School uniforms have existed for centuries. It’s thought Christ Hospital School in London was the first school to use a school uniform in 1552, but the idea of a standard academic dress goes all the way back to 1222 when the then Archbishop of Canterbury ordered the wearing of the cappa clausa.
It may not be quite so regimented these days as it once was, but uniform is still the norm in the majority of UK schools. The Department for Education allows schools to set their own uniform policy, but its guidance says it ‘strongly encourages schools to have a uniform as it can play a valuable role in contributing to the ethos of a school and setting an appropriate tone’.
Those who support school uniforms say they’re a social leveler and encourage a sense of belonging.
But critics argue that uniforms are out-of-date, restrictive and repressive.
Yahoo spoke to parenting bloggers on both sides of the fence for our latest ‘Talking Point’ debate:
Francesca says: ‘School uniform is easier, cheaper, stops endless debate about ‘what to wear’; and prevents school turning into a catwalk. It prepares kids for later life where they may have to adhere to a particular dress code or, shock horror, actually have to wear a uniform for their job.’
‘Anything that helps parents out has got to be a good thing. I for one do not have time in the morning for a one-hour debate about why a tutu and crop top isn’t a good/practical choice for a day at school.’
‘A few staple items washed every week and repeat. No having to wear a different outfit every day as you can’t be seen in the same clothes twice within a month. It takes the pressure off parents.’
‘A lot of kids like to show off especially when it comes to clothes and fashion. There will always be the children with the latest designer trainers who are sporting straight from Milan trends. This will no doubt make some other children feel bad. Yeah, that’s life.
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‘However, with a uniform it limits this to outside of school and they can focus on actually learning instead of worrying about whether their clothes look last season or whether they’ve worn the same top a few times.’
Uniform doesn’t just make children easily recognisable as from a particular school – helpful in terms of safety as well as behaviour – but promotes a sense of belonging and can be worn as a badge of pride, says Francesca.
‘If your children are a member of any of a number of youth groups such as Brownies, Cadets or Cubs there’ll almost always be a uniform involved. If they are a nurse, a pilot, a chef, a surgeon, in the army etc in later life they’ll have to wear one, so what’s the big deal about wearing one for school?
’It stifles creativity and ability to make their own choices? Rubbish.
’They have as much time as they like to express themselves through their clothing out of school. Clothes are only one part of someone’s identity. School children can certainly express themselves in other ways as well. Wearing a uniform doesn’t suddenly turn them into a clone.’
Francesca de Franco is the founder of The Parent Social, a site for sharing all things parenting.
Han-Son says: ‘Flat caps, big shoulder pads, briefcases, waistcoats – just some of the items that have been consigned to the annuls of history when it comes to workwear in the 21st century, yet why do we still insist on dressing our kids in the outfits that were made for a different time. We need to ask ourselves – What purpose does it serve now?
‘One of the major arguments those pro-uniformers make is the benefit it provides for our children by helping encourage discipline. But the same case was made for work uniforms not so long ago. Now we know better.
‘If we’re more comfortable at work, we’re more productive. The modern workplace has begun to recognise this absolute truth, and look at the most exciting and high growth businesses of today (and future employers of our children) – are any of these companies enforcing a uniform? No.
‘They know, wisely, that an employee who can be themselves, and express themselves will, ultimately, be a much more productive team player. It’s time we adapt modern day thinking in our schools too.’
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In Han-Son’s view, the UK’s education system is becoming more and more ‘practical skills based’ to fit with the employment needs of tomorrow, yet by continuing to enforce uniforms he thinks ‘we’re actively saying that we want to encourage and grow the type of person who has to ‘look’ the same everyday to ‘fit in.’ There’s something rather hypocritical there surely!’
‘If we look at the very best performing schools in the world there’s a clear picture there as well. Finland’s schools top the international league tables, yet do not have school uniforms. The UK Government have outlined their desire to create the sort of performance that matches our Scandinavian neighbours, and focussing our teachers on creating great learning rather than great consistent looking pupils may be a much better focus.
‘Life with children is expensive,’ says Han-Son. ‘The Wall Street Journal predicts it costs, on average, $300,000 to raise a child up to the age of 18 (not including college!).
‘At a time where more and more families are living pay cheque to pay cheque, can we really expect them to keep forking out upwards of £100+ per child to wear something of such little value? Retailers in recent years have developed cheaper own label ranges, but for some schools who demand a precise type of uniform these are sadly out of the reach.
‘I recognise while having no rules can open a can of worms into other areas of self expression (tattoos, piercings etc), I think to enforce specific uniforms just doesn’t fit in with our children’s needs today.
‘However I believe there is a case for agreeing the right dress-code and thus the right principles which help set your children up for future success.’
Han-Son is the Editor of ‘Daddilife‘, where he aims to ‘help regular guys become superhero dads’