Kids in uniform

I’ve never been a fan of uniforms in general and school uniforms in particular. Recently, I was unimpressed by the insistence of numerous state schools in Queensland that girls should be forced to wear dresses even if they would rather wear shorts or pants. The Minister eventually overrode them, but the episode was a pretty clear indication that uniform rules are about the arbitrary exercise of authority, not making kids more comfortable at school.

I was reminded of this by a report in the New Daily quoting “experts” who support school uniforms, though the text of the report suggests that there’s not much research to back this view, and what evidence there is goes both ways.

I was more surprised to read that “the jury is still out on what is more affordable, free dress or school-designed uniforms.” The report links to a school supplier who charges between $240 and $340 for a single (state school) uniform outfit. That’s far more than similar generic items would cost at Target or other stores.

Of course, lots of parents will find ways to save a bit, buying generics for the less obviously school-specific items, or finding hand-me-downs. But that undermines the supposedly equalizing effects of uniforms. At least when I was at school, it was always obvious who’d paid full price and who had patched their uniform together.

More importantly the kids aren’t going to wear their uniforms at weekends or during the holidays. So, having paid for a uniform (or more, assuming you need to wash) , parents still need to buy ordinary clothes anyway. That can’t possibly be more affordable.

46 thoughts on “Kids in uniform

  1. Pr Q said:

    I’ve never been a fan of uniforms in general and school uniforms in particular.

    I have always been a fan of uniforms, at least in any organized endeavour. The uniformed workers of emergency service first responders (ambos, fireys, cops, nurses, servicemen) enjoy the esteem of the general public. They have to risk their lives to protect the public and look out for their mates.

    The business suit, like so many other good things, got its start during the high-minded Victorian era so that people could get down to business when they went to work. It was a welcome relief to indulging the dandyish display common among Restoration and Regency fops.

    School uniforms are simply an extension of this admirable trait, to citizens at their most impressionable age. There are profound reasons for imposing uniform standards, in school clothing as in much else. Industrial engineers prize quality control to ensure production meets uniform industry standard. In school, students need to focus on their individual academic performance and fostering team work, rather than engaging in a fashion arms race to sort out the schoolyard pecking order.

    In the US, childrens casual dress at school became a sub-cultural fashion marker indicative of polarised social stratification along class or gang lines. Throw in multicultural mufti and you can kiss goodbye to the old school spirit. That is why wearing school uniforms is back. Evidence from the National Centre for Educations Statistics shows that the imposition of school uniform in US public schools has nearly doubled in the past decade or so:

    American kids head back to public school this month, far more of them will be wearing uniforms than did just a decade ago. In the school year that ended in 2016, 21.5% of US public schools required students to wear uniforms, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. That’s up from 13.8% in 2006….In the UK, more than 80% of secondary schools require uniforms, says Sir Kevan Collins, chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, and the number is still growing.

    School administrations across the world know, through hard-won experience. A recent ANOVA study across 39 OECD countries concluded that authoritarian school environments, including school uniforms, made a marked improvement in academic performance and school team work:

    Students peak perform when teachers create a disciplined atmosphere where students listen to teachers, where noise levels in the classroom are low and they do not have to wait to start class and teach. Good discipline allows students to work well and this ultimately leads to better academic performance. Uniforms contribute to better discipline in everyday school operations. The findings support that in general, implementing school uniforms at schools might enhance discipline and allow for better learning. The authors recommend keeping uniforms where they are already used and to consider introducing uniforms where they are not yet common.

    You would think that avowed socialists would grasp the self-evident importance of the uniform as an outward symbol of social solidarity, since group altruism is critical in the socialist provision of public goods. Every honourable schoolboy knew in his heart that We trumps Me (Generation). But no, like everything else, this lesson must be the subject of the Great Re-Learning

  2. Uniforms can serve a number of practical purposes for “ambos, fireys, cops, nurses, servicemen”. They provide easy identification for other services and the public. In addition, a field uniform is often functional beyond identification needs providing protections plus purpose designed belts, pockets etc. for carrying essential equipment unique to each service. A uniform, it is true, can also promote pride in belonging to an elite service group. The fact that there are often separate field uniforms and dress (ceremonial) uniforms tells us something about the practicality / ceremonial division: among other things it tells us that the ceremonial, or the pretty and flashy, are rarely practical.

    None of the above constitutes an argument for formal school uniforms unless one is unduly and perhaps unhealthily invested in promoting social uniformity and control, no doubt from an intended controlling position. The natural and practical school uniform, as schools are about learning, is whatever the student, and peers and teachers to a lesser extent, are comfortable with. This will in turn relate to climate, weather and indeed ethnicity in a diverse group. Physical discomfit promoted by climate-inappropriate gear, culturally-inappropriate gear, one-design-supposedly-suits-all gear and so on is antithetical to general learning. Physical sports and endeavors (from football to orienteering say) are a bit different. Training and competition are sometimes unavoidably uncomfortable, especially in the physical sense. But then most sport is elective. Joining one of ambos, fireys, cops, nurses, servicemen once one is an educated adult is also elective.

