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A Smart School Uniform may Look Good on the Prospectus – but what Else Does it Offer?

Do we all have to look the same to be acceptable to each other, asks Richard Naylor

  • A Smart School Uniform may Look Good on the Prospectus – but what Else Does it Offer?

According to research by clothing supplier Trutex, 99 per cent of UK secondary schools have a uniform. Data from the Department of Education backs this up.

And not just any uniform, either. Apparently “educational research indicates results improve with a strict dress code” – and so increasingly, schools are dropping casual sweatshirts in favour of a more formal look, with blazers and ties.

However, a quick search on the internet shows that research does not indicate an improvement in results through wearing a uniform; it suggests, at best, mixed results.

And in my experience of being in the one percent – working currently in a school which has never had a uniform in 50 years and has no plans to – I feel it is not only unnecessary to dictate what students wear, but that doing so is actually bad for our children, their education, and all our futures.

Vive la différence

At ACS, as an international school, not wearing a uniform is a philosophical point. We don’t have a ‘strict dress code’ because we don’t think what’s on the outside necessarily affects what’s on the inside. What identifies us is the ethos we create, not the uniform we wear.

The word says it all ‘uniform’: all the same. Do we all have to look the same to be acceptable to each other? Can’t we behave well or learn properly if we are with people who look and dress differently?

It seems completely counter-intuitive to everything we are teaching in our schools today about respecting each other and celebrating diversity and equality.

I can appreciate the value of a uniform perhaps in foundation classes or early years – a standard, easy-to-wear outfit could be a real help to the teacher and child at that stage.

But beyond that it could be argued that having a uniform is just keeping young people in a state of arrested development. 

After all, what happens when you leave school, and its uniform, behind? The more multicultural, fast-paced and global our world becomes, the more you need to be able to integrate and work effectively with people who look, dress and behave differently from you.

ACS is an international school; we welcome children from all over the world – currently 70 different nationalities – and at no stage does helping children integrate with each other and learn to their best of their abilities require making them change their outward appearance to a homogenous standard.

Trapped in tradition

Traditional institutions can be protective of their uniform because they represent the past, and what they were. But why can’t the future look different? Last year at Egham we played chess against Eton. When they took off their ties and tailcoats you wouldn’t have known where they were from. All that mattered was our common humanity.

A uniform can be used to try and convey some kind of cultural or historical high ground or perhaps a set of values to which the wearer doesn’t really adhere. We need to teach children to see past the clothes, not to be judged by them.

In the same way, a uniform can be used to try and introduce or imply better behaviour, when in reality, all it does is tie the teacher in knots having to enforce a dress code daily.

How much energy is spent policing uniform and fussing about clothes and hemlines, when that time could be spent exploring opinions and experiences, to find a set of common values and build a sense of community and belonging?

There is no intrinsic value between the clothes you wear and the achievements you might make in anything at all.

It can be a relief not to have a uniform; and it can certainly help some people feel more relaxed and creative.

Workplaces have lightened up dress code considerably in their efforts to innovate, diversify and achieve a competitive advantage – so why on earth are schools going the opposite way?

Richard Naylor is Head of High School at ACS Egham International School.

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