No Shoes Is Good News

Reading time: 3

John Dabell

I trained as a primary school teacher 25 years ago, starting my career in London and then I taught in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs, I worked as an Ofsted inspector (no hate mail please!), national in-service provider, project...
Read more about John Dabell

Would you allow pupils to wear slippers in class?

A primary school in Derbyshire hit the headlines last week after it allowed its pupils to wear slippers in class. Your first reaction might be, “What?! I’ve heard it all now!”, but it’s more commonplace than you might think. A number of other schools around England have a shoeless policy and the practice in Scandinavia is quite normal.

Lots of schools are now trying it, so should you go shoeless too?

It Works

For more than a decade, Professor Stephen Heppell from Bournemouth University has studied the topic of a shoeless learning spaces in 25 countries. His research found that there was a “complex mix of significant gains”, including:

  • behaviour is significantly calmer whilst children circulate
  • bullying is reduced
  • circulation noise is reduced substantially
  • carpets are much cleaner and more hygienic
  • wear and tear on furniture is reduced
  • children are much more willing to sit on floors and soft furnishings and are much more likely to read and engage with their iPads, laptops
  • cleaner floors and less furniture creates more space for collaboration, presentation, role play etc
  • teachers do not end up in conflict about the “right kind” of shoes.

The research suggests that not wearing school shoes leads to better engagement, better learning, better behaviour, less stress and cheaper maintenance.

Slippery Slope? 

Shoeless learning might sound like a gimmick, but it does genuinely have a positive impact on learning and behaviour. Schools have reported that children  feel more at home, they relax more and feel more comfortable when they don’t have to wear shoes. Therefore, are more willing to engage in learning activities. It makes sense too, especially when we step into the shoes of a pupil and experience school as they see it.

Professor Heppell states,

“The key to attainment is engagement, and if children want to be there and enjoy being there, universally they do better. When they arrive late and leave early and are disengaged, their performance suffers. Kids with shoes on are less engaged than those without shoes.”

“In shoeless schools children also arrive earlier and leave later, which translates into half an hour of extra learning a day on average.” Noise is definitely lessened in a shoeless environment which is interesting, especially as the Centre For Internet Research found, “The most frequently mentioned word in the classroom, according to our research, is quiet.”

The research is also very encouraging from a behaviour point of view. Heppell found; “It seems to be difficult to be a bully with your shoes off.” Take a look at this video to find out more about how going shoe-less works.


Pull Your Socks Up!

If you want to go shoeless, Professor Heppell recommends that a few details need to be considered before implementation:

  • going shoeless has to apply to everyone – teachers, headteachers, guests, caretakers
  • you will need to give guests notice that you operate a shoes-off policy
  • give notice so children are prepared and they don’t wear socks with holes in them
  • clean the floors on the weekend before
  • you need a place for the shoes so they are not piled on top of each other in a shoe mountain outside class.

A shoe less policy doesn’t’ have to mean no shoes at all. Some schools have shoe-less zones and there are of course health and safety limitations such as workshop areas, toilets and moving between buildings and going outdoors.  You might think that these practicalities will make going shoe-less a non-starter, but schools work around these and make it work.

The psychology of the sock and psychology of the slipper are more powerful than we might imagine. It might just be time to introduce a no-shoe policy where you are to give children the best possible chance of doing well in school.  From Bangkok to Tromso, smart schools are seeing results because children feel different and introducing a shoeless policy is far from a backward step.

Do you know a school that has a shoe-less policy? Shoe-less learning isn’t for everyone but leading academics have called on teachers to implement the policy nationwide. Shoe-lessness could become the cultural norm. Why not try it out in your school and see?

