New Zealand School Uniform Debate

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New Zealand has generally insisted on a strict uniform at secondary schools, using British uniform styles. Some schools, usually the coeducational high schools in the larger cities, in recent years have dropped school uniforms, but most have retained uniforms, but adopted more comfortable, casual styles. The subject is widely debated by teachers, parents, and students. Here is some opinions recently discussed in an intetnet debate.

I don't like uniforms for school kids. New Zealand ones tended to beparticularly cruel, skirts and no stockings for girls, short trousers for boys, even in winter and even at 17. They seem to have approved,with some joggers appearing nowadays and even, gasp, trousers!They're generally expensive (only available in certain stores)particularly the girls ones, boys at least generally wear grey shortsand shirts. Girls used to wear a pinafore over a white blouse. Minewas box pleated and had a habit of flying up over my head. Thepinafore was different from school to school, hence the expense (herein the UK there are at least fairly standard items, with badges orties differentiating from school to school. Even the jumpers comewith only 3 or 4 colours, with the badge sewn on by hand. In my experience, having been to schools with no uniform, its cheaperand the fashion show only lasts 3 weeks at the beginning of the firstyear! Pretty soon a uniform of jeans and sweatshirts becomesestablished. Having a uniform does not, contrary to public belief, removecompetitiveness. It is amazing what 'rules' can be established, theright shoes, the right items from the uniform, even the right shirt orsocks. It all gets competitive very quickly. Megs

What's cruel about shorts in winter? Only a sick person or a sissywould mind shorts on that account. We had to wear shorts at school, including winters, and suffered no discomfort. Some unfortunate boyswith stupid and unfeeling mothers used to be made to wear long trouserswhen they were not in school, and they were the object of much contemptfrom the rest of us. As for 17, I seem to see plenty of men working in shorts....There are a lot of things wrong with school uniforms, but shorts are notone of them. Lyndon Watson

My children go to a non-uniform school and it is great. Jeans andsweatshirts are the uniform. I find there is no peer pressure aboutclothing, girls or boys, and I save alot of money on uniforms, as theyneed after school clothes anyway. Sure they are scruffy, but thats how kids are. The college seems muchmore like a university campus to me, the relationships with teachersare good. The teachers just love the lack of uniform, no hasslingchildren about what they are wearing. Lots of free expression, theyare all all their mates. Kerry Thornbury

I like no uniform because it is good, and you look dumb walkingthrough town after school otherwise. Kerry's son

When I was at school in Denmark, there was plenty of respect forteachers, yet we always called them by their first names (apart from afew older ones, where we callled them by their last names (no Mr,they were all men) and they called us by our last names. As far isDanish for father, everyone thought it was very funny when they calledme Farr! I think it has more to do with the culture rather than whatwe call them! New Zealanders tend to have a hostile nature to schoolteachers (at least while they are at school), Danes do not. Ifanything, the few school teachers in New Zealander I had who werecalled by their first names had more respect that many who were knownby their last names and an honorific. How to change the culture so that kids have some respect for theirteachers? Well, thats the $64,000 question, but it isn't by puttingthem in short trousers and calling everyone Sir.

My experience has been largely the opposite of Meg's. The uniform we wore (talking 16 years ago now) was cheaper than regular clothes, lasted much longer, and it wasn't all that oppressive - you could wear long trousers, and any jersey as long as it was black, any shirt as long as it was navy blue or white (;-) Uniforms massively cut down on the way in which distinctions, status, regional affiliation etc. were expressed (although as you say these don't disappear), made figuring out what to wear very easy, and the whole accessorizing thing non-existent. I personally was grateful for them. My high school was large (1500+) and had a pretty wide spread of people. When we had 'mufti' days it became pretty clear who was from Eastbourne, Woburn, Alicetown or Moera (not that this wasn't to some extent identifiable via other cultural codes). Uniforms also meant that if someone young was seen breaking, bashing, stealing or hurting someone, you could pretty easily and quickly narrow down the pool of suspects.Well I never noticed any such competition amongst themales - competing via dressing up was sort of taboo (violated gender norms). And while these things may not disappear, uniforms may in some contexts dampen the way competitiveness is expressed, tribal membership and cultural capital communicated, etc.I'm not really that hung up on them. I'm guessingthat their usefulness depends to some extent onthe kind of school and it's make-up. For example you and Kerry may be talking about small schoolswith a relatively uniform middle/upper-middle classpopulation, relatively free from gangs, involving progressiveschooling, and where people won't be beaten up fortheir Nikes. In which case regular clothes probably work fine if not better. In the USA, one thing that regular school clothing means is thatmarketing to young people gets more intense more quickly,and is aimed more at schools. So you have Nike doing dealswith schools to provide tv/video equipment in return for broadcasting adverts in lunchbreaks, and short infomercials('science') in class. One area I definitely agree on is that the rules surrounding uniforms used to be really stupid (there ought to havebeen more interchangability of some parts, as you describeis the case in the UK), they ought to have been warmerand more adaptible to temperature, and they ought to have been much cheaper. Given the economies of scale that existed, along with the predictability of purchase cycles, uniforms ought to have ben *much* cheaper than regular clothes, rather thanIMO slightly cheaper. You have to wonder the extent to which places like Hallensteins were making an obsceneprofit, and if there weren't a few backroom deals going on. However if I can steal a word from that sleazy doubletalker Clinton, when it comes to uniformswe should 'mend it, not end it'. Christopher Werry

