uniform

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Do you think that students should be forced to wear school uniform? It is a topic I regulary debate on with my students and I was wondering what you all thought?

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No.

School uniform is:

  • inordinately expensive for the shoddy material and manufacture
  • unproven as an aid to discipline or learning
  • a source of constant friction between staff and pupils
  • old fashioned
  • out of step with other countries which have good academic records
  • out of step with other countries which have good discipline
  • of no proven effectiveness in promoting equality.
  • and of no proven effectiveness full stop

I attended a staff meeting and raised the subsidiary issue of why we spend an inordinate amount of time telling pupils in corridors to take their coats off. They wear coats in blistering hot weather to circumvent the uniform. I was outvoted so feel honour bound to enforce this rule. As long as the school has uniform and my colleagues continue to regard it as important then it needs consistent enforcement but I continue to disbelieve in it and spread my disbelief.

Derek McMillan

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Yes.

However, it depends on what sort of uniform is being insisted upon!

The uniform our school expects is mostly about adhering to the colour of clothing, and key areas of concern raised by students has been about wanting comfort and practicality. Hence the simple uniform list of:

  • white shirt
  • brown skirt or trousers
  • brown sweatshirt
  • white or brown socks or tights
  • brown or black shoes
  • dark colour coat or jacket

We appreciate that our students are not from wealthy families and it would be unreasonable to expect them to buy the expensive garments usually provided in the old fashioned 'school outfitters', so they can buy them from anywhere they wish. The school itself has sought out a supplier of good quality, reasonably priced sweatshirts which are printed with the school logo. These have proved very popular as hardly any students buy them from elsewhere. Year 11 have their own colour of sweatshirt and are very keen to purchase these - a status thing!

As a parent I always supported the uniform rules of my children's schools because it meant I had no problems about:

'I've got nothing to wear today?'

'I must have money for more clothes because these are out of fashion'

'I must have more clothes because I've worn this ten times already'

'I can't wear that - I'll look stupid'

etc, etc.

The requirement for a uniform takes away the need for much of the 'fashion competition'. Rich and poorer students do not stand apart - the uniform of all becomes slightly scruffy so is something of a leveller. It is also possible to provide second hand garments for students who need them - no-one recognises them as having been theirs.

As requirements are simple we have few confrontations about 'elaborations on the theme' of uniform - white trainers, excess jewellery and piercings are the regular problem areas.

In a recent survey amongst our students the only thing they wanted to get rid of was the colour of the uniform!

I agree that uniform does not improve learning but it takes away some of the distractions that hamper learning!

:afro "Where's my cap?"

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'I must have money for more clothes because these are out of fashion'

Hm I am surprised that having school uniform stopped that argument being raised :afro

I expect my children stopped saying things like that because they had a realistic expectation of what my answer was going to be.

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Swedish schools don't have school uniforms at all. I helped a local school run an 'English school day' a couple of weeks ago, and lots of the pupils tried to wear something like a school uniform. The girls' clothes were the most 'interesting' because many of them tried to find a suitable skirt or dress (for the first time - Swedish girls don't usually wear skirts, since they're extremely impractical). The result was like something out of a Britney Spears or TATU video! I told them about the Deputy Head at the mixed school I went to in London asking the girls to kneel on the floor, so that she could measure their hem length … and I'm afraid it only confirmed their view of Britain as weird!

They (and their teachers) were also fascinated when I went round and commented on things like trainers, jewellery, sock colours and hair styles. Needless to say, neither the teachers nor the pupils could understand why British schools waste so much of their time and effort on such matters.

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Here in Canada there is no school uniform, something which I did think that I would find very confusing but I have yet to find any difficultly distinguishing the students from the teachers. For one thing the teachers are invariably very unfashionable and for another they dress far more tidily!

I used to believe that a lack of uniform would indeed stigmatise the less well off students but having seen students in class here I have no idea who is better off then who. They all look equally disreputable! In fact I saw more evidence of status symbols (stupid tiny handbags replacing pencilcases and ridiculous footwear) in British school than I have seen over here.

And the best bit is that unless they bare so much flesh as to be indecent, its not my problem! Long gone are the days of trying to decide whether to confiscate a ring or not because its large, but flat.... The kids that try to push the rules to their limits know the rules better than we do, so why waste time fighting them?

They are going to spend the rest of their lives conforming, let them rebel now in a way which is extremely harmless and allows us to worry about more important things. One of the best acts of rebellion I've seen here is a group of young men deciding to wear suits to school in order to be 'different'. If its not dangerous or pornographic, then what's the harm in it?

Rowena

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Uniform is in the UK news again! Yesterday's TES reported that teenagers have discovered that there is a fate worse than obeying school rules....elasticated, rubber-soled black plimsolls - the ultimate indignity for the fashion-conscious teenager!

At a school in Rochdale, students who turn up wearing trainers are issued with a pair of the plimsolls to wear instead. Just one measure being taken in an effort to reduce underachievement of boys at the school, which was being blamed partly on the 'laddish' culture of disaffection and low aspiration.

As they say 'the proof of the pudding is in the eating', so perhaps we will all watch with interest the progress of this school in its attempts to improve the GCSE pass rate. :)

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As they say 'the proof of the pudding is in the eating', so perhaps we will all watch with interest the progress of this school in its attempts to improve the GCSE pass rate. 

One of the problems with any kind of educational research is that in any one school in the UK there are six diff "initiatives" taking place at the same time. If results improve it is impossible to track down which of the six is responsible.

