Being Modern: School uniforms
Sunday 04 September 2011
Admittedly it feels like just a week since we were all utterly unsurprised by yet more record GCSE results. But already it's back-to-school time. Which, for 85 per cent of parents, according to the recent Cost of a Child survey by insurers LV, means it's time to pick up a new uniform. The big question is, where from? And, given the recent furore over girls' skirts, how high they're riding and whether it would be better to make everyone wear trousers so certain individuals don't need to be sent home to change on a daily basis, what should they be buying?
Uniforms were first introduced here by charity schools for poor pupils in the 16th century, but by the 19th century, they had been appropriated by public schools. From there, they were adopted by state schools keen to advance a degree of parity among students from all strata of society.
Did they? Initially, perhaps, but by the 1970s comprehensives, followed by most other schools, capitulated to the mania for choice, as children railed against what they saw as the identity-crushing nature of the uniform. Before you knew it, the list of prescribed sensible shoes had been replaced by pretty much any pair of shoes, which meant the kids with the most nagging power, or the most well-off, harassed or gullible parents, ended up with the style de jour.
Uniforms thus became symbols of class, wealth and status, and thanks to cheap-as-chips supermarket versions, that's more true than ever, delineating those who can afford to shop in designer stores from those head-to-toe in Asda.
To this end, we salute those schools that insist on children buying their uniforms in one, local, independent shop, and their efforts to maintain equality within the classroom. We salute, too, those tackling the tricky skirt-trouser debate. Whatever they decide, you can be sure some will say they're wrong.
But most of all we salute those ensuring the individuality of our nation's youth is illustrated not by what they can cadge out of their parents, but by what they can achieve in lessons once freed of worrying which trainers will bring acceptance. To your desks!
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