The lack of respect in New Zealand certainly does seem to be true. There also seems to be a hostileattitude from adults in general towards children. In another post on thisthread someone wrote they could see nothing wrong with children being madeto wear inadequate clothes in cold weather. Eh? It seems only humane thatpeople (whatever their age) should be allowed to be warm enough. In the ten years I've been here I've also heard a lot of anecdotes - oftenintended to be funny - about how they either beat up or were beaten up atschool because either they or their victim had a style of dress, a mannerof speech or some irrelevant difference that was apparently intolerable. What is this about? The idea that kids should be suspended for wearing different clothes, hairstyles or body piercing hardware also seems silly and a waste of time,as well as talent. The most successful student I knew in Canada (he wonthe National Science Award in his 2nd year of University, and a $30,000.00scholarship to MIT, and was made a full professor - of chemistry - at 26)dressed *very* bizarrely in high school. One semester he wore pajama tops(the flannel kind with cowboys and Indians printed on them) with jeans,and he was partial to crushed velvet or faux fur jackets. Had he been astudent in the 90's, I'm sure he'd have had more than his ears piercedtoo, though back in the 70's the fashion dictated ears only. He'd havebeen expelled from school in New Zealand, or at the very least hassled tothe point where it was impossible to concentrate on his studies, at whichhe was very, very good, and also very helpful to others who were not quiteas gifted at linear algebra and inorganic chemistry. Why should something so trivial as personal style, manner or dress causeso much pain as to enrage people to the point of a violent reaction? Itaught gymnastics to kids for several years here in Auckland when I firstmoved to New Zealand, and intervened in countless attacks by one child onanother, precipitated by some trivial perceived difference in a classmate.School uniform isn't the answer. The use of "discipline" on children and a demand for "respect" from them seemed excessive (to the point of bizarre, especially whenexercised on children as young as five) from a Canadian point of view, butthe problems in terms of actually getting the class to pay attention andget along with each other were much greater than within a more relaxed orliberal system. All the punitive attitudes towards children seem toaccomplish is a epidemic of depression and an acceptance of bullying inyoung people. Dyan Campbell

I an in favour of New Zealand schools keeping the uniforms. They aren't asbad as when I went to school - we were required to wear ties, Panama hats[different colours for winter and summer], etc etc. My daughter was in her second year of high school down home when we moved tothe USA. I NEVER ever thought I would hear her say that she wished the highschool here had uniforms. The girls were more concerned about their makeup, hair, jewelery, shoes andnails than studying. Instead of their school bag being the main bag, it wastheir makeup bag. Every break the bathrooms were crowded with girls preeningthemselves. Despite the school having rules on what could and could not be worn, these werecontinually being broken. Did the school enforce the rules - no. Mydaughter went to two different high schools here and it was the same. The first high shool she attended, a brand new school in a well to do area alsohad students from other areas [not so well to do] bused in. Unfortunately the fashion show didn't just last the first month or two, it wason-going. Those students whose parents couldn't afford the latest or namebrands, were not treated well by the students from affluent families.The second school was not in an affluent area but there was immense competitionbetween the girls to outdo each other.My daughter withdrew from the first school because of not being able to studyin class - teachers were unable to control the students. Most schools are trying to enforce rules about the male students wearingbaggies [baggie pants and t-shirts] because of the number of students who havebeen caught concealing weapons under this mode of clothing.It is pitiful to see young girls around 7-8-9 years of age go to school withclothing way beyond their age group, the earrings etc and after school/weekend, makeup. Yes, schools are now starting to insist on the use of school uniforms -basically white blouses and blue pinafores or skirts, white sox and eitherblack or brown shoes - they look much better. I agree that there schools should get together and set a more standard set ofcolours etc to help parents afford the cost of outfitting their children inuniforms using as the writer suggested, the use of ties sor badges for schoolidentification. Catherine Brionez

