Do we still need school uniforms, or is it time to scrap them? Nell Walker explores their origins, and the arguments for and against uniforms
There has been a great deal of discussion in the news about whether school uniforms still have a place in modern educational institutions. There are a variety of arguments, for and against, with some of the most recent discussions focusing on the fact that uniforms tend to be gendered – something which can cause issues for pupils whose gender falls outside of the cis female/male binary. But when did school uniforms become commonplace? And why?
A BBC article exploring this very question pins the date down to 1552, when Christ’s Hospital in London introduced a uniform for the poor and/or fatherless children it cared for. The distinctive yellow socks and blue coat are still worn, hundreds of years later, thanks to the pupils voting to keep the colour scheme in 2010.
While other schools jumped on the bandwagon, it wasn’t until much more recently – in the 1920s – that uniforms came into play for girls. For boys, around the same time, shorts were worn for school until they reached a height that dictated they move onto long trousers. Blazers and caps were also worn at this time.
Later, in the 70s, many schools made their uniforms a little more casual with polo shirts and jumpers, while others maintained the neat shirts and blazers that many still wear today. Around 90% of schools in England have a uniform at the time of writing – despite the fact that it’s not a legal requirement; while the government recommends having a uniform, it’s up to individual governing bodies to choose.
One prevailing argument in favour is, simply, scholarly pride. A pupil wearing a uniform represents that school and its ethos, and pupils are expected to act a certain way, both in and outside of school, when wearing that uniform. Old-fashioned though it may seem, many people appreciate a smart school uniform as a way of portraying the school the child attends and any and all connotations of that.
A more tangible – and practical – reason for keeping school uniforms is that they, potentially, cut down on bullying. They eliminates inter-pupil judgement regarding personal clothing and style, particularly when combined with rules around bags and shoes with specific labels. At a time in their lives when image is everything, relationships can be fragile and, with children’s mental health a high-profile concern, having everybody wearing the same thing gives them one less thing to be concerned about.
With trans issues at the forefront of the public eye in a way they have never been before, there have been questions surrounding whether it’s responsible to force children to dress in a way that aligns with their biological sex. More and more schools have made the decision to create gender-neutral uniforms to avoid this, in response to pupil and parental concern – but this, too, has caused issues. In Sussex, Mountfield Road pupils rallied against a change in uniform which saw everybody wearing the same polo shirt, jumper and trousers, demanding that they should have the right to choose whether they wear trousers or a skirt, regardless of gender.
Uniforms can be restrictive – and expensive – when certain items have to be ordered from a specific place. Whether a school does the uniform ordering, or a local business does it on behalf of schools, the price and size ranges available are likely to be limited. It recently hit the news that a 14 year-old girl was sent home from school because her grey skirt wasn’t the kind the school demanded – but she wasn’t able to acquire an ‘official’ version due to her size. We’ve all seen stories of children being sent home – or even suspended – for something as simple as slightly incorrect shirts, skirts and trousers, which affects pupils’ education and can knock their self-confidence.
Cost is a major issue for parents, and something that the government has admitted needs to change, as families of disadvantaged pupils often struggle to pay the ongoing costs of school clothing. Many shops and supermarkets offer very reasonably priced school uniforms – but these are of no use to parents whose children’s schools insist on specific styles, or tops with school logos or mottos embroidered on them. ITV News recently reported that, on average, parents in the West Country will pay around £313 for a secondary school uniform and £200 for a primary one; this is a problem across the country and something that’s unavoidable for most parents.
What do you think? Should uniforms be scrapped? Have your say and tweet us: @edexec