John Dabell writes for Teacher Toolkit

12 thoughts on “No Shoes Is Good News

  1. How long before we see CPD offered in how to improve your results by taking shoes off?
    If Labour had still been in power would we have “National Shoe Taking Off Strategy”. 5 minute starter on taking shoes off, taking shoes off, 5 minute plenary on how the shoe taking off went.
    The next OFSTED rule book is likely to have a warning that you cannot get “outstanding” if the children keep their shoes on.
    KPIs for headteachers on % taking off shoes and 3 monthly report to governing body.
    Academy Chains will be outsourcing slipper purchase to the company of the CEO’s live-in partner.
    Pupil Premium children will be given free slippers to improve social mobility.
    Parents will be suing schools where their children stand on sharp objects in bare feet.

    In 5 years time will this be viewed in the same way as Brain Training and Learning Styles?

    I yearn for the time when we have dumped wacky professors who have to justify their existence with 10 year!!! research projects into slipper wearing.
    I yearn for the time when teachers don’t have to introduce some tabloid published codswallop.
    I yearn for the time when teachers can just teach things to children because they enjoy teaching things to children.

    1. Well, not sure about the “wacky” – I’ll a little too boring for that, sadly, and as ever the newspapers give a slightly off-kilter view of the work we have actually done – the shoeless thing is just a tiny corner of it all. And like you I hate the imposition of KPIs and “must-do to be outstanding” diktat.

      But the shoeless thing does seem to work and everyone is understandably dubious until they try, then, for many but certainly not for all, is seems to sway their judgement in favour. There is a bit of a summary page at
      and it contains rather less hyperbole that the newspaper coverage. Have a look and, believe me, if I got a research grant for 10 years it would not be to study shoeless feet…


      1. Hi Stephen, thank you so much for reading/replying. Have seen lots of response from primary teachers (UK) and secondary teachers (Japan, but not UK). Clearly teachers and students are calmer. Provoking ideas. Will check your site. Thanks, Ross.

  2. We wore slippers in class in rural Scotland in the 1960s and 1970s! I can’t say I remember whether it was beneficial or not. There was no such thing as wet play either as you were expected to dress for the weather.

  3. I started this with my previous class 2 years ago in Lincolnshire. Children managed the change sensibly and worked well in their slippers. I took my shoes off and wore slippers too. I felt much more relaxed and comfortable and children said they felt the same. I don’t think this is a gimmick. Children are young developing people not office workers or adults and benefit from TLC if this nature.

  4. We’re currently trialling it in our Year 6 class (it certainly helped in creating a calm and relaxed atmosphere for test week last week). So far so good!

  5. How interesting! I am currently studying to be an elementary teacher in the US and have never experienced this or even heard about it. It seems like it would make quite a bit of sense though. We are all naturally more relaxed and responsive when we are comfortable, and allowing students to go shoeless could certainly add to this comfort. I would be extremely interested in giving this a try in my future classrooms. Especially since it has been shown to increase a student’s level of engagement and willingness to curl up and read!

  6. My Year One pupils love having the option of taking their shoes off in the classroom, and so do I! It makes us all happy – and that can only be good!

  7. We’re interested in doing this but I’ve been asked to seek out storage solutions for shoes/slippers – any ideas?

    1. If I am in a classroom where the children have a permanent seat, their shoes just live under their chair. In my current classroom I have flexible seating so the children neatly line their shoes up along the back wall. My children wear their socks in the classroom (which is carpeted) and we have a few sets of Crocs that they slip on if they need to go to the bathroom. These Crocs are just left neatly near the door.

  8. I am a preschool teacher (ages 2-5) in Berkeley, CA, USA. Children at our school always have the option to wear shoes or have bare feet, inside and outside. Most children will chose to have barefeet most of the time; they enter school and the first thing they do is gleefully pull off their shoes and put them in their locker. I can understand why. Young feet, and as a result, body posture, develop more healthily if the feet have their free range of motion and are used! Our feet receive a lot of sensory input and if they are actually touching the floor, grass, wood, cement etc., we learn more about the world around us. Children absorb information about the world naturally through their whole bodies, so why not let them use their whole bodies?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.