Northcote Intermediate and College (Auckland) in the 80's. TheCollege got rid of its uniform and has now reinstated an improved butdiabolically expensive uniform. Wide social background, though small(800 pupils). Some initimidating gang like groups from the statehousing in Northcote. Predominately middle class, tending to lowermiddle class. Most intimidating group: working/lower middle classpakehas. Yes, I have known people to have clothing stolen. Not me,didn't care enough to have clothes that were worth that much. Stilldon't. And that was on the boys uniforms. The girls was worse. I rememberpaying $150 for my uniform, of which we were expected to have twosummer, two winter, so $600 a year. That was just the dress. Add tothat 10 shirts (5 winter, 5 summer). PE kit: uniform shorts(towelling) 3 pairs because we wore them under our uniforms for whenthe skirt blew up over our heads) and t-shirts. Sweatshirts $40 (2of) jumpers $60 (1 at least). Aprons for cooking and woodwork (2).White ankle socks. Lace up winter shoes that you never woreelsewhere. Sandals ('slave sandals') ditto. I fugure it must havebeen near $1000 a year. Double that for a fast growing teenager. Mymum was at University, on the DPB when I started in Intermediate. Ithink my Grandparen ts bought my uniform and I never had the fullrequirement. As they were poor quality, they never lasted long enoughfor second hand sales. If the figures seem low, remember that this was pre 87, there has beenmassive inflation since then. Child Benefit was $6 a week. Didn'tget near the cost and was meant to cover food for me as well.My mother eventually chose a high school for me that had no uniform infavour of a better one that did have a uniform (where incidentally shehad gone and I would probably have got schol). On economic groundsalone. Megan

One area I definitely agree on is that the rules surrounding uniforms used to be really stupid (there ought to havebeen more interchangability of some parts, as you describeis the case in the UK), they ought to have been warmerand more adaptible to temperature, and they ought to have been much cheaper. Given the economies of scale that existed, along with the predictability of purchase cycles, uniforms ought to have ben *much* cheaper than regular clothes, rather thanslightly cheaper. You have to wonder the extentto which places like Hallensteins were making an obsceneprofit, and if there weren't a few backroom deals going on. Christopher Werry

One correspondent stated that jeans and sweat shirts are theuniform. So that is a uniform.Why don't all the schools have jeans and a sweat shirtthat represents their school?It would be a lot neater than what they have at half theschools. Listenings to may granddaughter there is too much free expression andnot enough respect for their teachers, calling teachers by their firstnames or blatantly their nicknames. She did not agree with it. Doreen

I disagree stronly with the Canadian. He isn't very specific about his observations. I've been here a hell of a lot longer than that and never seenit at all, nor have my kids. School experiences here as in most places depends which school he went to. As in Canada I imagine he chose aschool that would allow him to express himself sartorially speaking.In New Zealand in 1998 it is just as possible to find a schoolenvironment that would allow his self actualisation. Yyeah yeah yeah. So clever people should be allowed to dress as they choose?He overemphazizes the reaction of kids to wearing a uniform. I haven't seen any negative side effects. Dear oh dear he seems to indicate what rotten kids we have here. It does not mean New Zealand childrenare rotten. Maybe its just children that do gymnastics that areviolent countless times to their peers.... What sort of discipline is he taling about? In what way bizarre? Oh dear kiwis reallyare hopeless parents aren't they? Oh to be in Canada.... Kerry

My Mum moaned when I went secondary schoolShe had to buy 2 white blouses (she bought 2 boyswhite shirts as they were cheaper, don't ask me why)one navy blue gym (the gym got dry cleaned in theholidays, in between time you had to kept it smart)and 2 pairs of black stockings, and a pair if black lace up shoes and of course a school blazerand the school badge to sew on the pocket and the schooltie and beret (actually she got caught when I first went the hatswere felt with brims and we had to have panama hats in the summerthen they changed them to berets) Of course you had to buy theHat badge to sew on your beret (if a boy your cap)Work out how much that would cost now, I'll guaranteeeven at todays prices sweatshirts and jeans (I don't meandesigner) are cheaper than what our uniforms cost.I have grandchildren and know what jeans and sweatshirtscost. And I still reckon the kids would look better in sweatshirts (pilled or otherwise) and jeans instead of the expensive shoddyscruffy uniforms they are wearing here. Doreen

As a High School boy in Hastings in the thirties - yes, I'm a dynasaur - