Rules too tight for comfort;Talkback;Features amp; Arts

5th November 1999 at 00:00
Uniforms have a point but it's taken too far, says pupil Katharine Frazer-Barnes.

The idea of school uniforms is to help create an atmosphere of equality between workmates. but are some schools getting carried away with what pupils can and can't wear?

When I moved up to secondary school, I was thrilled at the prospect of wearing a bright yellow shirt and a blazer which had the consistency of cardboard. I couldn't understand why some of the older students were so determined not to wear them; I was young, I was awe-struck, I was 11-years-old.

So here I am, in Year 11, with my GCSEs looming, and I've turned into one of those typical 15-year-olds whom I couldn't understand when I started here.

Just the other day I was chastised for the "amount of metal" I was wearing on my fingers, and a couple of weeks back a friend, who had dyed the tips of her hair red, was told to remove the colour or she'd get into trouble. I thought her hair looked wicked, but I wasn't going to argue with the head of year.

Back in my young, awe-struck days, I was under the impression that school uniform consisted of clothes alone: now I find that it dictates how many earrings you can wear, what colour your hair is, what footwear you can wear - even how your shirts should be worn.

Uniform has created many a fun game for us older students; one of the most popular is "try to get into assembly without getting pulled over for incorrect uniform". The idea is to avoid the watchful gaze of the prefects and staff while maintaining a sense of individual style. Some of us manage to pull it off, others end up in trouble. I have managed to avoid trouble so far.

I can see the point of uniform - in the clothes sense at least. Health and safety issues hold great importance in any school. A student who is working a fretsaw with massive clumps of metal hanging from her ears is a danger to herself.

And as staff keep telling us, it stops any feelings of inadequacy if you're not wearing the right clothes. But this is not a strong enough argument for making uniform compulsory; after all, there are so many ways to wear uniform, who says that you won't get ridiculed by the way you wear it?

Uniform is basically common sense. There is a place for it: if you're working machinery you don't want things to get caught. And if you're studying food technology, a grubby leather jacket is not hygenic.

But why are there rules on, for example, hair colour? As far as I know, (although the scientists may want to put me straight) dying your hair has absolutely no effect on your brain power.

And then there's uniform-induced bullying.

My younger school days were filled with fear at the prospect of an encounter with any of the pupils from neighbouring schools who when they saw anyone in a yellow shirt used to intimidate and in some, sadly not so rare, cases cause them harm. I was once pushed into the road by such bullies and for months afterwards hid inside a big pink duffel coat.

I suppose that experience and various incidents that have happened to friends have made me think quite hard about uniform. Consequently I've been strongly "anti" since the middle of Year 8. Uniform has caused me far more problems than I thought any sort of code ever would. And in addition, whatever happened to freedom of expression?

And, if you want to talk to me about this article, I'll be the one with the orange hair, bejewelled fingers and unlaced Doc Martens. See you in detention.

Katharine Frazer-Barnes is a pupil at Watford Grammar School for Girls, Hertfordshire.

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