IN one school last week, 400 students were given detention for breaking school rules, writes GP Taylor.
The crime they had committed was a minor infringement of a school uniform policy that had been changed over the holidays.
Parents were outraged and couldn’t understand the draconian punishments handed out to their children.
Every year we see the same stories in our newspapers. Headteachers and staff stand at the doors of secondary schools to enforce uniform regulations. Students are often put in isolation, parents are informed and draconian clothing policies are enforced.
It was many years ago when I was dragged from a school assembly, caned and excluded from school for a breach of uniform policy. It came at a time in my life where instead of making me fall into line and obey, I rebelled. School no longer had any interest for me. If they couldn’t cope with me as an individual, then I couldn’t be bothered to go back. The course of my education was changed because the deputy head didn’t like my haircut.
There are many arguments put forward to say that the wearing of a school uniform is a good thing. Much is based on anecdotal evidence and the desire of politicians to push a particular policy.
They equate the wearing of a uniform to better discipline a heightened sense of community and an equality of dress regardless of social class. Much propaganda is put forward that the wearing of a jacket and blazer somehow makes young people fit and prepared for an adult world. Be smart and succeed becomes the mantra of the governing classes.
Whether it was Ed Balls or Michael Gove, they both had the idea that uniforms were good for our children. Each encouraged headteachers to get tough on uniform in the vain hope that schools could heal the growing problems within our youth community. I do not agree.
Successive government policies, be it Labour or Conservative, advocate the wearing of branded clothes as a means of progressing education and behaviour. The Academy movement has been at the forefront of this as they try to rebrand failing schools in a different uniform.
They say that uniforms are a great economic leveller. In my experience, this was never the case. It was always easy to spot the kid from a poor family who couldn’t afford more than one shirt in a week or cheap shoes.
In many cases, this means that parents in the UK are paying in excess of £50m per year on branded clothes against high street brands. Schools are forcing families to buy premium priced clothes at an excess of High Street prices.
What concerns me the most is how much time is wasted on enforcing compliance? Students who breach uniform rules are often placed in isolation to the detriment of their ongoing education.
School staff are also wasted by having to look after pupils who have breached uniform code. I read of one girl in Yorkshire who was placed in isolation for having dyed hair. Her parents were told she would remain there until the ‘problem’ was sorted.
There is no real evidence to say that school uniforms improve behaviour. In fact, those rare schools that do not have a uniform policy often perform as well as – and in some cases – better than those that do. In my visits to schools, I always found that the catchment area of the school and the number of pupils was of greater influence than the clothes on their backs.
How many children are put off school for minor infringements of uniform? What effect does this unwarranted discipline have on our children?
Bullying does not disappear if you introduce a school uniform. Children are children regardless of what they are dressed in. Wearing a particular type of communal clothing doesn’t exempt kids from the pressures of school life.
It must never be forgotten that the primary function of a school is to enable its pupils to have the best possible education. They are not there to put children off the joy of learning because they are wearing the wrong shoes or a short tie.
GP Taylor is a writer and broadcaster and can be followed @GPTaylorauthor.