Why School Uniform Rules!

School Uniform

by Dr Helen Wright

Everyone remembers their school uniform – from that scratchy skirt to that uncomfortable tie. Like those tough teachers we respected because they were uncompromising and made us give of our best, we never forget what we wore every day for up to 13 years of our life. Can it seriously have been a good thing?

Yes, actually, and the fact that we remember our uniform with such vividness tells us something about its role in shaping our tender selves. If you didn’t have a uniform, you missed out! Growing up is about developing a sense of self-identity. Equally important in the process, though, is to develop a sense of group identity and part of this is most evident in what we wear. We relate to people initially through their external appearance. What we wear says something about us and we should never underestimate the importance of choice of clothing.

Children need uniforms. In fact, if you don’t give them, they will create it for themselves. Observe any group of children or teenagers for any length of time and you will see a homogeny emerge in language, mannerisms and – often most obviously – in clothing. We may smile at the apparent lack of awareness of the teenager who wants to ‘assert his own identity’ by dressing in almost identical fashion to his friends, but the truth is that this teenager, in common with the vast majority of his peers, has a deep-rooted need to belong, and clothing is an important part of this.

We all need to belong

Shared identity can be liberatingHumans are social beings and we all need to belong – to families, to communities, to football teams, to all sorts of social groupings. This is what gangs are all about, and the worrying growth in gang membership appears to be in inverse proportion to the decline of the strong family unit. 

If we don’t provide the social groups for our young people, they will create them, and they may not always be productive – in fact, they can be downright dangerous. What is remarkable about conversations with even the most hardened of violent gang members is that they all talk about their gang as being their ‘family’, their ‘brothers’, their shared ‘code’. And how do people mark which gang they belong to? Through their uniform – their colours and clothing. All gangs have uniform: a powerful reminder of memberships, belonging and identity.

Shedding inhibitions

So schools should assert themselves and shed any inhibitions they may still harbour about uniforms suppressing individuality. What better social grouping can we imagine than one that is based around learning, education and self-improvement – all aiming to make the world, through its students, a better place?

Schools should aim to create such a strong sense of identity that young people want to belong to them. They should be unafraid of standing up and being counted, of saying: ‘this is who we are – look at us and see what we represent; come to us and you will not be disappointed’.

School uniform – and the smarter the better – makes a strong statement about togetherness and shared endeavour in the pursuit of excellence, and encourages children to feel pride in themselves as well as their school. One mother once came up to me after a concert in which her daughter had been singing as part of the school choir, and thanked me profusely: “My daughter,” she said, “is so proud to be part of this school… and as a mother I cannot ask for anything more.”

Pride is a tremendous emotion – it fulfils us and spurs us on, and our children should be given the opportunity to burst with it. We all want our children to belong to constructive social groups – school should be right up there at the top of our list, and the most obvious way to mark this is in how our children dress when they go there. School uniform rules!

Dr Helen Wright is headmistress of St Mary's School, Calne, and a regular contributor to www.tom-brown.com - the essential guide to choosing a school in the UK