When dress is rarely uniform

21st March 2008 at 00:00
The wisdom of Henry Walpole the primary school uniform is a relatively recent invention. In the 1970s, the only ubiquitous item of school clothing was the snorkel parka. Most primaries go for the coloured sweatshirt and grey trouser option. The advantage is that, unlike secondary uniforms, the sweatshirt is hard to wear rebelliously - unless you take it off and use it as a bandana.

If you are in a school with a sweatshirt, then you score extra points if it features a stick-figure logo drawn by a child. Schools often run internal competitions for these logos and then, when they all turn out to be crap, they have to be drawn by the head in the left-handed style she perfected when altering last year's Sats papers before posting them.

One school I worked at had a logo featuring a silhouette of different aged children under the school's banner. After listening to a marketing talk on "the power of 3", the headteacher had it redesigned. The logo then featured what was supposed to be two older children, with a younger pupil in the middle. Unfortunately, it looked like two adults leading a child by the hand, and the change had to be discreetly dropped.

Uniform can be an emotive issue. When I lived in the "muesli belt" of a large city, my daughter's new head foolishly suggested that his non-uniform-wearing school might be improved by a coloured sweatshirt. The reaction from parents was similar to the one he might have expected if he had suggested live bear-baiting contests at playtime. After a deluge of letters, protests and threats by parents to hang themselves from lamp-posts (using organic hemp rope only, obviously), he had to give up.

At the opposite end of the scale, independent schools love uniform. They issue massive kit lists to new parents. It might be simpler for them to send home a slip of paper with the typed words "please deposit 20 per cent of your income at your local uniform stockist". Some items redefine the word "unnecessary". When you read about the "school logo personalised gum shield carry case" you know you're in trouble.

Some of the more traditional schools like their children to dress as if it's still the 1800s. When in Windsor recently, I saw a schoolboy wearing a dress running along the high street. He might have been trying to get to school on time or perhaps he was late for his regular kicking by the townies at the bus stop.

All schools have regular mufti days when the pupils pay pound;1 to ask their teachers every five minutes whether it is free time. At one World History Day, some pissed-off parents sent their five-year-old dressed as Fidel Castro.

Mrs Walpole and I have already decided what our son is going to wear on the next non-uniform day. I don't want to give anything away, but he is one-quarter Iraqi. My wife has already started knitting the moustache.

More from Henry in a fortnight.

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