  3. Having being a high school teacher for thirty-four years I have heard all the arguments about school uniforms. On balance they are a good thing! Of course there are always exceptions. I take John’s point about the mandatory dresses for girls. That is absurd. The internal policy of allowing the senior girls to determine the uniform code is used at some schools. The one problem with no uniforms relates to the poorer students. You only have to see those American high school dramas to see how girls in particular suffer if they have to buy outfits for school. The uniform at least provides some defence against trolling. With boys it may make no difference. I taught teenage boys who could not care what they wore to school. But with teenage girls the chances of depression being caused by clothing dramas needs to be considered.

  4. I find myself in furious agreement. They are all sorts of platitudinous rationalizations of school uniforms but, as you state, are no more than an arbitrary exercise of authority. When I went to a private Catholic school I hated the hot daggy uncomfortable relic of the 1930s we were required to wear and have our presentation policed by the authoritarian turds that were supposed to educate us. The argument is total bullshit. If there is nothing but a daggy historical relic to be proud of then WTAF!
    My own children were fortunate to attend an absolute rarity of a school, a public school that did not require uniforms. They still had a dress code largely focused on issues of safety and practicality with a few curious phrases that amused the “bush lawyers” amongst students such as “no visible underwear”. The school got good results and was “well disciplined” without the imposed authoritarianism of uniforms. There was no “fashion competition” amongst students. They dressed much the same as they would at most times out of school, except for shoes. Of course there were still a few traditionalist “uniform nazis” amongst the teachers (but not the parents) but their influence was limited. There were other bases of pride in the school including a Nobel laureate.
    School uniforms belong in the dustbin of history.

  5. G.J.M.,

    You have “heard all the arguments” about school uniforms but you offer only one in favour of school uniforms. Girls will compete in the matter of dress and girls from poor families will suffer from “clothing dramas”. This really comes back to a set of serious social ills. One, girls are manipulated by the advertising and fashion industries to overly fetishize appearance and compete in those terms. Two, our economic system leaves a proportion of families in severe poverty. Three, bullying, shaming and class divisions signaled by possession or lack of possession of consumer items are encouraged by our entire socio-economic system.

    Rather than compel girls (and boys) to wear school uniforms to cover up for these social ills, we should address the social ills themselves. The fashion and advertising industries, like the alcohol, tobacco, sugar and junk food industries must be more severely regulated and attract Pigouvian taxes. Work and wages justice along with welfare programs should be markedly improved. More money needs to be put into programs addressing bullying and shaming and socio-medical issues like depression. Finally, girls and boys in schools need to be encouraged to debate all these issues so that they can see the wider picture. They need to be able to critically analyze our entire sociopolitical and political economy systems. The need to be given the intellectual analytic tools to do this and not just be passive consumers, fashion victims, capitalists’ cattle, factory fodder, corporate cubicle chooks and climate change casualties.

  6. This thread appears to have brought to the surface repressed memories of unhappy school days. It’s not surprising. For many people school is a deeply traumatic experience for many reasons: horrible teachers, even more horrible bullying students, the pressure of parental expectations, social failures, sporting failures, academic failures. People think, or hope, that they leave it all behind when they walk out of the school for the last time, but these memories are ever present beneath the surface, ready to be stirred up by a thread on a politics blog called Kids in Uniform.

  7. The school can respond in a fairly viscous and authoritarian way. School uniforms are not actually legally enforceable but that doesn’t stop the school mobilizing a broad array of sanctions from detention, suspension or at a minimum denying access to all but the absolute minimum of educational opportunities. Fortunately physical punishments are no longer an option. My partner’s sister many years ago asserted her legal right to not wear a uniform. The school excluded her from all non classroom activities including the end of year “formal”.
    Compulsory uniforms can bring out the worst of pettiness and vindictiveness in school authorities. There is always something they can pick on whenever they choose– not quite the right shoes, a hem a little too high, a “disreputable” hat, socks not pulled to the regulation height, a loose tie, “inappropriate” hairstyle etc etc etc. In the meantime students in their own endlessly creative ways push the boundaries to assert their own personal space. How dare mere students assert their rights.
    “All and all you’re just another brick in the wall”

  8. Jack Strocchi wrote: “You would think that avowed socialists would grasp the self-evident importance of the uniform as an outward symbol of social solidarity…”.

    Fifty years ago they certainly did.

  9. Jack Strocchi said: “got its start during the high-minded Victorian era so that people could get down to business when they went to work. ” Why did child labourers and coal miners not have a suit then by your flawed logic?
    The overseer bellowed; “You have no BUSINESS wearing a suit.

    And in today’s smh, in like mind with jack since the Victorian era, Barker headmaster Phillip Heath had a woke moment which needed a question fromba child (dickensian), indicating his biased brain had not even twigged – once – in twenty years. As headMASTER if he has no independent thought, as amply indicated below f3om his own mouth, he has no BUSINESS being involved with children or education imo.

