Can we talk about school uniforms?

Can we talk about school uniforms?

If you’ve ever heard me in the school playground, you will already know my views on school uniform. If you haven’t, and as it is back to school, I am more than happy to share my thoughts with you too.

Now, before we start – I do believe in school uniform. I think it is nice to belong somewhere, to dress with pride and to have a uniform that means you don’t have to have the ‘today, I want to go dressed as a ballerina or an emo’ conversation each day. As an adult, I pretty much wear a uniform everyday as it saves me having to think in the mornings.

But, I have a massive problem with the uniforms our kids wear.

I understand the rationale – honestly, I do. I even helped write the uniform policy when I opened two new secondary schools. But the world has changed.

My issue with primary schools mostly focuses on what we put our girls in. I have two girls. They go to a primary school with a beautiful, traditional uniform. They look gorgeous – almost like a prep school in a made for tv movie. Is it practical? No. I watched this year as girls did the May Mile for charity in their plaid skirts and slip-on shoes clopping around the playground while the boys strode ahead in their decent shoes made for football and puddles. Ridiculous. I see so many skinned knees. Playgrounds hurt when you fall down onto bare legs. Tights are scratchy. Why are our kids not all in leggings or joggers? One of the best things my kid’s school did after lockdown was introduce a new tracksuit to wear on PE days. It is brilliant. The kids look smart. It is comfortable. It washes well. It doesn’t need ironing. And if you put it in the tumble dryer – all the pleats don’t fall out. The kids wear them with trainers. Genuinel,y no one pays any attention to what trainers they are wearing. The kids still have pride in their identity and their school. It is totally gender neutral and they can play football, do handstands or whatever else at break without any issues. Brilliant.

I work in secondary schools. My oldest is starting secondary school this September. Uniform is definitely a bigger deal at secondary school. Not only has it cost us significantly more than the primary uniform which could be bought in a supermarket, it isn’t comfortable or practical. It is basically the same uniform I wore to go to secondary school in the 90s. My daughter’s year group will benefit from the newly allowed trousers rule – but that Gary Linekar along with over 10,000 other people had to sign a petition started by girls from the school for trousers to be considered suggests we still have a way to go in how our girls dress for school.

If we have given up on wearing suits and ties to professional organisations, what exactly are we preparing our young people to do by wearing these clothes?

I loved the news that Putney High School had revoked their dress code for sixth form in an attempt to combat victim blaming following the death of Sarah Everard and fat shaming in light of the body positivity movement. What speaks volumes to me here is that the school has listened to their young people, taken their views seriously and empowered them to contribute to change as active citizens. Whether you think crop tops are appropriate for school or not, this surely must be celebrated?

We should be listening to our young people and the issues they feel passionately about. It seems a shame that we are asking our kids to wear uniforms that don’t take account of sustainability when they are becoming more conscious of the cost of clothing on our environment. It seems a shame that our school uniforms draw attention to gender when they could be easily neutral. It also seems a shame that school uniforms don’t take account of the sensory needs of different children. My oldest has spent the whole day in pyjamas in preparation for having to wear uncomfortable clothes for the rest of the week. I hate wearing things with waistbands. I absolutely understand why she feels like this. Many neurodivergent young people in our school find wearing a hoodie comforting and that it helps them to focus on their learning. School jumpers are scratchy. School trousers are hard. School shirts and ties are stiff and constricting.

Why are we still making life harder?

Lyndsay Macaulay
Lyndsay Macaulay

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