Why get in such a lather about school uniform?

School uniform may be a quaint British tradition, but Eddie White is not entirely convinced by arguments for scrapping it

Do we really need school uniforms in this day and age, asks Eddie White

Oh, I do love a good school uniform debate. I am guilty of stirring trouble in these professional dialogues, mainly as I genuinely don’t know which side I actually want to sit on, so I like to hear all the sides, from all the angles.

Then there's the view from overseas: uniform is such a terribly British concept, some would say. It's one of those quaint things some exchange students want to be part of in their trips to British schools.

The uniform revolters and the uniform remainers are both formidable groups. I love their professional dialogues and vigour, even if they never come to a conclusion.

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There are the usual arguments for defending school uniform, like “Look at what happens on dress-down days – the poorest kids are getting slagged off for having cheapo jeans!” The idea that poorer children need an affordable uniform option is certainly popular just now.

Should we have school uniforms?

Then, in jump the uniform revolters: “Uniform isn't needed in America/France/wherever!”; “Poor children don’t avoid school just because of a uniform!” And so on, and so on.

Who wouldn’t enjoy listening to these debates? Kids do indeed look splendid in their super-smart blazers – but they grow out of them twice a year. Twelve blazers per pupil, potentially, over their time at secondary school? It isn’t even the cost, it's the fact you often need to use the uniform provider directly, which can cause a huge amount of hassle. My daughter’s provider is a shop that doesn’t open on a Sunday, something I remember just as I park at the shop – on a Sunday, every time.

I suspect most teachers, regardless of their personal views, just want to know what the school uniform code is and follow it (unless the management don’t follow the code or back up a teacher who's following the code, as can happen).

Popular TV programmes, such as the recent Back in Time for Schoolhave explored the development of the uniform over the past 100 years (spoiler alert, not much changes from around 1970) and it still leaves me personally unswayed towards or against either camp.

Trying to trace the argument back, history does seem to place the concept of school uniform at the heart of English history: it was in 1222 that the Archbishop of Canterbury installed the cappa clausa, which was a form of clerical, robe-like uniform.

One thing is for sure, when I see a group of teenagers in their identical white trainers and identical ripped jeans, with their identical hoodies over their heads, I have to laugh – because their outfits (except the ripped jeans) have more than a passing resemblance to some form of monastic clothing. These monk-like teens are much closer to the uniforms of the 13th century than those who wear blazers in school.

Eddie White is a maths teacher in East Lothian

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