I remember being punished *for wearing* black plimsolls for PE when everyone else had turned up in white. The school had written to all parents in the primary feeder schools telling them that pupils could keep their old plimsolls until they needed new ones....but all of the other parents had immediately bought new white ones. (My intense love for PE teachers dates from that event)

Worse we all turned up on day one with caps because the school uniform included caps. These were immediately thrown over the fence by year 8 (Second year) pupils....and nobody ever wore them except on that first day. An expensive piece of nonsense.

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Here is a new twist to the school uniform saga ... I heard on a local radio station this morning that one of our local schools is being given a substantial amount of money by our local council to help ensure that all its pupils can wear the new, smart school uniform - shirts, blazers etc! The school in question has been in significant difficulties over the few years it has been open and the (fairly) new headteacher has worked extremely hard to turn things around, so I am not knocking him in any way. However, I find it hard to swallow that so often it is 'failing' schools that get so many extra handouts. It doesn't 'pay' to be a successful school it seems! ;)

It will be very interesting to see how much difference the requirement for uniform actually makes to the future of this school! Watch this space...... I wish them luck! :)

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I sometimes think Blair's obsession with uniform is sinister. Would he like all his MPs in uniform as well....and perhaps some kind of salute ;)

I attended my son's graduation yesterday (swank) and I was reminded of Virginia Woolf's observation that academic processions, academic dress and academic ceremonies were all created by men because women could never have taken them seriously.

It is absurd that grown men with serious academic work to their credit dress up for these occasions. It is absurd that a theoretical astrophysicist who happens to be an atheist is awarded with a degree "in nomine patris, et filiis et spiritus sanctus."

And school uniform gets on my wick for similar reasons.

Can we grow up?

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It is absurd that grown men with serious academic work to their credit dress up for these occasions.

Perhaps, Derek, you might consider that Chairman Mao had the right idea then - everyone dress in the same shapeless boilersuit? That way there could be no argument about whether the clothes that someone wears could, in any way, cause people to feel inferior or superior to anyone else? I hesitate to suggest that you might consider the naturist approach would be more of an ideal solution - an excess of hilarity or frostbitten extremeties might be somewhat more of a hindrance to carrying out day to day tasks in the workplace! ;)

I attended my son's graduation yesterday (swank)...awarded with a degree "in nomine patris, et filiis et spiritus sanctus."

By the way...congratulations to your son! I have been to those as well! I rather enjoyed the pomp and tradition ... a ceremony that has its roots in history and of which he (and you) can be proud!

Can we grow up?
...Indeed! :)

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Maggie writes:

Perhaps, Derek, you might consider that Chairman Mao had the right idea then - everyone dress in the same shapeless boilersuit? That way there could be no argument about whether the clothes that someone wears could, in any way, cause people to feel inferior or superior to anyone else?

Maybe it's not so daft as it seems. I live in Berkshire, which is where the Mars factory is located, on the outskirts of Slough. I understand that Mars is regarded as very progressive in its management style.

This may not be 100% true, as it is only what I have heard in local pub chat:

Managers and factory floor workers all wear the same boiler suit while at work, so that there is no obvious distinction between "the suits" and the rest. There is no such thing as the "executive toilet" and everyone eats in the same canteen.

However, I do know for a fact that Mars is very paternalistic towards its employees. I have a friend, a former factory floor worker at Mars, who was helped to overcome his alcohol addiction by a concerned management that understood his problem. He hasn't drunk alcohol for years and now draws a good pension from Mars.

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Graham, I think we have come full circle then :

Managers and factory floor workers all wear the same boiler suit while at work, so that there is no obvious distinction between "the suits" and the rest.

If students wear a school uniform there is then no distinction between the 'haves' and the 'have nots''. If teachers are expected to dress smartly - a 'uniform' requirement - they are conforming to a 'professional' standard of dress appropriate to their work place!

The 'paternalistic' attitude you mention is not dissimilar to the attitude of schools towards their students- the pastoral systems and provisions required of schools have grown enormously over the years I have been involved in education! 'Schools should do more and take more responsibility' for almost all of society's problems it would seem. That, however, is another debate! ;)

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I have attended three of these graduation ceremonies now (treble swank) although of course I did not attend my own ;)

...and Maggie is right in saying that there is a long tradition behind the tomfoolery in Cambridge......but Warwick was set up in the 1960s and had a chance to break from the flummery....and chose not to.

The students were all dressed the same btw and the dress - hired for a day - was rather more expensive than boiler suits I think. Perhaps there is nothing wrong with celebrating serious academic work with a theatre of the absurd but some of the participants clearly could not see that it was absurd.

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Derek it appears that we actually agree on something!

...and Maggie is right in saying that there is a long tradition behind the tomfoolery in Cambridge......but Warwick was set up in the 1960s and had a chance to break from the flummery....and chose not to.

I suspect that Warwick, like other redbrick Universities, wanted to be considered as an 'academically elevated' establishment on a par with Oxford and Cambridge which would therefore include adopting and maintaining similar traditions.

Perhaps there is nothing wrong with celebrating serious academic work with a theatre of the absurd but some of the participants clearly could not see that it was absurd.
Perhaps they do not find it absurd at all! I find it absurd that women still choose to wear white frothy confections for their marriage ceremonies, especially as the traditional reasons for wearing white are obviously being ignored as is often evident in the ballooning shape of some brides I have seen! They, however, do not find it absurd and simply enjoy wearing a 'traditional' outfit for a traditional occasion. Let's face it, they wouldn't ever wear such dresses to any other occasion, but they choose to spend a small fortune on them for a single day's wear. Not unlike the graduates we have been talking about! ;)

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