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The politics of school uniform PtII; school shoes

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The other week I let off a bit of steam venting about girls’ school uniform. Today, however, I’m going to focus on the shoes girls have to wear. I put it to you that the choices available for primary school-aged girls are limiting and impractical.

school shoes, girls' school shoes, school uniform, schooling, equality, gender equality
Girls’ school shoes; an impractical addition to an already impractical and limiting uniform.

This was something I hadn’t really considered until I wrote the previous blog post. A number of people commented both on the post itself and on social media saying that girls’ school shoes are poorly designed.

Just yesterday I was speaking to a mum about this very subject. She said her daughter goes to school in boys’ trainers because they are superior to the shoes most girls wear.

I’ve come round to the idea that girls get a rough deal when it comes to footwear. Their shoes are often open at the front. The result; they let in water when it rains. They also don’t seem anything like as sturdy as shoes designed for boys and the soles seem much thinner. As they’re thinner, they can’t possibly absorb much energy when a youngster is sprinting across a playground.

Helen, the one child I have at primary school, loves to kick a ball around at the end of the school day. If I compare the shoes she wears to those worn by the boys she often plays with, her shoes seem very unsupportive and impractical. It’s yet another example of how girls’ uniform is limiting and stymies outside play.

We can hardly blame the manufacturers or retailers for this. They are simply producing products that are compliant with the uniform schools expect boys and girls to wear.

Girls may look smart, something that some parents put a lot of importance on, but their skirts rise up and fall down, revealing their underwear to the world. Those insubstantial ankle and knee-high socks offer no protection when a child falls over. Add in a pair of dainty shoes and we’re inadvertently telling girls that physical play should be left for the boys (on that note, see this great post on the ManvsPink blog).

One of my favourite comments on my previous blog post came from a mum called Ania. She questioned why we force young children to wear clothing suitable for the office. Wouldn’t it be better, she argued, to have boys and girls wear tracksuit-style uniform that encouraged physical play? After all, many activities kids undertake at school are of a physical nature.

I think it’s an amazing idea. Better still, the uniform could be finished off with plimsolls or trainers.

School uniform shouldn’t hinder children. It should inspire and encourage them. Maybe we need to rethink it from the bottom up?

6 thoughts on “The politics of school uniform PtII; school shoes”

  1. Carol Cameleon

    …and hubby and I are loathe to ‘make’ her wear uniform at all. We get why they have uniform but we’ve always let our 6 year old choose the clothes she wears in school hols and weekends, no matter how mismatched they are! We’ve always encouraged self-expression too, which is why we encourage the choosing of clothes. The idea of the tracksuits is a genius one. I’ve never really thought about the practicalities of girls’ uniform until I read this. I read somewhere that schools in Sweden/Denmark don’t have uniform at all. I never had a primary uniform and it wasn’t detrimental to my education. Love this post John. Perhaps you can start a school uniform revolution… I’ll be with you!

    1. I’m very pro uniform. It took me to read the book Man Up by Rebecca Asher to realise that girl’s uniform is so poor. I think it’s great for children to have uniform but it is impractical, particularly for girls and it would be so easy to remedy.

  2. I just read your article on Huffington Post where I could not comment as I do not have a facebook account.
    I could not agree more!! I am also not against school uniforms. But they have no place in primary school. They are not practical at all. Kids find it uncomfortable to run around in them. What is with the black shoe but no trainer? Do we want our children to run around or not. I mean they start school at 4 which is bad enough and forced to wear formal shoes. There are lucky children who have massive playgrounds at school. But no PE in reception year. Yet schools are very strict when it comes to shoes NO black trainers! My son is in reception and I find it very hard to pretend and encourage him about school uniforms. Also there are hardly any trousers available in 100% cotton. I had to spend extra on good quality trousers. Kids sweat and anything not cotton is not good for them. Summer time is another problem. Many boys can’t wear shorts. That is unacceptable and I know I will fight for my son’s rights to be able to wear weather appropriate clothing. Poor little girls in their dresses and skirts. So limited in everything. I just do not like seeing kids made into adults. There is plenty of that for the rest of their lives! Why can’t they start uniforms from secondary school? And even then there should be more kids friendly approach. I would be open to any sensible change!

    1. Thanks for making the effort to comment. School uniform seems to divide people. You either seem to think it should remain as it is or want a total overhaul! Interesting point you make about cotton trousers. I’ve just given up on that front. I would love to send my daughter to school in 100% cotton materials but it’s too much hassle to track the items down. I applaud you for doing so.

  3. I don’t have an issue with uniform for girls (ok I know I have a boy), most schools nowadays let girls wear trousers (ours even let them wear shorts suitable for school (ie I presume grey shorts like the boys) in the hot weather we had in the summer. I only spotted 1 girl in culottes, the others continued to wear skirts or dresses. Some wear trousers, but most still choose to wear the skirts/dress even in winter.

    We’re lucky at our school because they only wear school shoes inside (and walking to church). Outdoors they have to change into trainers, boots, wellies etc suitable for whatever the weather and play. So school shoes last longer and they’re all in the same position being able to run around the same.

    This weekend we bought school shoes for N. Several teens were in there buying unisex brogues. So older girls do have the options the boys have. But younger girls still didn’t. Unlike in my school days when I chose lace ups that were all covering the foot.

    1. There is a bigger issue here though. Girls, like my daughter, won’t wear the trousers or shorts they are allowed to because their friends won’t do it. It simply isn’t acceptable to them and so instead she and many others wear cycling shorts under their uniform which are generally made of Lycra and must surely promote thrush.

      It’s interesting you say the kids at your school change into trainers to play outside. It’s a great first step, but why force kids into this quasi-office wear in the first place?

      I’m all for uniform, but something like the Scouts or Girl Guides uniform would make a lot more sense for young children.

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