Saturday, 11 September 2010


Yesterday I watched some girls come out of school looking like the fantasy of your average middle aged man. The word slappers sprung to mind.

Skirts just below the top of their legs, fish net tights, half open blouses, ties half undone, lipstick, makeup, chewing gum, open mouths. (OK, it may seem that this was an in-depth study, but I was walking up the road when they were coming out of school and walking down the road. There were hundreds of them and I was making a study with this post in mind.) I WAS Niko!!!

The boys were unremarkable. Yes, they tend to wear trainers with their black trousers (maybe because their parents can’t afford shoes and trainers at the same time), but apart from untidy ties they looked fine. Scruffy of course, but boys always look scruffy by 4 pm. Sad lad indeed that went home smart!

I’ve long wondered why we put kids in uniform. Does it improve academic achievement? Is it affordable? Is it good for discipline? Is it widespread? What about design? Would a more modern/casual approach in conjunction with pupils be better?

Across the world there are varying attitudes to uniform. The more authoritarian regimes of course demand uniforms and strict ones too: Burma, North Korea and China. Australia and NZ have informal uniforms : polo shirts, trousers or skirts. Some countries, like Brazil favour jeans and a school polo shirt. And of course some have no uniforms, America, Canada, near neighbours in Europe, Russia and the Scandinavian countries.

Most seem to achieve a relatively high standard of education. However it is hard to say if this is affected by uniform or not. For example regardless of apparel in North Korea you would be expected to be quiet and studious at school. The alternative might be your parents being sent to a correction camp!!

Subrosa’s interesting article on the subject includes her answer to me about a poor parent who was driven into debt trying to keep her daughter in the fashion items that other girls wore. But, in the middle 80s the cost of a Harris Academy blazer was £50! Lord knows what they cost now. And besides uniform there’s the latest phones, ipods, laptops and dongles. A pencil case and a protractor no longer meet the needs! And they need the fashion statement clothes anyway for after school. Why buy the blazer on top?

I’ve done a little bit of teaching in my time: in schools, college, university, and training companies. In none of the places where I taught was there any kind of uniform.... and some of my students were the toughest guys in town. Only once have I ever had a problem with discipline.

There were teachers in my school, where strict uniform was worn, who spent the whole lesson in chaos. Rubbish teachers! If you want to improve discipline, make your lessons more interesting. With a bit of effort you can.

Of course you can say that they have a strict old fashioned uniform policy at Eton, or Benenden and their discipline is nearly perfect and almost everyone goes up to Oxbridge, but then that may be attributable to many other factors, don’t you think?

I see no point in making children’s lives any more difficult than they are. Teenage years in particular are fraught. Uniforms which are uncomfortable and unfashionable, as well as an additional expense to people with not enough money seem to me as likely to be counterproductive as advantageous to achieving a good education.

I wonder what you guys think... and why?


  1. Ah Tris, you can buy a blazer in any shop in Dundee for less than £25 for a teenager and sew the badge on yourself. You don't need to buy a blazer with the braid for any Dundee school but they do like the badge to be visible.

    I'm listened to endless debates about uniform. For me it makes all children equal regardless of a poor or rich background. It also shows children that rules must be obeyed. Imagine if some of them wanted to join the ambulance service or even a building society. They all wear uniforms and that's because the organisations they work for believe in pride in their staff and to identify the organisations with that.

    I've seen far too much distress caused to children from poorer backgrounds when they've been unable to wear designer clothing like their richer peers. It's cruel.

    Yes, in some countries uniform isn't required although many schools in Norway and Sweden do insist upon uniforms and have no problems with compliance because the children are proud to say which school they attend. Also it saves the parents a great deal of expense and hassle in the long run.

    Does it teach them discipline? Well it certainly taught me to respect my clothing. When I came in from work I always changed. Then again, I imposed my own uniform on myself I suppose because I always wore a suit. That was my business attire. I never wore a suit outwith work and I still wouldn't dream of wearing one. It belonged to a specific area of my life.

    We've relaxed uniform in many ways because primary children only require to wear a school sweatshirt and trousers/skirt. Older children will do anything to attempt to break rules - that's their aim in life at that age - but they have to learn to abide by most of them.

    Tescos now sell school uniforms for any age from £15. You're a bit like me and stuck in the dark ages. :)

  2. I take on board your arguments SR... And thank you for taking the time to write such a detailed post.

    I still think that the child who goes to school in the uniform from Tescos will be placed in a certain financial category; the child whose parents can afford a decent uniform will be placed above him/her, and the child who's parents can only afford to go to Poundsavers or whatever, will be placed below.

