Sunday, 14 April 2013

railing against school uniform

We have had a tremendously busy and fun Easter holidays, and it was so lovely to end it with a couple of days which suggest that Spring may finally be on its way.  The snow has nearly gone from seaside town, and the daffodils that survived are flourishing... a bit more green, and we'll be there.

So it is now the last evening of the holidays, and we'll be back to the routine of school days tomorrow.  I'm looking forward to getting back into the groove, and, since the arguments started on Friday, I'm looking forward to getting the older kids out of here... but I'm not looking forward to the mornings, and I'm not looking forward to the prep.

After school each day the children do their homework, their clubs, have their playdates, and get washed and brushed and ready for bed, and I empty their hardly-touched but apparently necessary water bottles (does anyone know what's wrong with water drinking fountains?), add change to their purses so they can buy their overpriced milk, and their school dinners, make sure the right books are in the right bags, and make sure they have school uniform ready for the next day.

My little girl is in nursery, and her
uniform is just the school sweatshirt.
It's hard to get on and off, it's very
warm, and it has a hideous logo
which is nothing to do with the school.
School uniform!  We didn't have school uniform when I went to Primary School in England in the 1970s, but Kenny did in Scotland.  It does seem much more normalised in Scotland.  By the time my little sister went to school in England in the 1980s they had the book bags and school sweatshirts that my children have now.  But now, on top of that, my children have to wear the required trousers/skirts/dresses and polo shirts/shirts/blouses, some with school logos, with various colour requirements (always similar and similarly dull, but each of the three schools my children have been to have had different requirements), and ties.  

I hate school uniform.  I want my children to learn at school, and to run about, and have fun.  I want them to get messy, and sticky, and spill their beans down their fronts without fear of trouble.  The very last thing I would put my child in to have a day of learning, fun, mess, and fearless bean eating would be a white/pale blue collared shirt/blouse (which isn't comfortable, and stains easily, and has pesky buttons which slow down getting changed) and nasty polyester trousers/dress.
The big girl. She likes the buttoned cotton
shirts (not the logo polo shirts, and cardis.

All through the winter the kids are expected to play out (when they can) wearing polyester trousers, which are freezing, or skirts and tights which constantly fall down and cause itchy groins in the girls.  The shirts are too cold and the fluffy sweatshirts are too hot.

I am told school uniforms are a good thing because they save parents money, but this is clearly nonsense, because children need normal clothes anyway, so school uniform is just extra stuff you have to buy on top of that.  And boys school shoes are SO INCREDIBLY DULL that you really have to buy them extra shoes just so they're not forced to die of boredom putting on their shoes.

I am told that school uniforms are a good thing because they reduce the chance to show social status through your clothes, but that's nonsense.  My children know when someone's uniform is from Next and when it's from Tesco. Status is signified with labels, and the poor kids are easy to spot.  Status is also signified with haircuts, and shoes, and school bags.  Added to that is the fact that different schools have different statuses, and your school uniform shows you are a posh kid/catholic kid/academic kid.
Eton boys showing that school uniform removes
social status markers

I would really like it if kids could just wear their own clothes for school, and gain practice in how they present themselves, and also, perhaps, in accepting our differences.  The Wikipedia page on school uniforms quotes a study by Brunsma and Rockquemore (1998), which found no effect of school uniforms on attendance or behavioural problems, but a negative effect on academic achievement.  I haven't seen the research paper, and I don't know how good it was, if it's still true now, or how strong the effect was, but I generally believe that you don't create strong individuals (which is what we want our children to be, surely?) by making everyone pretend to be the same.  I think that school uniform encourages children's natural tendencies to bash down those whose heads stick up, and it would be so much better if they could learn that difference is what actually makes the world work.
Norwegian schools don't tend to have uniforms,
and they seem to be doing OK

However, I have heard some good arguments for school uniforms:

  • Children wearing school uniform are easily identified as belonging to that school, which is useful if someone is missing, or misbehaving.
  • Enforcement of school uniform policy gives kids something to focus their rebellious efforts on, which is better than what they might do otherwise.
I think those are both pretty great arguments, and I also am rather fond of Scottish school mottoes, so I'd like to keep them on the clothes, and I don't think I'm ever going to convince everyone that we should do away with school uniform altogether, so here's my compromise suggestion:

Some Chinese kids in their school uniform
Still blah, but at least it's practical.
Let's ditch the white/pale blue shirts and the polyester trousers/skirts, and get good, comfy, hard-wearing school clothes which the kids can actually do things in.  I'm thinking something like jogging bottoms, with a T-shirt and a hoodie.  Let's not have different things for boys and girls, because we don't need to.

It might make sense for older school pupils to dress more smartly, I don't know.  I can't imagine myself as a teenager being very impressed with being asked to wear jogging bottoms (I'd probably have looked like a telly-tubby), but then, I wasn't very impressed with wearing school uniform either.  I don't have teenagers (yet), so someone else can work that out for now.

So, what do you think?  Do you like school uniforms?  If you could totally re-invent them, what would they look like?  Did you wear school uniform when you were a kid?