Why do pupils love being tied to a school uniform?

5th October 2018 at 00:00

When I was growing up in the 1980s, going to Westhill Academy would have been my idea of heaven. The Aberdeenshire school had a no-school-uniform policy, ideal for me: I could barely make it into the school grounds without being told to take the band badges off my lapels, do up my tie or wear a blazer.

I was not alone in my disdain for this symbol of subjugation – I had classmates who burned the hated uniform on the last day of school. But today, when my children come in from school, they have to be persuaded to change.

Meanwhile, the 2018 pupils of Westhill have decided to introduce their own school uniform for the first time.

What’s changed in the intervening decades? Westhill Academy head Alison Reid believes the pupils wanted to create an “identity” for themselves.

I wonder if this is a desire for an identity beyond being recognised as part of a school – a yearning for a wider sense of belonging to something bigger than yourself in an age of unprecedented turmoil.

Today, it is the adults who are challenging the norm. Boris Johnson, David Davis and Michael Gove stood out at the summer cabinet Brexit talks for not wearing ties. Just as teenagers used to rebel against the grown-ups by breaking sartorial rules, maybe this generation is indulging in a smarter rebellion.

Gordon Cairns is a teacher of English in Scotland

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