There are pros and cons of school uniforms which keep the uniform debate going strong. Whether you are for or against school uniforms the reality is, most of the schools in the UK have a uniform policy.
For independent schools, you could say uniform is an even bigger part of school life with most, if not all, having a school-specific uniform that reflects the institution’s history, status and ethos.
Pros of school uniforms
1. Uniform prepares students for work
School uniform can prepare young people for formal attire associated with the world of work.
Russell Slatford, headmaster of Bournemouth Collegiate School, says: “Our job as educators is to provide young people with the skills and important experiences necessary to flourish in adulthood and for many of those who pass through our schools, part of life after school will involve a uniform or some form of formal dress code.
“The synergy between a formal attire and the importance of being in the workplace is valuable and should not underestimated. Schools help to reinforce that relationship, in my opinion.”
2. Uniform gives students an identity
Many young people feel proud of their school when wearing their uniform. Slatford continues: “I like school uniform, perhaps that makes me a traditionalist, but I hope that’s seen as a good thing. I have always felt that by having a uniform you provide pupils with something that they can and should be proud of – an identity, being part of a community and shared set of values.”
3. Uniform marks something special
Uniform provides much-needed differentiation between school and home. Slatford says: “I like that a uniform is different from wearing normal clothes, it marks something important in the same way perhaps that you might dress up to go to a special event. If we value education, making it special in this way, marking its importance is to me not only a sensible approach but also an important one.”
4. Uniform discourages value being put on looks
Uniform allows pupils to concentrate on their school work and socialising, rather than worrying about how they look compared to their peers.
“How many times do we advocate that it is about what’s within that makes the difference? My school has a uniform, but it is full of special, talented and wonderfully unique individuals. A uniform gives them a shared identity within their very individual experiences and lives. This balance is a good thing and should not be diluted or the importance lessened,” says Slatford.
5. Uniform positively affects pupils’ behaviour
Another one of the pros of school uniforms was discovered in a report into attitudes to uniform, which found that 9 in 10 teachers believe that school uniform positively affects pupils’ behaviour.
Cons of school uniforms
1. School uniforms can be expensive
The costs of school uniform can build up with separate summer, winter and sportswear kits. If the school has a single-supplier contract, it may also mean there aren’t any cheaper alternatives available. A 2015 DfE report on the cost of school uniform found the average total expenditure on school uniform for the 2014/15 school year was £212.88.
It is possible to get free school uniforms for low income families and the council can help parents get help with school uniform costs. It is also advised to talk to the school directly, especially with independent schools which are independently run. Help may be available, but it is up to the individual school.
David Burgess, chair of the Schoolwear Association, says: “Our advice for parents is to look for quality, with specialist uniform offering better value having been designed and manufactured to be worn and washed extensively.
“We encourage schools to adopt a sensible uniform policy with a mix of school-specific items with logos, which give the school its identity, and more generic garments that are widely available and give plenty of choice for parents.”
2. School uniform might attract criminals
An article in Vogue revealed that one of the disadvantages of schools uniforms in independent schools, especially from a high fee school, is that it can make students vulnerable to criminals.
Naomi Pike wrote about her friend’s experience: “Besides the fact she was the benefactor of a total scholarship, the school strip placed her as part of this elite environment and saw her become the victim of mugging after school one evening.”
3. School uniforms can restrict individuality
Former independent school headteacher Bernard Trafford wrote in TES that students trying to adhere to strict uniform policies can mean the restriction of their own individuality. He highlighted the example of a boy told to cut his hair in order to join a grammar school.
Trafford writes: “How does the simple idea of wanting kids in school to look broadly similar and smart and to identify with their particular institution become the source of such bitter conflict?”
4. Uniforms do not mean better grades
There isn’t any evidence that demonstrates that uniform improves achievement in schools, especially in the UK. In America, a study found that there is little evidence that uniforms have lasting impacts on achievement or grade retention.
Where to get school uniform supplies
Some of the most widely used suppliers of uniform in the independent school sector include Schoolblazer, Stevensons, Perry Uniform and David Luke Schoolwear.
They provide a direct wholesale supply service which allows buyers to deal with one company rather than many suppliers. They can supply garments in bulk to schools at wholesale prices, which is good for schools that have their own school shop.
The best school uniform
The best school uniform is one that allows students to represent their institution, whilst feeling comfortable and confident. While there are reasons on both sides of the argument, and everyone has different experiences of uniform, it seems likely that uniform is here to stay.
What is likely to change, however, are the guidelines, especially in regard to what girls and boys can wear as we move further into the 21st century. Brighton College has a ‘trouser uniform’ and ‘skirt uniform’ available to all pupils, and schools in Wales were recently encouraged to make all uniforms gender-neutral.