‘Support for uniform remains resolute’

David Burgess, chair of the Schoolwear Association, discusses why the traditional blazer and tie approach works, and why those looking to detract from school uniform often fail to consider its key benefits or the realities of not having a sensible uniform policy in place

Those that follow education news closely will likely be aware that, from September this year, Welsh state schools will legally have to consider new guidelines on school uniform that encourage more generic garments and gender-neutral options. Having said this, if schools can show they have considered the guidelines in relation to their existing uniform policy, there is nothing to force them to make any changes.

Of course, the development on gender-neutral uniform is welcome. A significant number of schools and retailers already have neutral garments available and it is important that, as long as the uniform is honoured and their school is represented, pupils should be able to wear garments in which they feel most comfortable, happy and accepted when they’re at school.

Although independent schools have autonomy on many aspects of school life, including uniform policy, there is no doubt that ideas and best practice are frequently shared between the independent and state sector. Trying to force schools down the route of compromising product quality and the characteristics of a uniform, however, could have far-reaching consequences – leaving them in a difficult position.

Generic policies that allow any blue jumper, for example, would result in a plethora of colours and styles, thus breaking down the whole premise of uniform. Cheaper uniform also often means lower quality and durability, which has the opposite effect than intended insofar as it ends up costing parents more in the long run.

A significant number of schools and retailers already have neutral garments available

Less durable uniform also poses wider challenges for society. In an era of fast-fashion and a throwaway culture, the importance of the quality of the clothes we all wear should be high on the agenda. A high-quality uniform made from durable materials makes absolute sense in this respect as it is worn every day, so is far more likely to withstand the rigours of school life, be handed down to siblings or other pupils, and, ultimately have less of an impact on the environment.

Regardless of discussions around costs and sustainability, the fact is that uniform remains popular with teachers, students and parents alike. For schools, a uniform creates a sense of pride and establishes the classroom as a ‘working environment’.

Any teacher familiar with non-uniform days can testify to the impact wearing uniform can have on concentration and behaviour.

As well as the impact on academic performance, a uniform is central to a school’s brand and image – upholding its reputation in the community as a respected institution, particularly important for independent schools facing competitive commercial pressures.

Sense of pride

This opinion is supported by Dr Julian Murphy, headmaster of Loughborough Amherst School.

Commenting on his experiences with uniform at his school, he explains: “Whether we like it or not, human beings are tribal. They respond positively to symbols such as flags, badges and uniforms, which give them a sense of pride, membership and identity.

“In my experience from pupil voice sessions, young people will often ask for modifications to their uniform and to the dress code in terms of comfort and convenience, but none of them ever want to get rid of uniform completely.”

Dr Murphy also points to the many leading minds, including Einstein, Steve Jobs and Barack Obama that had seven identical suits or outfits in their wardrobes because they didn’t want to waste energy deciding what to wear.

Feedback from students also reveals that many actually feel less stressed as a result of wearing a uniform as it gives them one less thing to worry about, at a time when pressure on young people is more evident than ever before.

Without the opportunity of pressure about the ‘correct’ brands or trends to wear, uniform has also been credited with instilling a sense of equality and reducing levels of bullying in schools.

In an era of fast-fashion and a throwaway culture, the importance of the quality of the clothes we all wear should be high on the agenda

Similarly, for busy parents a uniform can save time and money worrying about preparing clothes for the week – providing consistent, easily washable and durable garments to be worn day after day.

Designer brands that teenagers often want are not designed to withstand the wear and tear required from school, and may not last. With a quality uniform, parents benefit from the comfort of knowing that their children are suitably attired for school and therefore should have one less worry.

Although pupils are often criticised for flouting or ignoring uniform policies, the evidence certainly suggests that a uniform has a stronger impact in our schools than originally thought.

For parents, uniform offers a convenient and cost-effective option to clothe children for the majority of the year, while teachers appreciate the positive impact it has on behaviour and focus.

Most importantly, however, are the benefits offered to young people’s mental wellbeing, confidence and pride during a highly influential time of their lives.

For more information about the Schoolwear Association visit: https://schoolwearassociation.co.uk

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