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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Will the shoe fit?

As a Liberal Democrat I have some difficulties with school uniforms. Instinctively, I am drawn to the argument that they suppress individuality by imposing uniformity. However, I also recognise their role in levelling the playing field for many kids whose family could not hope to compete with better off children in the oneupmanship that dominates young people's fashion nowadays.

It is widely acknowledged for example that a child who is not wearing the latest designer labels may well be bullied by his or her peers. It may be best therefore to remove such conflicts from the school playground by requiring a common approach to dress for all pupils in a particular school.

The one thing I am clear on is that this should not be a matter for central government. It should be up to individual schools to decide their own policies taking into account local circumstances and obvious human right issues such as the wearing of necessary religious symbols. That is why I share the concerns of some teaching unions about recent guidance published by the Welsh Assembly Government on school uniforms and specifically the failure of commonsense that seems to have afflicted those who drew it up:

New guidance saying pupils should be allowed to wear trainers to school will encourage bullying and cost parents a fortune, head teachers and pupils warned yesterday.

The Welsh Assembly Government said in new guidance to schools that cheap trainers are better for feet than cut-price shoes and that they encourage young people to be active.

But young people favour fashionable, designer brands and bargain trainers are no better than cheap shoes, critics said.

Anna Brychan, director of the National Association of Head Teachers Cymru, said trainers were often used as a status symbol and teenagers warned that they might be bullied for wearing “the wrong” trainers.

The Welsh Government's attempt to micro-manage this policy from the centre could make things worse and actually increase school bullying.
Surely as a liberal you'd have your own opinions but let individual schools decide how they like and have no government guidance at any level?
I don't understand the argument that says not having a uniform leads to bullying. The schools I went to had uniforms but kids still got picked on for what they wore - whether it was an 'uncool' length of skirt, a tie tied too formally, a geeky looking coat etc etc. There will always be 'cool' kids, and they will always make 'uncool' kids lives a misery. Allowing pupils to wear trainers is neither here nor there.
That is what I said Tristan.
My school had a fairly strict uniform policy, and as a result I was anti uniform. However, as a parent I ended up pleased my daughters have gone to a school with a strict policy. It lowers peer pressure, including for the best trainers. The policy is strict enough that it is not possible to make it cool or uncool by length of skirt - the length is rigidly enforced (two different lengths depending on year group).
I am not arguing against local choice. But who in effect would it be decided by? I have been a member of two differing governing bodies, and chaired the sub-committee that decided on this at the first school i was a governor at. I must say it was a pretty random group of 4 or 5 people. If you widen those who are to decide do you ask pupils? Parents? Staff? Future parents? ...
I have no problem with a school uniform and had no issues wearing one whilst at school. However as Lexy said you can still look cool or uncool in a uniform.
Whilst I was studying we had the whole Kickers thing, which as smart black shoes still showed "status".
I assume "micro manage" is code for "Jane Hutt"?
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