It appears that the subject of school uniforms is a hot one, and not just because children attending school during the recent cold spell have been turning up with several layers under their uniforms to keep them warm. While Tam Baillie, Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People thinks boys should be able to wear skirts to school because otherwise school uniform codes are a “discriminatory practice” against “gender variant” pupils.
In Scotland, of course, gender differences are rarely focused on who wears trousers, so the debate is a genuinely interesting one around how students “develop a strong sense of who they are” which can mean having a range of options from which children choose is more sensitive to cultural, gender and other differences but doesn’t foster such a strong sense of identity as a limited uniform where people dress like each other to develop a sense of team spirit.
Michael Gove certainly thinks so. According to radio station Totnes FM, the Education Secretary believes that a local school, King Edward VI community college, should introduce a uniform. His comments have left parents, who are still waiting to vote on the plans, somewhat confused at his interest in one school’s policy.
It’s true that uniforms often foster conformity – everybody from airline pilots to Hell’s Angels gains a sense of solidarity from dressing like each other – and everybody ‘outside’ that group gains from being able to identify which individual is a pilot and which a biker, so there’s a value to society from being able to recognise who’s in which ‘team’. But there are other gains too: a uniform can create a sense of self-esteem and remove the differences that stop people working well together: a rich university graduate and a poor self-educated person are identical when they are playing a team game in the same strip or kit, on the same playing field, and that allows them to bond in a way that might never be possible if they weren’t similarly dressed.
There’s another advantage too: branded, printed and monogrammed clothing all allow outsiders to spot the person they want, whether it’s the manager in a restaurant or the striker in a football team – it’s an intelligent approach to teamwork that allows everybody to benefit.