    The mobile phone, ipod, bag, camera, laptop, hairstyle, quality of shoes, what they eat for lunch, etc, will still make the rich kid stand out and be a source of embarrassment to the poor kid.

    Of course some people will require wearing a uniform at work; police, forces, security, and supermarket staff, but few men will be required to wear a tie, and even fewer women. Why does this anachronism still pertain?

    Dress is changing. It always does, sometimes it becomes more and sometimes less formal. A few years ago a woman would only have been allowed to wear trousers if she was in an informal situation. The idea of going to work in trousers was out of the question. A friend of mine was sent home to change into a skirt in a snow storm by C&A management only 20 years ago, when she started on their post graduate training scheme. Once upon a time it would have been almost indecent for a middle class man to appear without a tie; even at the weekend a cravat would be worn. Now the First Minister appears on tv without a tie.

    I can’t help thinking that like so much else that is destructive in Britain class rears its ugly unpleasant head.

    I think if we are going to have uniform, and my preference is to follow our continental neighbours and America and not have one, it should definitely reflect the times in which we live.

    And I still maintain that a good teacher can keep a class spellbound with a good lesson almost regardless of what any of them is wearing.

    Ooops... blazers must have come down in price! I'm sorry my prices are so out of date!

  3. German schoolchildren wear uniform Tris, although the kindergarten can wear 'day clothes' covered with a pinafore.

    I think most sensible parents these days would buy the cheapest uniform they can, mainly because children grow so quickly.

    It's nothing to do with the teacher's ability to hold discipline, it's to do with the child learning that in certain situations in life everyone is equal.

    If you read the link on my post you'd see most parents supported the Head's desire for uniform. It was the parents' choice. Shouldn't they have a say?

    Out of the 160 who 'broke' the rule I'm sure they were children trying it on and many would have received a tongue lashing when they arrived home.

  4. Oh no SR, I'm not saying that parents shouldn't have a say, but you have to be very careful about going along with what parents want. That applied to the parents of two different schools will produce two different results. And not just in the matter of uniforms. Unfortunately parents aren’t always the models of rectitude we would want them to be.

    A friend of mine who teaches (female, a male would never dare do this), instructed a girl to remove the lurid green nail polish she was wearing, in accordance with school rules. She was confronted the next day with a gaggle of mothers at the school gates. They were aggressively pointing out that their girls wore that to go out at night, and they couldn’t afford to provide them with enough to take it off every night and replace it the next night. Strange mothers perhaps allowing their kids to wear nail varnish at 14, but parents are strange. I wonder what kind of parent allows, no, probably encourages, their pre teen children to die their hair, have it cut in a teen style and wear teen style clothing.

    But of course the girls try it on, as you say. Any child psychologist would agree with that. It’s a part of growing up, and an important one. The lessons they are taught at that stage are, as you quite rightly pointed out, life forming. My question is, in the 21st century, is it necessary to teach them discipline by making them wear clothes that they hate. Could we not make the uniform more child friendly?

    The girls I saw were trying it on. Of course technically they had obeyed their rules. They were wearing black skirts, white shirts and the school tie. They had simply shortened the skirt, opened the blouse a bit lower and rearranged the tie to look more...erm feminine. They may, or may not, know that this is a provocative look.

    I think that that's one of the problems for the girls. What they have to wear looks so UNfeminine. It is a masculine top (shirt and tie) covering chests which are becoming or have become feminine. Unfortunately, in the process they made themselves look like schoolgirl sluts which is a huge turn on for guys over the age of 25. Maybe the idea of shirts and ties for women was supposed to defeminise them (as Muslim women’s dress is) in order to stop boys’ eyes alighting on them when they should be studying the declination of Latin nouns! Hasn’t worked, in fact, just the opposite.

    I do wonder what parents are doing allowing their daughters to go out like that. They surely must be putting themselves in danger.

    The boys aren't abusing the uniform nearly as much. From "Just William" and before I imagine, lads have always loosened their tie which is hot an uncomfortable round their Adam ’s apple, and they lay footie, run around and look scruffy by the end of the day (well, by the time they arrive at school).

    Unfortunately, like most things in life, I can see the problem but I can’t see the solution.

    Who would actually want to be in charge of these things?

  5. Could I suggest Orange boilersuits for all as they are recession proof, available for hand me downs and can be decorated with different patches to hide the worn holes. flipantly of course.

