France considers return of school uniforms to banish fashion wars

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In the latest Harry Potter movie, the girls from the French wizard school Beauxbatons appear in uniforms with exaggerated, swept-back, air-hostess hats.

Now, life could be on its way to imitating art. The Education Minister, Gilles de Robien, and a number of other centre-right politicians have suggested recently that it is time to turn back the clock and reimpose a uniform on French pupils.

One parliamentarian and mayor of a Paris suburb, Eric Raoult, complained that teenage girls in his town, Raincy, were going to school dressed in a dangerously "provocative" way. "They wear their trousers so low that you can see their pierced navels and the first strands of their pubic hair," he said. "They would not get into a nightclub dressed like that."

Other politicians, including M. Robien, complain that there is an unhealthy competition between children to wear the most expensive designer fashions. He has suggested that he would allow uniforms "as an experiment" if individual state schools asked for permission.

School uniform was phased out in 1968. It is regarded by the French as a curious form of British cruelty to children. However, French politicians, backed by some parents, say a uniform could solve several problems at once. It would end the drift to provocative dress among girls, stop the designer label competition and provide another defence in the battle against religious symbols, such as Islamic headscarves, in state schools.

François Baroin, the French Minister for Overseas Territories, said: "Don't let's kid ourselves. There is already a uniform in our schools. It consists of three stripes, a puma or a slash [the symbols of Adidas, Puma and Nike].

Opponents, including teachers' unions and the biggest parents' organisation, say the notion of imposing a uniform on modern teenagers is absurd. They say that to do so would further alienate many children from school. Anne Kerkhove, principle of Peep, the largest parent's organisation, said: "You cannot solve social problems with a school blouse." Up to 1968, French pupils, even 18-year-olds, were expected to wear a "blouse" which looked a little like a hairdresser's overall or a peasant smock.