For some schools, a uniform is representative of its heritage, reflecting traditional values and continuity of excellence. It can also help provide a sense of belonging, where there are students from a variety of cultures and backgrounds. For any school, uniform is an important way of communicating its brand.
Dame Allan’s Schools were founded in 1705. The uniform has undergone numerous changes over the years, but the original girls’ school uniform dresses remain (known as Pollybells after an 1877 photograph showing Polly Bell wearing the uniform). Girls wear modern versions of the Pollybells for special occasions, for example when the Queen visited the schools to celebrate their tercentenary in 2005. The senior school uniform changed in September 2015, around 50 years after the last change.
Dame Allan’s wanted the uniform to reflect the school’s structure as a ‘Diamond School’. This means a family of junior school and nursery, boys’ and girls’ senior schools and a sixth form. The school felt this structure could be represented through the use of colour. After 50 years without a change, current pupils had the chance to determine what they wore by being involved in the process. Supplied by leading supplier Schoolblazer, Dame Allan’s now has a cohesive uniform and dress code for all of the schools.
The new uniform is smart and professional looking, which the school says is beneficial to students. If students are dressed smartly, they are in the correct mindset to work hard at school and to behave appropriately. It also prepares them for the world of work, where many of them will be required to wear smart office wear. The uniform also instils a sense of pride in students as whenever they wear the uniform they are representing Dame Allan’s Schools and their demeanour has an impact on the schools’ reputation.
In the United Arab Emirates, Dubai English Speaking School and College (DESSC) made history in August 2015 when they opened their own on-site school uniform shops. The idea, inspired by principal Andrew Gibbs and specialist supplier Trutex, demonstrates the importance of uniform at DESSC. “We firmly believe that school uniform gives the young people at DESSC a sense of belonging to our community, a focus for the school day ahead and an overall feeling of pride and motivation to achieve their best,” Gibbs says.
The project took nine months of collaborative work with Trutex and was overseen by Gibbs personally, with operational management by his marketing manager Carmella Hunt, local Trutex sales manager Trish Lawlor and a parents’ consultative group.
“The key throughout was good communication and the commitment of all involved to achieve our high standard of objectives,” Gibbs explains. He admits that minor changes to garment stock sizing, including swimwear and school trousers, was necessary during term one, but that pre-launch preparations and determined collaborative communication ensured solutions to those issues were quickly identified and resolved: “Post-launch we still maintain a close working level of communications between shop and school.”
As a result of this approach, many of the normal problems associated with school uniforms were avoided. “Our collaborative approach, with parents, students and staff, meant that guidelines for uniform were followed by all. Conflict and confusion was minimised and everyone is clear about expectations and norms,” says Carmella Hunt.
Uniform quality is something that really matters to parents, particularly so in the Gulf climate. To ensure the right garments were chosen, the existing uniform underwent testing by Trutex to produce fabrics that are durable and comfortable as well as looking good. Trish Lawlor comments on the fact that DESSC is the oldest British school in Dubai: “Tradition is very important for DESSC and they were emphatic about the importance of maintaining the traditional appearance with modern textile quality and with a similar pricing structure.”
Having their own shops ensures that DESSC is able to manage the whole business of providing school uniform to nearly 2,000 students. A high level of positive feedback from parents convinces Gibbs that it was the right decision for his schools to run their own uniform shops. “Although the shops might be seen by some as an additional burden to place on DESSC, the reality is that we call the tune,” he says. “We know what we want, we know what the parents want and we can address issues speedily and with minimum misunderstanding.”
Lord Wandsworth College recently updated their uniform in line with a rebranding exercise. The new uniform matches the colours in their new logo (claret, gold and grey) to give the school a consistent profile. The school was also keen to improve the quality and appearance of uniform and sportswear, with more sophisticated and modern fabrics.
If students are dressed smartly, they are in the correct mindset to work hard at school and to behave appropriately
Prefects at Lord Wandsworth say the uniform sets the tone for the school and gives a more professional feel. They also claim it helps them to “get their school head on” and have a more focused attitude towards schoolwork. Lord Wandsworth is a foundation school – meaning that 10 percent of pupils come from disadvantaged backgrounds – and so the uniform relieves the pressure on pupils having to decide what to wear.
Headmaster Adam Williams says: “We are delighted with our new uniform, and so are our pupils and parents. It is distinctive, reflects our ethos and ‘brand’ and is much smarter than the previous one.”
The Falcons School for Boys understands that uniform is something to take pride in, even in the early years. Andrew Forbes, deputy head of pre-prep at the school, says: “Our school uniform is somewhat traditional and yet quite modern. We strive to instil a sense of pride in our boys through what they are wearing to school each day.
“Our PSHE co-coordinator recently had the insightful idea to change the name of his subject to ‘learning for life’ so our boys could understand exactly what they are learning and more importantly why they are learning it. This dovetails well with our school ethos and our whole school drive to instil British values into our children. Uniform in my opinion is at the core of all of these values and initiatives. We have a learning for life target every two weeks and a whole-school drive to achieve it. Uniform plays an important part in helping the boys, especially those in key stage one and EYFS to achieve many of their early learning goals, as well as teaching them many lifelong skills.
“When showing prospective parents around the school, our boys stand out, not only because of what they are doing, but also because of what they are wearing. Their school blazer is a prominent piece of clothing as it is used to showcase our school logo and all of our boys’ achievements. Often if you ask them about their accolades their little chests puff out with excitement, which in turn makes me realise how much the little things like school uniform really matter.”
Dame Allan’s Schools W: www.dameallans.co.uk
Lord Wandsworth College W: www.lordwandsworth.org
The Falcons School for Boys W: www.falconsboys.co.uk