I have a problem with school uniform. In fact, I have several problems.
Before I elaborate, let me make clear that I am very much in favour of school uniform. I think it is a great leveller among school pupils and it helps us parents enormously. Monday to Friday, you know what your school-aged kids are wearing.
The issue, for me, is what we force our children to wear. I have many problems with the style of uniform kids are expected to wear during the school day and I've written about it on my own blog many a time (here's one example).
Why this crazy office-style attire?
The clothing we expect our children to wear is a rough approximation of what you would see in an office. This strikes me as daft.
Firstly, we should be encouraging kids to explore the world and play. This is part of getting them to understand the healthy lifestyle message. Also, they're kids! Let them behave like kids and avoid the world of work as much as possible.
Maybe we should consider some form of uniform that encourages physical play and enables them to behave like children? The tracksuit style uniform worn by most Rainbow and Girl Guide groups would surely be a more practical option.
The school tie: the most pointless article of school uniform
Not only do we expect kids to wear office clothing, but we make them wear a tie. Now I love a good tie (Italian made and designed please), but the school tie is at best cheap and tacky and at worst, dangerous.
Younger kids tend to wear clip on ties. That's all well and good, but they look bad and kids don't find them much easier to put on than a proper neck tie.
Older kids usually wear real ties. This goes totally against the advice all parents give to their offspring about putting things round their neck. If kids are going to climb trees and climbing frames, well, the tie becomes a dangerous object.
Speaking of my own experience of secondary school, it was quite the done thing to grab someone's tie and pull it as hard as possible, you know, just for a laugh. I'm afraid youngsters can't always be trusted with this fashion accessory.
School uniform strengthens unhelpful gender stereotypes
As a father of two girls (one of whom is at school) I think school uniform presents particular issues for girls. A common complaint I hear of are the shoes girls wear.
For young girls, school shoes are often open fronted. This means they leak water, even in the mildest rain showers.
In addition to this, we expect girls to wear skirts and dresses. I have nothing against skirts and dresses, but young girls like to climb trees and do cartwheels.
I challenge anyone to climb a tree or do a cartwheel while wearing a skirt without revealing their underwear to the world. This creates a vicious cycle that strengthens gender stereotypes: girls want to be active and play these games but they feel self-conscious and so they don't do it. It gives them the idea they are supposed to be play quiet, passive games.
The same applies to ball games such as football. Girls are less likely to play as their knees are uncovered and they're more likely to get hurt.
Okay, so in many schools girls have the option to wear trousers, as is the case at my daughter's school. When I mentioned this to my daughter last year, I got a rude awakening. She said she wouldn't wear trousers because no one else did. In her eyes it wasn't acceptable.
This was a tough one as she is a talented gymnast. She hardly ever walks anywhere, she cartwheels from A to B. I knew in time she would get self-conscious about everyone seeing her underwear.
When I wrote about this on my own blog, I was surprised by the response. Dads seemed to think uniform rules should be more flexible. Mums, however, thought it was quite acceptable for young girls to wear cycling shorts under their skirts.
I found this very puzzling. Wearing cycling shorts certainly keeps your underwear hidden, but it increases the chances of your little one getting an infection like thrush. It's unacceptable for girls to be put in this position.
I can think of several ways of dealing with this. One is to make trousers and shorts compulsory for everyone. Either that or let girls wear leggings. These could be combined with a skirt if the girl has a particular desire to wear one.
Things have got to change
I love school uniform. In fact my kids love school uniform.
Even so, the school uniform we expect kids to wear has to change. It doesn't serve the interests of boys or girls and I think it should change to encourage all children to be active and explore the world they live in.