    There are arguements for both sides on this so will sit this one out.

  6. I'm sitting on the fence on this issue and it's not easy with a mini-skirt on, I can tell you! When I went to school the girls used to wear so many layers of clothing that it was difficult to tell the girls from the boys. That's my story and I'm sticking to it!

  7. He he CH... orange would go down well, and badly, in Dundee depending on the team you support.

    I totally agree that there are arguments on both side though. That's why it's an interesting subject.

  8. Aye brownlie, Niko told me about that. He said that you thought he was a girl at one point... with disastrous consequences....

    He shouldn't have had that perm....

  9. Wear a unform, it is what civilised people do when at school. And if some refuse to wear it properly, belt them or kane them - whatever hurts more. I take fearcely Teddy Taylor view on school discipline!

  10. Dean.

    Interesting take from a young person. I would have expected that opinion from someone older.

    Can I ask you to explain why...?

    Aren't French people or Canadians or Americans civilised?

    What good does this do?

    I seem to recall that Teddy Taylor was a friend of Mrs Thatcher’s?

    Presumably he believes in corporal punishment. Personally I don't on the basis that you most certainly wouldn't be allowed to do it to an adult. It would be assault. So I'm not sure why you should be allowed to do it to a child.

    Secondly I reckon that you are probably telling a child that when you are displeased about something, the best thing to do is to hot the other person with a belt or a cane.

    That's maybe not a good thing, particularly when, if you then see them fighting in the playground you tell them off for it. Mixed messages to formative minds.

    No wonder in the 21st century we still fight wars to get what we want.

  11. some 'young' people are born auld curmudgeons. Little Hague's ;)

    Of course the problem is that for almost all state schools, uniform policy is a halfway house. Black this, white that, etc...
    You need to have a no uniform policy and concnetrate on education, or have an explicit uniform (like public shools) - these exact trousers/skirt, this f***ing blazer, and enfore it constantly and universally. State schools can't do it. They simply couldn't be permitted to issue the required number of exclusions they would quickly arrive at.
    As for belting & caning, they better be sure they can take it back before they dish it out to me or mine.
    I've got three kids in education just now, and I dream of the day the schools apply as much effort in engaging my kids educationally as they do bitching about uniform.
    I always wondered why that was, now I'm seeing the pressure from the telegraph/mail axis - LOL.

    Didn't we just have a thread on this very blog where we were all very serious about the very real problems in modern education in Scotland, and here we are now. Uniform. Please.

  12. Subrosa said -
    "Older children will do anything to attempt to break rules"

    I couldn't disagree more.
    I think that the things you think of as 'rules' (and how very important they are!) are of very little consequence to 'older children', that's simply a conceit amongst a subset of adults that makes them feel like the have any meaningful impact or say in the world experienced by the generations following them.
    'Respect my clothing'! FFS!
    'Rules must be obeyed' No. Rules must be examined, and if reasonable properly observed. Otherwise they ought to be challenged, and changed. What sort of people do you want to come out of schools, who obey simply because there are rules?!

  13. I tend to agree Dundee, that uniform should either be enforced or abandoned. The half way house thing is daft. If it has any merit in making lads concentrate on lessons rather than shapely forms in front of them, then I guess the current Morgan crop are failing dismally to be fit for purpose.

    “...I dream of the day the schools apply as much effort in engaging my kids educationally as they do bitching about uniform”

    Absolutely. I think well planned, well taught interesting lessons are what should engage teachers’ efforts. Form filling is for administrators and clerks... and worrying about what people are wearing is, in my opinion, beneath the intellectual dignity of a teacher.

    I can’t see why people find it impossible to take a class with them. If you study something to Higher level yourself; if you then read it at uni and did a PGD to learn how to teach it, then you MUST have enthusiasm for it. Surely communicating that enthusiasm can’t be that difficult.

    I taught French for a short time. In my opinion it is a beautiful language. I love speaking it. That was the premise on which I built all my classes... This language is a joy to speak... listen ... hear it... love it and you can speak it too... And it worked.

  14. Wow Dean if you go any further to the right you'll meet yourself on the other side. Corporal punishment isn't that against human rights you'll be wanting Turkey to join the EU next, oops seen your already doing that I am so slow.

  15. Dundee:

    I think older kids do like to challenge the rules, particularly about things they see no reason for.

    But most people accept restrictions imposed on them if they can see a reason for it.

    If I go to a building site then I accept that the foreman has the authority to tell me to wear a hard hat because it’s sensible.

