Educational Elixar

Iddir's Ideas and thoughts on all things Educational !

The problem with school uniforms.


There have always been discussions in the media  surrounding the wearing of school uniforms and for me the issue is one of contention. I am neither for nor against the wearing of uniform  but I do have strong feelings surrounding the issue. There are no legal documents that support school uniform and schools are free to develop their own policy on school uniform. This is true in both England and Scotland.  The department for Education (England) offers guidance which can be viewed here and Scotland offers guidance regarding developing policies here .

Just this month a headteacher in England sent a note home to parents that in my opinion was harsh and uncalled for. The comments surrounding the article varied and I will attempt to justify why I feel that she was in the wrong in sending a generic letter home to all pupils.

Firstly the letter states that she is thankful for the parents that have sent their children in to school “clean and ready to start the new week” >> Well thanks for that I am sure that those parents feel great knowing that you appreciate that…

I do not dispute the fact that these are important life skills to learn. You must be prepared for the day ahead by having a wash and putting on clean clothes and ultimately being presentable however the onslaught starts here two lines in …

“Children appear to be arriving at school in a pretty shocking state”… By whose standards is what I thought here… and if they appeared to be coming in in such a state surely there would have been prior indicators ?? And surely not the majority of children??  She then goes further stating that these children are “… dirty, unkempt and not in appropriate school uniform, if in any uniform at all.”  Again I would raise the question of why has it not been addressed prior to this and surely if a child was dirty and unkempt then a care and welfare form should have been actioned. She further suggests that the children have not showered in readiness for the school week. Perhaps they do not have enough hot water at home and have to wash at the basin? I am merely proposing options here.  The next attack is for the children not wearing black school shoes. This really struck a chord with me because a decent pair of leather shoes can set you back around £30 and perhaps this is not a luxury that parents can afford.

The next statement certainly annoyed me more than the rest of the letter , She states that “In a country where there is plentiful running water and washing machines, and shops like Tesco offering entire school uniforms for £10, it is a pretty poor indictment of the parenting skills of some of our families”

Let me address these points separately.

1. Yes this country is fortunate enough to have plentiful running water however that water needs heating and costs money. I propose that perhaps some families struggle to afford to heat the water as we are living in times of austerity and the choice between heating and eating is prevalent in today’s society . We only need to look at the increase in the foodbanks to realise that this is a real issue.

2. Washing machines. These are a luxury that again some people can not afford, they cost money to function and perhaps, for the fortunate that do own a washing machine, washing is only done on a weekly basis? Furthermore a washing machine costs in excess of £150 to buy plus £30 average delivery and if you want it installed that’s another £30. I propose that perhaps for some of the families that maybe, just maybe they had a machine but it has broken and they can not afford to fix it .

3. A full uniform for £10? This I can wholeheartedly say is simply not true. A pair of trousers or a skirt will set you back approximately £5 with a twin pack of shirts another £5 then there is a jumper or cardigan to buy which would be roughly another £5. Already we are at £15 and we have uniform for one day … Without buying shoes, vests, tights , socks, school bag , gym kit , gym shoes….

4. Poor indictment of parenting skills>> Now this is a fantastic way to build relationships with the parents. This implys that these parents are unfit to look after their own children and smats of superiority on the headteachers part.

The whole letter is a disgrace. It comes across as derogitary to parents and reeks of sarcasm that fails to be anything other than rude.

Let me set the context for my feelings.

First and foremost I am a mother of four.

Three of which are BOYS!!

If you are a fellow mother of boys then you will no doubt be able to relate to the following. Keeping them clean is no mean feat. My middle son(age 9), for example, needs a full change top to toe daily on account of the fact that  ” I just play football mum…” I am fortunate enough to have a washing machine and it is never off.  My youngest son  (7 years old) also needs a full change of clothes daily , the reasons for which still remain a bit of a mystery. It pleases me that there is so much creativity going on in his classroom, I wish however that he would manage to be creative perhaps on paper and not all over his clothes.  My oldest son (10 years old) manages to survive the intended two days until his trousers  need changed…phew.

Now this is where I can perhaps put forward my opinions. I have 15 pairs of trousers, 15 shirts/polo shirts, 9 jumpers. That is roughly around £160 of uniform. Three pairs of shoes @£30 each is another £90, reaching a total of £250 of essential uniform. Not including socks and underwear  but I am sure you see my point.

That is a whole lot of uniform !! I think it should be noted here that ironing day is a Sunday, so for those of you that may wish to comment, I am well aware that three each would be ample… granny dinned it into us that there is ” one for wearing , one for washing and one clean’ however, I have a full and busy university course and football training for the boys on a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. I also refuse point blank to do any ironing after 9 pm and between the football training , showers and bedtime stories it is always after 9 before I sit down.  Hence why so much uniform. Washing is done daily but ironing is strictly kept to a Sunday.

My oldest son regularly looks unkempt due to the fact that he has real issues with getting his hair cut. He has a diagnosis of ADHD and with that comes some sensory issues and as far as family time goes I would far rather spend time not arguing about the fact that he desperately needs a haircut and spend quality time with a happy long haired wee boy. This poses questions in itself however and I know that If he presented in my classroom I would most likely raise concerns over his appearance. I am very fortunate to have a good relationship with the school and they are well aware of his needs and as such his sometimes “unkempt ” look is overlooked. This is what I call sacrificing the unnecessary in order to have the necessary. In this instance a haircut for a happy wee boy.

I can see why people argue that all children should be in uniform. It looks nice to be all the same and ‘belong’ to a community but on the flip side are we just conforming and removing individuality? Perhaps it reduces the instances of bullying when Joe  comes to school dressed in designer wear and wee Jimmy has holes in his unbranded joggers.

The issue of uniform will always remain and there will always be discussions surrounding it. My point in addressing this issue was to try and put forward alternative scenarios. Teaching and education as a whole is a tricky business and as such we must all be aware and sensitive to any and all issues that arise. Perhaps below the surface there are a multitude of issues that the children need resolved and by confronting , shaming and humiliating parents over something as petty as clothes without addressing underlying issues serves to create an environment of hostility . One that is not conducive for learning and one that is certainly unlikely to be happy or safe for the children.

Below are several articles surrounding the uniform debate although it must be said that I struggled to find any from Scotland.

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