07 January 2022

Pastoral Blog: The School Uniform Debate

Pastoral Blog: The School Uniform Debate

One of the things which strikes potential parents, students and employees when they visit EIC is that we have no uniform. Our youngest students are in Year 9 and, even at this age, we allow them to come to college in clothing of their choice. We don’t even have a formal dress code, although we would of course draw the line at clothing which had offensive slogans on it (funnily enough though, we have never actually had to deal with this issue).

Most schools do have a uniform, at least for those students who are in the GCSE years and below, and the arguments for uniform are very well known…uniforms prevent bullying, encourage team spirit and lead to improved behaviour. But are these arguments really true in all cases? I certainly don’t think that school uniform should be banned, as one of the joys of the independent sector is the increased choice given to students and their parents. However, I do think that it is important for schools to step back and question the way things have always been done from time to time. If your school has a uniform, why? Is there a positive advantage to this, or is it just because this is the way things have always been done?

EIC is the first school I have worked in without a uniform, and I have seen many benefits.

Uniform is just one extra difficulty for students to comply with, and this is especially true for those students with SEND. Many of our students have joined us from large state schools, with uniform having been a real bone of contention in their previous setting. Often the student would be pulled up about their uniform as soon as they walk through the school gate, setting off a cycle of negativity which persists through the day. At EIC, no student has to wear something tight around their neck, and they can avoid sweaty, constrictive materials. They can wear t-shirts in the winter or jumpers in the summer if they like (and some of our students with sensory issues do). Those students with anxiety disorders or ASD can put their hood up if they want to. And, as can be seen at EIC, it makes absolutely no difference to learning! Behaviour in the college is excellent, attainment is high, and conflict between students and their teachers is extremely rare - just as rare, in fact, as in the more traditional private schools I have previously worked in. I would argue that the lack of uniform means that our teachers can focus on the important things, like learning, rather than spending time every day haggling about skirt length. And, as a pastoral leader, such conversations really can take a lot of time out of the working day.

Wearing clothing of their choice also means that students can express themselves. A student of any gender can wear trousers or a dress, as they please. Having blue hair never prevented anyone from learning, as can be seen by the wide array of creative self-expression in our universities. As for the arguments that uniform prevents bullying because “all of the students look the same”... if that really was true, I would be the strongest defender of uniform around. However, it just isn’t the case. Preventing bullying is all about teaching students to be kind and tolerant, exposing them to classrooms filled with a diverse range of people so they can learn that people have more commonalities than differences. And, at EIC, they certainly get this. At the comprehensive I attended when I was a student, we knew fine well who had well-off parents and who didn’t, despite wearing a uniform. Well-heeled students had brand-new Pringle jumpers in the school colour every term, and everyone else had itchy jumpers from the local clothes shop which we wore until they went bobbly. Having a uniform provides a temptation for schools to think they have somehow managed to mask the differences in parental income when, in reality, they have not. It is surely far better to teach students that people of all income levels are equally valuable and deserve the same opportunities, rather than pretending that such differences don’t exist.

So, I would argue that we should be spending less time worrying about whether a “knee length-skirt” means one that hits the top of the knee or the bottom of it, and more time teaching. And, as well as teaching our subjects, the teaching we do should include teaching students about the value of individuality, tolerance, self-expression and kindness, and that someone’s worth as human beings has nothing to do with their attire.

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