To uniform or not to uniform, that is the question? by @TeacherToolkit

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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This post answers the 25th question from my TeacherToolkit Thinking page of Thunks.

With the start of the summer term upon us, and many schools that ‘have uniforms’ as school policy, most may contemplate a ‘summer-uniform, or at least allow student-councils to debate the issue, should the British climate decide to warm up! This particular post forms the 25th Thunk of my 100 educational-thunk series and follows a distinct composition that you will all be very familiar with… You can read them all here; or why not write your own and become one of my Guest-Thunkers for my blog.

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To uniform, or not to uniform, that is the question:

Whether ’tis better in the body to suffer,
The aches and pains of outrageous clothing,
Or to take protest against a myriad of variations.

And by opposing, punish them: to detain, to ridicule.
No more; and with a sanction, to say we end.
The despondency, and the thousand-or-so students,
That comply the rules to? ‘Tis an achievement.

“…and the thousand-or-so students, that comply the rules to? ‘Tis an achievement.”

Devout students wish. To die this abhorrent strap,
To rest, perchance to stupor; Aye, there’s the test,
For in that stupor of toil, what dreams may come,
When we have lurched off this mortal coil.

“…this mortal coil. …”

Must give us peace.

There’s the respect;
That makes catastrophe of long schooling:
For who would bear the polyester and cottons of time.

“…The teacher’s wrong, the proud student’s slurs…”

The teacher’s wrong, the proud student’s slurs,

The aches of repelled beauty, the conduct’s delay;
The insolence of student, and the don.
That child’s merit of the unqualified supplier,

When he himself might his receipt make,
With a bare hem; who would bear the fable?
To grunt and sweat under a sapped education,
But the dread of something after detention.

A meeting with the Principal

The undiscovered sanctions, from whose classroom,
No student returns, baffled the will;
And makes us rather bear those garments we have,
Than fly to others that we know not of.

Thus standards do not make cowards of us all,
And thus the shaded source of conduct,
Is poor o’er, with the fear of thinking,
And ventures of great courage and moment,

Not allowed
“…And makes us rather bear those garments we have…

With this regard their uniform turn uneven,
And lose the crest or motto. Calm you are now,
Thy fair uniform? Young, in education
Be all my wrongdoings remembered.

by the sentient mind of a quizzical Headteacher.

Written and posted by @TeacherToolkit

11 thoughts on “To uniform or not to uniform, that is the question? by @TeacherToolkit

  1. I have been teaching in Denmark for nearly five years. I cannot tell you how wonderful it is not to worry about caps, trainers and ties. The students wear whatever they want and there is no trouble. In the UK, if I did not police what my students were wearing in the first fifteen minutes, then the lesson was over. The students would misbehave as they would perceive me as weak. My colleagues would resent me if I did not notice an untucked shirt, as they felt I was undermining them. We even had a cap-confiscation competition, in one school.
    Even when the students come to school in very unbusinesslike attire (underwear visible, swearwords on tshirts, thick tights and short-shorts etc), my Danish colleagues say nothing. It is non-issue. And the lesson runs a million times better than it did back home.
    In the UK, baseball caps are like broken windows: if I will allow that, then what other rules are up for grabs?
    Though in Denmark, materialism is expressed in a different way and no one is destitute. I had a headteacher in London who refused to have mufti days because attendance would drop significantly (because young people were ashamed of their wardrobe.) I’m not sure what would become of children who have swallowed the message that the right brands mean everything but without the income to afford them.
    I think it would be better to have a dress code, like in middle class professions. Rather than a uniform, like for minimum wage jobs.

  2. I taught for seven years in a state comprehensive secondary school in Oxford where a Deputy Head (the story goes) had agreed to take over the headship temporarily but insisted that if he did so the school had to forego the uniform. The Governing Body must have agreed and when I joined the Deputy Head was still in place and the Head teacher was either back or a new one had been sourced.

    It was an absolute delight to work in this school, no longer did I have to ask for the shirt to be tucked in or the tie to be worn proper, decide on the age old debate of whether a shoe is a shoe or is it a trainer or even if the trousers were of the right type of material and style for school. Miss Sexy (-the label I hasten to add) has a lot to answer for!
    In my last school I actually once did a power point presentation for staff and we voted on whether a shoe was a shoe or a trainer. As a parent of a teenager it is difficult to decide sometimes and I am subjected to the familiar wail of “everyone else wears trainers Mum” on a regular basis.

    Anyway back to the debate of uniform or not – I much preferred the non uniform approach , we did have a code which meant that students could not wear t-shirts with rude words on, or badges which advertised drugs etc. It was rarely an issue and the students themselves settled into a uniform of jeans and t-shirt or sweatshirt happily. It rarely caused problems with regards students who are less financially well off either.

