In Defence Of School Uniform

The teenager in me is outraged at this appalling defection to the dark side! Traitor!

Back then, I considered my school, and other, uniform to be the dictatorial cage in which my individuality, character and creativity were locked away from breakfast to ‘Neighbours’.

The apt funereal colours in which we bemoaned our loss of personal choice and control, the necktie designed to restrain youthful freedom of expression at the collar, opaque tights or knee length socks met by below-the-knee hems to ensure no unsolicited revelations of even the least raunchy flash of the naked self. Bare, unpainted faces and no glinting embellishments to provide any cover to mask the truths that lay beneath the surface.

I can verify that the loathing and contempt were as strong in me and my peers then as they are in the pupils of today. Non-uniform days were then, as now, the anticipated event of the year. A rare opportunity to present oneself as one’s friends have dictated (generally a synchronicity of tops to complement a synchronicity of blue jeans!) It may have been just another uniformed presentation of the self but at least the teachers had no hand in its design!

Through my unfashionable adult eyes I now whole-heartedly champion the resurrection of the literal “uniform” of my not-so-long-gone day.

I say ‘literal’ since more than a passing glance reveals the actual lack of uniformity in the presentation of school attendees today. Poor quality, once-washed, immediately faded sweatshirts branded with a school logo, now act as a cover up for all manner of undergarments.

In place of the crisp, white, freshly laundered formal shirt there now lies a sludgy plethora of t-shirts, polo shirts, polar necks and miscellaneous others. Skirts of such variable lengths as to render some little more than a belt. Translucent, transparent, opaque or just plain non-existent tights, socks are far too kindergarten. As for trousers, it seems that ‘black’ itself now comes in a whole variety of shades. Not to mention hair colours and styles, make-up, shoes and the host of other inventive ‘accessories’.

‘Uniform’ is certainly something of a misnomer these days since by definition it cannot be a thing given to individual interpretation and preference.

I’m sure, by this point, you picture me a grumpy old woman with a blue rinse perm to match my battered old armchair and Dickensian views. Alas, I assure you that I am only just into my thirties and my own uniform wearing days ended little more than a decade ago.

But, in my working life, I am now the enforcer where once I was the enforced and, as such, recognise the usefulness of uniform in its purest, unadulterated form.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not about to suggest that its demise has been the root of all evil nor that its return would mysteriously redeem all transgressions but, I do think I can put forward a sound set of ponderings to help bolster the case for the defence.

Discipline & consistency:

Mine was a regular Comprehensive school where, despite the fact that the pupil count was higher than the number of flying ants on your patio in the Summer, it seemed no one ever got away with even the smallest amount of personal interpretation of the dress code.

Uniform meant uniform…always!

It was wisely and astutely used as an introduction to both self and external discipline and provided even the wettest of the wet teachers with a high-profile, yet risk free, means of exerting authority over pupils, one and all.

Guidelines were clear, the procedure simple and the reprimand for disobedience entirely expected, so much so that it almost became our test of them to enforce it.

Most importantly it made it easy for the staff to be totally consistent and ensured that no one felt any resentment or sense of injustice.

To my professional mind, consistency and discipline make the most wonderful bedfellows, rub them together a little and you spawn a rather well evolved result!

Freedom:

It is often little appreciated but uniformity offers freedom from choice and that can be surprisingly liberating. Not having to select appropriately coordinating items at 6.30am nor take responsibility for any fashion faux pas is a luxury I would give my right thumb to regain on most days of the week.

For many, it more poignantly offers freedom from the shackles of social and financial indicators. In my day, with such regimented guidelines we all looked the same and no one could tell whether any one particular plain, v-neck pullover, white collared shirt and plain skirt or trousers cost £5 or £55. There was no ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ and I now believe that that was the utmost liberation for several of my peers.

Accountability:

By and large we were wiser than to behave badly when out and about in our school uniform. Our amazing Headmaster was something of a human CCTV system in our little town and if we misbehaved wearing “his” uniform he would know about it and the matter would not be overlooked.

In much the same way that a uniformed police officer would be ill advised to engage in the art of shoplifting, we were under no illusion that our uniform made us recognisable and ultimately accountable. Our uniform was, as it should be, a badge of identification sufficient for cornering the culprit and dealing with them accordingly.

Rebellion:

In my humble opinion, the greatest argument in favour of a rigidly enforced uniform is the simple fact that it actually provides something totally harmless and inane against which pupils can safely attempt to rebel.

Much healthier and easier to be caught and disciplined for rolling your skirt at the waist, wearing your tie the thin way or sporting a stud in your left nostril than for snorting cocaine in the bike shed, throwing a chair through the maths class window or stabbing your teacher with a carving knife!

I am not misguided enough to suppose that a strict school uniform can prevent such serious teenage delinquency, I am merely suggesting that those with an initial appetite for a more minor rebellious dalliance could potentially find their appetite adequately sated and controlled by attempting to bend these strictest and most uncompromising of rules. If it were attention you were after, then attention you would get.

Appropriateness:

On a basic level the uniform is actually appropriate for its purpose. There is generally a good reason for wearing suits for a day at the office, jogging pants for a trip to the gym and overalls for a bout of DIY. It’s not just to look the part, there is also the need to feel the part too.

Aside from keeping the more expensive clothes in a wardrobe clean and tidy, it may be shocking to assert that a pupil is in a school for the purposes of learning. As such, one is generally a rather small fish in a rather large and overstocked pond and so it can be useful to learn that conformity sometimes takes precedence over individuality.

I just wonder if we are missing a very simple but useful opportunity to instil a little discipline and adherence to the rules by allowing pupils to present themselves in something that vaguely aligns with a dress code“

There’s no time to pick up on the big issues never mind such petty issues as make-up and skirt lengths!” I hear you shout in disbelief.

But I have a hunch that, those few minutes spent conveying consistency of approach on the small, easy issues might go some way towards preventing the big issues from becoming so big.