School uniform or no school uniform?

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First Day at School: What No Uniform?

When my son started primary school last year it was a milestone. Not just for him, but for me too. Gone were easy, go with the flow mornings. They were replaced with a morning routine that required planning with military precision. Gone were trips to the farm at the drop of a hat. Gone were spontaneous trips to the playground with him. My eldest son suddenly disappeared for most of the day. It was an adjustment for us both. It was tough.

But when he took his first steps into his new classroom something else struck me. I would never experience that proud moment that most British mothers have when their child puts on their school uniform for the first time. Last September, Facebook was flooded with friends’ photos capturing their children on that first day at school in a crisp, new school uniform.

School uniforms are very uncommon in the Netherlands. In fact the only place I have seen them since I moved here in 2000 is the British School in the Netherlands based in Voorschoten. An OFT report cites that 79% of junior schools in Britain has a compulsory school uniform, when you get to secondary school this rises to 98%. In short, if you go to school in Britain there is a good chance you’ll be wearing a school uniform.

If you go to school in the Netherlands you will almost definitely not be required to don a uniform in the colours of your school. I started doing a little digging to determine why my sons will all go through a school system without seeing a school uniform. It turns out it’s easier to find out why British schools advocate the wearing of uniforms than why Dutch schools don’t.

Why British children wear school uniform

Michael Gove
Michael Gove – a uniform believer.
Photo: London Evening Standard

In Britain there is political pressure on schools to require pupils to wear a uniform. Michael Gove, the Education secretary believes that uniforms in schools are beneficial. He believes that the wearing of blazers and ties contribute to school success. In combination with strict discipline of course. He says that schools with uniforms have better results. It is a hot topic on the political agenda in Britain.

There are more benefits of a school uniform according to supporters: A uniform helps pupils identify with their school and feel like a part of the school community; it evokes pride in pupils; it instils discipline; it dissolves social equalities (as clothes do not differ between rich and poor students), hence reducing bullying.

Some argue that uniforms in schools are just a way of exerting power and control over kids. Heads of schools which have abolished their school uniform say that teachers spent too much time ensuring that children adhered to school uniform rules – time that could be better spent teaching them.

American academic (school uniforms are gaining popularity in the US), David Brunsma, concluded after eight years of research that school uniforms make no difference whatsoever to the standard of schools or their results.

Love them or loath them, the fact is that I grew up wearing a school uniform and somewhere in the photo archives of my parents there is a picture of me on my first day of school, proudly toting my brand new uniform. It’s a British thing, but one as an expat parent I will never experience.

What will/did you never experience when your kids start(ed) school because you moved overseas? Is it something you miss(ed) or glad you don’t/ didn’t have to go through?

Republished with kind permission of  Amanda van Mulligen via Expat Life With a Double Buggy: First Day at School: What No Uniform?


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  1. I actually liked wearing a uniform, and was very proud of it. Those non uniform days were such hassle in the morning because I could never make up my mind! Skorts ARE the best invention yet! My school had them (and I believe they’re still using them)..

    1. Skorts are indeed the best invention ever!
      Having put my daughter through both uniform and non-uniform schools I really cannot decide which I prefer! Non-uniform was MUCH cheaper than being forced to purchase specific items through a single shop… and then having the school change the uniform THREE times in one academic year… argh!

  2. I don’t mind uniforms as long as they are flexible. When thinking about an overseas move, we had to look first of all at the Uniform guidance for the suitable schools. Would girls be allowed to wear shorts and/or trousers? If not, it was back to the drawing board for us: at the age of 8, my eldest daughter has not worn a skirt or dress now for about two/three years and would be extremely unhappy if she was forced to. Luckily, both her school in St Lucia and her primary school here in the UK have been very accommodating. And whilst I have no problem with my younger daughter wearing a skirt to school every day (her choice), I do think that it should be shorts all round – so much more practical for hanging upside down on the monkey bars!

    1. Flexibility is fine to a certain extent. Thinking back to when I was at school the uniform was grey skirt, blue jumper/cardigan and white shirt. There are many, many shades of blue and grey – we did not look good!

      Skorts are an excellent invention for girls and should be available for all schools!

  3. Having grown up in school-uniform-land and experienced both uniforms and non-uniforms with my son as we’ve moved around, I think it’s a good idea, but it does very much depend on the style of uniform adopted. The uniforms I wore of old – traditional blazer, white shirt and tie, possibly a tunic for girls (remember those?) – were uncomfortable, expensive and often tedious to keep clean. My son’s uniforms for the most-part have been much more flexible and easy to look after, mostly in the American “smart casual” preppy style – sweat tops, golf shirts, etc. The advantages have been to simplify arguments over dress code (particularly when living in conservative countries), reduce the competition over designer brands for kids and completely remove the “I have nothing to wear” debate on school mornings. 🙂

    1. I really can’t make up my mind which I prefer! We had a lot of difficulties at one school where the uniform was only available at one outlet and, at one point, was changed three times in one school year! And then when there was a ‘no uniform’ school there were issues with gangs and ‘training shoe oneupmanship’.
      Now we’re with a school that has a strict dress code but not a uniform, which seems to work out very well indeed. So far!

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