Private school pupils vote for tradition and uniformity

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The Independent Online

The yellow socks were first introduced to ward off the rats when the school was in its original home.

They are not strictly necessary now the school, Christ's Hospital, has moved from the City of London to comparatively palatial surroundings in Horsham, West Sussex.

However, its present-day pupils have voted overwhelmingly in favour of keeping them and the rest of their school's Tudor-era uniform, which consists of a long, dark-blue belted coat, co-ordinated knee breeches and white neck bands.

"I wasn't entirely sure about it when I first came here," said sixth-former Phoebe Hames, who was one of the 95 per cent in favour of no change. "It is a uniform you can't adapt, though, and so everybody looks the same."

No chance, therefore, for anyone slyly to slip in some more fashionable clothing to score points off their fellow pupils. She added: "It is incredibly warm, too. You can take off your jackets during summer."

For ceremonial occasions, such as the Lord Mayor's banquet, the girls are allowed to wear a floor-length black skirt but during the school day and other outings, the school uniform must be worn.

Jack Ferrell, also aged 18, added: "I'd never heard of the uniform before I came here. You wear it seven days a week for services at the weekend and lessons. There's quite an advantage in that we're all wearing it and we all look the same. You can't have a laugh at somebody wearing it when you're wearing it yourself."

In the poll, the pupils also overwhelmingly "strongly agreed" or "agreed" that the school should preserve its history, heritage and traditions. The school was founded in 1552 when Edward VI granted its first Royal Charter. It was originally established to educate needy boys from the City of London.

It relocated to its present West Sussex country home in 1902. More than 90 per cent of its pupils receive help with their fees, with the vast majority paying less than 10 per cent of the cost of their education , and one in six paying nothing at all. It is estimated that 25 per cent of its pupils would qualify for free school meals – compared with a national average of 14 per cent.

Past pupils include Sir Barnes Wallis, who masterminded the "bouncing" bombs which destroyed the Mohne and Eder dams in the famous "Dambusters" raid in the Second World War, and the former MCC cricketer Dennis (D.R.W) Silk.

Its headmaster, John Franklin, welcomed the pupils' decision. "We were delighted to see that there is continuing support for our unique uniform and long-standing traditions," he said. "It is clear, like past generations of pupils, they regard the uniform with a sense of pride and see it as a positive element for unity and identity."

The result of the poll will be music to the ears of Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education. In his education White Paper, published last month, he called for a return to the days of school uniforms and the house system to promote more pride by pupils in their schools.

Although the White Paper specified a return to to the days of the school blazer, he is hardly likely to quibble about that in the case of Christ's Hospital.

In fact, there has been a return to school uniform policies – particularly amongst the new flagship academies in the past decade, with many schools citing the fact it gives them a sense of identity and stops children from better-off homes showing off more fashionable attire.

Of course, Christ's Hospital is not alone in having a distinctive, if dated, school uniform. Pupils at Eton College still wear wing collars and there has been no move for a pupil vote there to change it.

Fancy dress

There are other English private schools whose pupils stand out in a crowd

Eton College Boys wear a tailcoat and wing collar. The tailcoat was created as befitting 19th-century gentlemen.

Hill House A preparatory school in west London attended by Prince Charles. Pupils wear burgundy knickerbockers, yellow jumpers and cravats. "A grey uniform produces grey boys," said Beatrice Townsend, wife of the school's founder, Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Townsend.

Chelsea Garden House Girls' School Pupils wear a tweed coat in a fetching shade of aquamarine with velvet beret.

Westminster School Insists pupils wear grey business suits to prepare for the world of work. They have, though, been known to rebel with untucked shirt-tails.

Marlborough College and Rugby School Both try to spare female pupils from lascivious glances by insisting girls keep their ankles covered by wearning floor-length skirts.