    But if someone tells me I have to wear a tie to get into a certain restaurant, I think “why what for”? Does the sight of my throat offend other diners? Does my girlfriend’s neck not also do that? Or is it just a snobby thing that means you can add 50% to the bill?

    If I were, certainly an older kid, I would baulk at the uniform. I’d ask why I had to wear it. If the answer was...well, it’s the rules... I’d think that the teacher was an idiot. If (s)he said, it’s to instil discipline, I’d wonder how on earth discipline was to be instilled by the wearing of uncomfortable clothes?

    In short, I can’t see a good reason for wearing a uniform, and if the best a teacher can do is to tell me....
    discipline (rubbish ...discipline is about respect, or fear... not about a uniform),
    collegiate spirit (yeuch), sense of pride in school (yeuch double plus),
    certain parents can’t afford cool gear so you all have to have uncool gear to come to school (right, we all know who the poor kids are; their uniforms are tatty, hand me downs, so where’s the saving of face? And they don’t have notebooks, or ipads, or Niké running shoes for PE, and their mum’s don’t collect them in 4 x 4s or Mercs, and they live on the estate and they don’t go to the Med for their holidays... etc),
    Instils a since of pride in appearance (are you kidding? I spend 20 minutes getting my hair right and moisturising...and that;s just the lads)

    People will always disrespect rules for which they see no purpose and for which no one can explain a purpose that is credible. We adults do; why wouldn’t kids?

    I don’t understand Dean’s attitude, but he’s certainly entitled to it.

    I’d just like to understand the reasoning behind it.

  16. LOL Cynical... Im surprised at Dean. He's very often to the left of mainstream Tory philosophy.

    I wondner if he'd had a few glasses of chablis when he wrote that?

  17. We all have stretched the rules to see how far we can go no matter our age as its about learning and working within the reasonable contraints as I am doing here. I grew up when we didn't get long trousers until we went to the big school and at primary after walking over a mile with a football I would often be there on my tod. Big school meant torn knees on my grey flannels and my blazer/goalpost was not pristine as I had my priorities right, mum didnt agree but still stiched the patches on and helped pick out the ingrained gravel from the flesh.

  18. Dean: letting the cosy Toryism slip there a bit, to reveal the Thatcherite just below the surface!

    I'm begining to think that you are a Tory Dean i.e. a throwback to pre-1834. Its not Harold MacMillan that you want its Sir Robert Peel!

  19. You just sound like a regular little boy CH.

    That’s what blazers were and are for: goalposts and blankets for sick animals found in the field on the way home... well mine invariably were.

    Is anyone else having a bother with Blogger?

  20. I'm still waiting for Dean to elaborate Munguin. I’m sure there’s an explanation, and I’m better that alcohol is involved!

  21. Never grew up tris and still climb trees, re blogger got a 503 earlier and thought snob. g'night.

  22. Tris/Munguin,

    To begin, I do support corporal punishment, and Turkish membership to the EU - to clear things up on that score.

    Next, I am an economic leftie and social rightie - exactly like MacMillan. No Thatcherism there.

    To deal with why uniform is so vital, it is mainly surrounding the fact that education must, nae - has to be - about preparing the younger[i.e my] generation for the world of work, and real life. In work people must adhere to a dress code, better teach them this at schooling age.

    I, at my schools, always had uniforms. They served an educational purpose over and above merely preparing them for work though. They remove the petty fights over 'what you wear', making parents lives easier. No fashion parade, more learning. Good, honest to God learning.

    Additionally, it means the poorer among those at school do not need to worry about lacking the latest trend. All are gloriously EQUAL.

    And if it takes belting a few to give them upright character, so be it.

    p.s I have only had a couple of sherry tonight with the fellow chaps.

  23. Best way CH... yeah? me too, several times, once when I had foolishly typed a long answer directly into blogger GRRRR.

    503...? I always wonder what that means!!

    g'night mate.

  24. Thank you for your explanation Dean... The sherries with the chaps were to yur taste I trust.

    Well, I have already answered your points in my answers to Subrosa, who agrees with you plus ou moins so I wont rehearse them here...LOL, if you are that interested in what I think you can read back. I hope you didn't get caned, or strapped too often. I've even heard that lads can get to like it!!! Specially when matron does it!

    G'night Dean old matey...

  25. tris -
    "I think older kids do like to challenge the rules, particularly about things they see no reason for.

