HEAD teacher Matthew Tate sparked a storm last week after sending 50 pupils home from Hartsdown Academy in Kent for not wearing the correct uniform.
Some parents were furious while others thought he was “doing the right thing”.
It’s a debate that has raged at schools for years – but is the smart money on uniformity, or is the individual approach cool for school?
Chae Strathie: Relax – not wearing a school blazer won’t lead to a life of ruin
Somewhere in an old cardboard box in a dark cupboard lies a photograph, curled at the edges and covered in dust.
It’s a school photo showing a 1980s first year class arranged in three neat rows.
Pupil after pupil is decked out in a smart black blazer and black and white striped tie. All except one.
At the back stands a gangly twerp with a haircut that looks more like the result of a serious assault than a visit to a barber.
He’s wearing a white T-shirt with the logo “Minolta Cameras” across the front, under a wonky black and red anorak.
That twerp is me.
So I have personal experience of being the kid who didn’t go down the school uniform route. I was that scruffy soldier.
I don’t think I ever wore a school tie. Blazers brought me out in hives.
But somehow wearing Dunlop “green flash” gutties instead of shiny black brogues didn’t lead me into a life of abject failure and destitution. I have never been to jail or spiralled into a drug hell. I own my own home and teeth.
Don’t get me wrong I get where the headie down in Kent is coming from, and I sympathise with some of the arguments in favour of school uniforms.
It’s nice that pupils look smart, though whether or not it instils the fabled “school pride” is open to debate. I’m not aware of any evidence or studies that prove this.
Nor have I come across any reports that support the oft rolled-out argument that having a blanket uniform policy stops bullying. Bullies will bully, that’s what they do – it’s in the job description. If they don’t bully a kid about his trainers, they’ll find another excuse.
It’s also common to hear the refrain, “Ahhh, but it prepares them for the world of work”.
That’s fine if they’re off to be a soldier, nurse, police officer or other uniformed professional, but most workplaces don’t send their staff home if they’re not wearing EXACTLY the same suits and ties or overalls.
I’m willing to accept that if kids were to rock up to the school gates wearing glittery hotpants and silver boob-tubes or cowboy outfits or onesies, it could be a bit distracting.
But I don’t buy the idea that rigid conformity is the best way to prepare teens for the big wide world.
There must be a happy medium. Ask kids to dress smartly and appropriately, but let them express themselves. Most employers these days want people with personality and individuality, not wee robots (unless the employer is the producers of Star Wars, in which case being a wee robot would be a big advantage).
And if you want proof that being relaxed about uniforms doesn’t hold you back, I’m writing this while wearing a hedgehog-skin loincloth, wellies and an enormous top hat.
It’s all about being individual, after all . . .
Ali Kirker: Stop giving in to kids’ demands – and trust experts
EVERY year, it’s the same. Kids go back to school after the summer holiday.
Most of them look great in their new uniforms.
They might not like it. But they get on with it, anyway. There are always some, though, who think it isn’t good enough for them.
The ones who get turned away, or told they can’t continue to wear the trainers/trousers/short skirts as they don’t comply with uniform policy.
Then they crop up in the media, with their moody parents.
Looking put out. Hard done by.
Boo hoo, my heart bleeds for you.
This week it’s been headmaster Matthew Tate in the firing line.
OK, he’s taken a hardline stance. Sending a pupil home because her flat, lace-up shoes were suede and not leather does seem a little extreme.
But the point is Mr Tate is a trained teacher who’s reached the top.
These people are experts in our children’s education.
If they say that they believe a strict uniform policy helps to promote a positive atmosphere for learning, prevents bullying and improves exam results, shouldn’t we let them get on with it?
Instead, we have a procession of parents bleating about the injustice of it all and threatening to withdraw their little darlings from school.
Oh gie’s peace.
Schools issue uniform guidelines. It isn’t a guessing game. How do so many parents get it so wrong? My guess is there’s quite a lot of pester power by the kids going on.
And parents give in for peace – which is shattered on the first day of term.
OK, kids have always tried to push the boundaries. I thought I was quite the rebel by having my tie knot too big.
And my groovy suede Hush Puppies were navy, not black.
But if I’d been sent home? There’s no way my parents would have backed me up instead of the school.
Something seems to have changed.
These parents surely don’t realise the issue isn’t only about uniform.
It’s about preparing kids for life.
And they could just be in for a shock when they get into a workplace and realise there are rules there, too.
Then they won’t have Mummy and Daddy to sort it out for them.
A friend told me schools in Finland rarely have uniform, and their results are better than ours.
Hmm. They probably don’t have a lack of cash, non-stop testing and crumbling schools, either.
Wearing uniform is a pain in the neck. But it teaches you there are more important things to focus on in life.
Darn it. Why didn’t I realise this when I was at school messing around with my tie knot? My exam results would have been amazing. I could have changed the world if my shoes had been black not blue!