The head teacher of Bradford’s Hanson Academy recently caused a stir when she, rather militantly, forced a total of 248 students over a week to be sent home due to her crackdown on unruly uniform. Whilst her decisions can be understood, this incident highlights the stringent and too often outdated attitudes towards school uniform in this country.
Diane Hickey, a parent of a pupil who attends Hanson Academy highlighted the problem of school uniform, by stating: “I’m a single parent. I can’t afford a new pair of shoes.” Far too often school uniform prices are extortionate, especially during secondary school; whereby sport and extra-curricular activities can add to the burden of many hard-pressed families.
Many argue that bursaries are there to help such families, yet in the bureaucratic mess that our education system can sometimes fall into, many families can be overlooked. There is no real link between free school meals and eligibility for uniform concessions; so it should be of no surprise that for some parents it’s a choice between ensuring their child having a daily lunch, or having durable shoes. Hidden poverty in schools is a depressing trend in 21st century Britain, amplified by nonchalant attitudes towards the cost of living crisis for the hardest working families in Britain.
“It should be of no surprise that for some parents it’s a choice between ensuring their child having a daily lunch, or having durable shoes.”
Some may argue that school uniform provides discipline and evenness, ensuring that the child is ‘prepared’ for future employability. This argument does have its merits, but no one is naïve enough to argue that uniform is a mandatory requirement for all forms of employment. It is easily forgotten that the epoch of university does not require uniform (can you imagine the horror trying to find your uniform for a 9am). True discipline comes from being able to decide the correct clothing to wear, not from the decision being made for you.
The maxim that ‘rules are rules’ highlights a wider cultural problem of inflexibility within our educational system. Of course rules should be followed, it’s the definition of the very word, but why should they exist so rigidly? We all know of a fellow peer who would always have trouble with fixing their tie, yet would go on to become a brilliant artist, designer or scientist.
“True discipline comes from being able to decide the correct clothing to wear, not from the decision being made for you.”
Nations such as the Netherlands, Portugal, and, to a lesser degree, the USA, have no such rigidity; and yet the most recent PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) tables rank the Netherlands 15 places higher than the UK. Thus, it is very difficult to establish a coherent link between ‘academic’ success and strictly enforcing school uniform.
We need far greater flexibility in our system, even if it would be too damaging to our school system to suddenly allow school uniform to be non-compulsory. One cannot deny that school uniform provides an ethos, identity and unity to a school, something which is indeed important towards the wider wellbeing of the community.
Yet, more non-uniform days and tackling our educational culture of rigidity can help develop our children’s sense of independence. We need to stop being afraid of this.
Image courtesy of the BBC