When I was a kid, we didn’t have much money. So when I started at secondary school, and they brought in a smart new green wool expensive blazer, I got to wear my sister’s old blue nylon one instead. Maybe this was an early example of the bigotry of low expectations, but at the time it just felt like a kindness. We used to do a bit of uniform personalisation. We would tuck our jumpers into our skirts (the Horror!), do weird knotty stuff with our ties, and cover our canvas satchels with slogans and designs.
Uniform is a peculiarly British love affair. I can imagine our friends on the Continent shrugging their shoulders at our choice of battlegrounds. The clothes we choose to wear help define us, so it’s weird that we ask all children to wear the same thing. There are lots of positives to uniform. For parents, it means that you know what your children are going to wear and that they look smart (if you like that kind of thing). For schools it gives an identity and a way of showing children what it means to ‘follow the rules’. For children, it is a common ground, a place where you don’t have to be different just because you can’t afford the right clothes. The best uniform pleases everyone. It is:
* Practical, hard wearing and washable;
* Good value and easy to get hold of;
* Colourful and comfy;
* Clear in its sense of identity;
* Used consistently;
* Enforced fairly but flexibly, as appropriate;
* Useful for creating a group identity, as in house colours;
* Open to an element of personalisation by the children (especially in helping design school badges if you get the chance);
* Only a small part of managing behaviour in classrooms.
The mistake comes if you get too obsessive with the details; when enforcing uniform becomes a method for ensuring control and conformity. Honestly, we don’t have to blot out every rainbow umbrella. We can let go of uniformity, and maybe even allow a bit of lateral thinking into our uniforms as well. And that way, we won’t forget that what we’re actually there for is learning.