    This school has always been a good one and is ranked as Outstanding by Ofsted today. Exam results were good and relationships between staff and student were certainly great in my day. It enabled teachers to focus on the classroom and achievements.

    1. Uniform all the time for me, both as a Mum and as a teacher. To be honest, I think of this as a Southern debate as I didnt know there were schools without uniform until I went to teaching training college and my fellow “southern” students had no idea how to help pupil do their ties or tie shoe laces. My children’s schools don’t make high demands on uniform, it can be M and S or Matalan as long as it correct colour etc and I don’t think we have to be “precious” over whether a shoe is a trainer or not. I also thought there had been a lot of debate on uniform and how “own clothes” results in bullying, poor attendance, and poor discipline. I think it would be really difficult in the fashion consious city where i live not to be under pressure to try and keep up. I know friends who recall not turning up to after school events such as football matches because they didn’t have the right clothes but in their uniform no-one knew quite how poor, or in one case how strict his parents were.
      This to me sounds like a discussion for 6th formers or Nursery aged pupils but for the rest, the debate needs to go back into the 1980s were it belongs

      1. “I also thought there had been a lot of debate on uniform and how “own clothes” results in bullying, poor attendance, and poor discipline.”
        And you think this doesn’t happen in schools with uniform? You mention yourself the disparity between M&S and Matalan, and the kids know it equally well!

        I’m always confused by this debate, since most of the proponents of uniform bring up arguments to which my response is always the same: Why are the vast majority of the world’s countries not in complete decline then, given that very few have our penchant for such things.

        I happen to like uniform, but I have no pretence that it achieves anything other than give an appearance of smartness and a tool with which to maintain order.

  3. Uniform every time for me too. Non uniform days can be so devisive when those that have the latest trainers or jeans ridicule those that haven’t, I have worked in a school where trainers were labelled by the price paid for them, “one-tens”. A uniform is a real leveller. Leave enough room for the students to express their personality, polo shirts and sweatshirts avoid the need for continuously chasing up shirts being tucked in and top buttons done up.
    Like the previous contributor I feel that this debate is no longer valid

    1. The non-uniform day comparison is erroneous. The novelty is the complicating factor there. I find that kids are a nuisance with new stationery each September, but no-one suggests standardizing it!
      I went to a secondary school with no uniform and the result was largely a self-imposed uniform of jeans and sweaters, just like you see all round the world!

  4. I loathed uniform as a child, hate putting my children in it and can’t be doing with it as a teacher. It is utterly crazy to my mind to send a little girl to school 8 days after her 4th birthday into an environment that is supposed to be focused on child centred learning trussed up like some office worker from the 1950s. A tie. Why? It’s just another thing to lose. The obsession with top buttons being done up, even though it’s desperately uncomfortable. The carping about the wrong shade of maroon for her cardigan. Worst of all, the insistence that the children wear a black coat. Does this not fly in face of all reason? Why on earth would I choose to buy a black coat for my children to walk to school in the dark? Is it not way more sensible for children’s coats to be brightly coloured so that they can be seen? And what business is it of the school’s anyway what my children wear to and from school? Only black hair bands. I wonder whether women in prison have more freedom in how they dress their hair? But my children aren’t prisoners, they are learners, working out how to express their personalities, their opinions, their way in the world. Uniform to me smacks of controlling children. And I don’t think that’s what schools should be about. My children go to a state primary; it’s an excellent school, with a dynamic, committed headmistress who I have a lot of time for. In fact, the only thing I don’t like about the school is the wretched uniform! Yes it looks ‘smart’ but then again my boys roll around on the field very day and when I pick them up thy look like extras from Oliver Twist!

  5. Secondary schools – Uniform, uniform, uniform all the way. Wearing own clothes is a nightmare for girls and leaves yet another thing for them to be bitchy about. I preferred the tied up hair rules from my school days too. Fewer nits!

  6. I was forced into a uniform when I got to secondary school, I hated every moment I had to wear it. I went through 5 years of feeling like I was walking around in someone else’s exoskeleton and at times finding it very disorienting to the extent that I sometimes struggled to work out which of the clones was me, I had more than a few really difficult episodes. Please get rid of this ridiculous, archaic, homogenising and pointless requirement. It was a constant frustration that the staff did not have to wear a uniform – why were we victimised and not them? Were we inferior, unable to exist in normal clothes? What advantage was there? 40 years later I still have not heard a cogent argument that justifies their use. They do not look smart they look stupid, they demean children just at an age when individual identity becomes important.

    1. The main business of schools is learning. Do uniforms have a positive or negative impact on learning? Is anyone able to make reference to credible research to allow evidence based decision making?

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