It would seem Western civilization is in peril. No, not because of Brexit and Trump but because a couple of schools have changed their rules about school uniform.
Priory School, a secondary establishment in Lewes, Sussex, has hit the headlines for supposedly enforcing a gender-neutral policy. Winsford Academy in Cheshire, meanwhile, has insisted girls wear knee length skirts combined with tights.
A hullabaloo has resulted. Even media bad-boy Piers Morgan, as luck would have it former student of Priory School, has waded into the debate saying: “It is disappointing to see one of my old schools getting sucked into this gender equality nonsense.”
Having written about school uniform many a time in the past, I found myself being asked on to BBC Radio 5 Live to give my opinion. I’ll summarise it thus: This is an issue of practicality, not gender neutrality.
Before I go any further, let me invite you into my world, give you a bit of colour and tell you exactly what was going on at home during my Five Live interview. Interviews like this would normally be done by Skype but the connection wouldn’t work.
I therefore had to sit in our drafty hallway and do the interview using our landline telephone (yes, landline, when was the last time you used one of them?). Part way through the interview, my four-year old daughter appeared at my shoulder and whispered that she’d been to the toilet and asked: “Can you check my bottom?”
This was a touch off-putting to say the least. We’ll get back to my thoughts on gender neutrality and school uniforms shall we?
Let’s look at the facts. In most schools, be they primary or secondary, the students have to wear some awful approximation of office attire. While this may provide jumpers and cardigans to use as make-shift goal posts, the poor kids find themselves wearing impractical clothing that doesn’t encourage outdoor play or learning via play.
Girls, I feel, get the roughest deal. Skirts and dresses are hardly ideal if a kid wants to use a climbing frame, climb a tree or do gymnastics. The result is that everyone gets to see their underwear. This may not be an issue for really young kids, but I know my eight-year-old daughter is concerned about such things.
School shoe design for girls is also appalling. Most shoes are open fronted so the child only needs to step in a puddle and they get wet feet.
Yes, okay, many schools do give girls the choice to wear trousers. Girls, however, are not always comfortable wearing trousers because it isn’t seen as cool.
I am all for school uniform. I think it’s a great idea but I know from the comments I’ve received on previous blog posts that many people have this idea school uniform should be smart.
I put it to you that school uniform should not be smart and certainly shouldn’t replicate office attire. This is a view that needs challenging.
I know my mother used to judge my old secondary school on the appearance of the pupils. She said amazing things about how smart the kids looked.
Alas, she had been tricked. While the uniform and discipline policies were rigidly enforced, the quality of the teaching was shocking. I’m afraid appearance isn’t everything.
I feel strongly that uniform should be loose fitting, layered, warm and convenient. For primary school kids, it should also be covered in paint, mud and glue stains that show a kid has been exploring and making mess.
It should encourage outdoor play and sports. Most school uniforms do nothing of the sort.
A much better idea would be to have kids attend school in some form of track suit with trainers or plimsolls. Yes, okay, this would be gender neutral but that’s not my primary concern. It would be practical and that, for me, would be the main aim.
I’ll sign off with one interesting observation. Here is a link to the Priory School’s school uniform policy. It mentions gender neutrality once, in the final sentence. A hulaballoo about nothing, perhaps?
So what do you think? Are you wedded to the idea of smart school uniform and if so, why? Are you of the opinion practicality should trump gender neutrality? Please leave a comment below.