    This could have and probably was written in the victorian era. All it shows is that the headMASTER of an elite private once boys school has a TOTAL of personal insight. As in the king with no BUSINESS SUIT JACK.

    “During a visit to an interstate school, one comment stopped Barker headmaster Phillip Heath in his tracks. “One of the girls said to me, ‘I love to play chasings, and I can’t in this dress’. It was because the dress was too narrow in the knees.”

    In 20 years, no-one had asked the girls what they thought of their uniform, and they’d become resigned to it. “I don’t want that [at Barker],” Mr Heath said. “If a girl wants to play chasings, no garment from the school will prevent that.”

    Too late by about 200yrs Jack and Phil. Imagine what the kids are saying about you. I’m being polite. Which makes you both deaf and blind.

  10. Men may dress competitively at times – mostly not – but for women it is the norm. Some women friends who attended girls schools that experimented with free dress told me that the initiative was canned when the arms race resulted in girls end up wearing ballgowns etc to school. Everyone was relieved. Uniforms eliminate this form of bullying. Consulting the senior girls on the girls’ uniform seems a great idea so the girls don’t have to wear something they find awful. Conventional single supplier uniforms tend to be stupidly expensive (and impractical) – maybe Target could help here.

  11. Gee, it takes me back to my era; school strikes, hatred of the uniform, long hair, collar checks and hem checks for mini skirts…

    Really laughing, those were the days. Has me in mind of Skyhooks old hit “Women in Uniform”:

  12. “The school can respond in a fairly viscousand authoritarian way.”

    No uniform? Right, that’s it! It’s the corn syrup for you!

  13. I constantly hear the unsubstantiated anecdotal evidence that girls will engage in a “fashion competition” if there is no uniforms in schools. I sent my children to a school that didn’t have uniforms. There was no such competition. With the exception of shoes that were fairly tightly specified in the school dress code for reasons of safety, students wore much the same clothes to school that they routinely wore ar other times.
    It might me a different matter where “free dress” was an occasional novelty in other schools but the novelty soon wears off where there is no required uniform.

  14. Jim Birch,

    I hope your post is a joke. If girls ended up wearing ballgowns to school (which anecdotal evidence I highly doubt) it would have been done in the spirit of satire. The addition of zombie makeup would have made it particularly amusing.

    Jennifer Gow,

    Exactly. These “reasons” for maintaining school uniforms are obvious fabrications. It’s a technique authoritarians use for the purpose of maintaining control and producing people who are blindly obedient as compliant and uncritical citizens when they leave school.

  15. +1 Jennifer Gow 
    “The argument is total bullshit. If there is nothing but a daggy historical relic to be proud of then WTAF!”

    +1 Ikonoclast
    “girls are manipulated by the advertising and fashion industries to overly fetishize appearance and compete in those terms.” 
    I have inoculated my family against this ikon. Not too hard really, even if Sir Kevan Collins & Jack Strocchi were given a $100m ad budget!

    Here is a thought – guest bloggers Vilma, Amaya, Amanda and Sofia ready to talk about their school clothes!

    Jack, referencing Sir Kevan Collins – “and advising Goodstart, Australia’s largest early learning provider”. Scary! And a 9% return on investment for Goodstart. I’ll check later.

    And look how else Sir Kevan assists…
    … funded by…
    See excellent uniform examples as modelled in above link… please. It is the 21st century not the 1st. Nothing to do with gender or socialism. Just kulcha and manipulators.

  16. Mea culpa. And sorry. Please respect my privacy.
    Now on to, it seems, a very topical topic:
    “Amber Thomas started with a question: How do public high schools police bodies differently? After collecting data on nearly 500 high schools, she’s published the first part of an upcoming series, focusing on sexualization of students in this installment. It includes examining the most commonly banned visible body parts:”

  17. Interesting how a blog site like this works.
    A jigsaw and you fit the pieces together and start to get a picture of the actual problem.
    None of you has anything to apologise for imho, just a good conversation with interesting stuff coming out during the process.

  18. Obviously the silver lining is change is waiting in the wings:
    “Tipping point for large-scale social change :A new study finds that when 25 percent of people in a group adopt a new social norm, it creates a tipping point where the entire group follows suit. This shows the direct causal effect of the size of a committed minority on its capacity to create social change.
    But not from this angel…

    “Mater Christi Principal Mary Fitz-Gerald said she “want[s] our students to be confident young women and proudly themselves”.
    “In keeping with this spirit, student and parents have been notified on several occasions since the middle of last year false eyelashes and extensions would be unacceptable school wear,” she said….”
    ‘It was cruel’: girls claim school forced them to rip out fake lashes”…

    They must have a gold amex to afford the lashes.

  19. At the no uniform school my children attended the school dress code specified “no visible underwear”. Clearly this could be readily be interpreted as specifically policing the expression of sexuality by girls but students were intrigued at the broader possibilities that clause this left open.

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