    But most people accept restrictions imposed on them if they can see a reason for it. "

    I agree, up to a point. The thing is that if you can show it is important - then the 'rule' can usually be explained and reasoned about. When you have the halfway house, its fundamental irrelevance is understood - and kids will accept the woolly restrictions and then try to find their own expression within it. Then the reactionary, capricious and arbitrary enforcement kicks in and you're left with the school destroying its relationship with pupils for a 'rule' it couldn't be bothered properly defining let alone enforce.

    I think we agree it has to be all or nothing - either would have my 100% support.

    Re: rule breaking in general - I accept some kids do like to challenge the rules at times, but i think it's frequently overplayed by adults who just can't accept that the things we put in place and hold so important are of so little consequence to kids (particularly as large social groups) that they trample all over them barely noticing.

    I work in jeans & tshirt (sometimes a shirt over the top), I've been to meetings with senior folk from multinationals in global level industries, as well as world class academics. Not once has my attire been an issue, they frequently dress similarly - they care about substance in the real world. If more formal dress is ever required i'd have no hesitation wearing it, needs must and all that. I also worked in a job for nearly a decade that absolutely required uniform too - my school days weren't the thing that enabled me to accept it - the conditions of employment were sufficient, duh!

    But the idea that we need kids to get used to being forced to wear a uniform simply to 'prepare them for the real world' is worthy of outright ridicule.

  26. Dundee: As I've already come to expect, your comment above is chalk full of solid common sense.

    I guess it has to be the head or principle who decides whether there will be a uniform or not. Both pupils and parents change every year.

    I’d prefer there not to be uniform, but certainly, I’m with you that if there is one it should be rigorously enforced. I just don’t see why the uniform can’t be something more user friendly.

    Not wearing a tie isn’t going to spell the end of humanity!

  27. I know this entry was posted a while ago, but I thought that the views of someone from across the pond (who has never worn a uniform) might interest you.
    To me, a school uniform would have been a welcome change. Although we had the occasional kid who would dress semi-formally, usually the attire of the Canadian schoolchild was rather dismal. There was one boy in my grade 10 English class who often wore a suit and tie, and he was teased about it.
    More common would be the girl in fishnets and a micro mini with a ripped sweater that had the word "FUCK" printed with a Sharpie on the front. Or the boy who wore ragged jeans so low on his hips that they exposed his Futurama boxers, and a t-shirt with the slogan, "Don't Trust Squirrels, They'll Steal Your Nuts". A uniform would have given us some semblance of decency.
    In addition, school clothing is very much linked to school pride. A kid who wears his school colours every day has a much closer sense of camraderie than one who doesn't even own a shirt with the school's logo on it.
    I think uniforms are a great idea, and I hope someday my country embraces them.

  28. Thanks for your contribution Anon.

    I personally prefer a middle line. A uniform, but one that meets some basic criteria.

    It should be pupil or student friendly: that means they shouldn't hate it.

    It should be decent. If I want to see boxers, I can look at my own. If I want to see fishnet tights and frilly knickers I can go to a whore.

    It should be easy to look after. White shirts aren't practical for a busy housewife/husband.

    It shouldn't be expensive. Some people can't afford to be buying 5 expensive shirts, and two pairs of expensive trousers.

    There should be some options within it. eg polo shirts or shirts, in the same colour, sweat shirts or pullovers. Kids aren't in the military.

    Thanks again for your contribution. It is indeed always interesting to hear another point of view.

  29. My own four children always preferred to wear school uniform, for several reasons. It saved them having to decide what to wear every morning. It made them feel equal to all the other children. It gave them a sense of identity with and pride in their school community. It was easy to launder and required no ironing.

    Of course, the school enforced the appropriate wearing of uniform, and not to the detriment of the children's education. Skirts were no shorter than the top of the knee-cap, waist-bands were, strangely, at the waist. Shirts were buttoned and ties tightened enough to be tidy but not to the point of strangulation. No one complained about discomfort, lack of fashion sense, or sex appeal.

    When my American stepdaughter moved to the UK she quickly grasped the concept of school uniform. In her US elementary, middle, and high schools children regularly wore pyjamas. That's when they didn't get out of bed in time to dress in low, strappy tops and low-rise mini-skirts, or the male equivalent - baggy hoodies and enormous, draqging, backside-revealing, frayed trousers.

    Stepdaughter loved the fact that she didn't have to worry about the preppy girls in their designers clothes, or the specific colour-code of gang members. And she loved that everyone's physical development wasn't on display. And she believed that the children's attitude was better and more respectful because they didn't have to live up to a self-imposed or peer-imposed dress-code.