Thursday, 12 April 2012

Satchels, blazers and ties - what's the point of school uniform?

The fixation with school uniform is a mystery to me. Education secretary Michael Gove clearly believes blazers and ties are the key to success in schools while lots of commentators reckon uniform improves students’ behaviour, encourages loyalty and belonging and means pupils don’t compete to look cool. But as I’ve written in a previous blog, I don’t see why children can’t wear what they like – as long as it isn’t inappropriate, too revealing or covered in offensive slogans.

I vividly remember the dramatic moment when my daughter stopped wearing uniform and started wearing exactly what she wanted.

Just before her GCSEs, in a bid to mark the last school uniform day in style, she and her pals set about customising their outfits. Even Stella McCartney would have been impressed by their efforts.  Some girls accessorised their school clothes with fuchsia-coloured tights and towering platforms while others wore Ninja Turtle shells they’d constructed from cardboard.

My daughter made a typically bold decision. First she chopped up her navy school polo shirt, closely followed by the kick-pleat skirt she’d worn every day for five years. She then hit on the bright idea of sewing all the ripped-up bits of her uniform back together again and transforming them into a fetching halter-neck and hair-tie. With a final flourish, she painted shiny white stars all over her skirt and wore the whole outfit to her school’s traditional “muck-up” celebrations – the last uniform day before exams began.

When my son arrived home that night, he was far from impressed. He took one appalled look at his big sister and declared: “That’s the silliest school uniform I’ve ever seen...”

As I watched my daughter rip her school uniform to ribbons (it was falling to bits anyway), I couldn’t believe that 12 years had flown by since her first day at primary school. It seemed no time at all since she was excitedly setting out for her reception class in a grey pinafore, purple jumper and matching socks. At four, she was so proud of her old-fashioned leather satchel that she insisted on taking it everywhere she went – even on Saturdays and Sundays. It made a brief reappearance a couple of years ago when, thanks to Alexa Chung and Mulberry, satchels came back into fashion again. Now sadly, it’s been consigned to the depths of the cupboard once more.


  1. Although I can your reasons against a school uniform I'm looking forward to my girls having a school uniform. My daughter is 7 and is in her 4th year of school in France. There is no school uniform and it's now getting to the stage when there's arguments about what she's going to wear. There is also quite a rich/poor divide at the school and French kids are obsessed with labels. Not all the kids can afford to buy expensive clothes and they feel that pressure. School uniform means everyone is the same and they all know what they'll be wearing every day!! Teenagers are different though. Maybe it should be obligatory up to secondary school? I remember as a teenage folding my skirt up to a mini as soon as I got out of eye shot of our house! :)

    1. That sounds a nightmare, CGAH, especially if children feel pressure to wear certain labels. I suppose part of my feelings about school uniform are inspired by seeing secondary students in France. They always look so relaxed and chic in jeans, compared to our lot in stuffy blazers and ties.


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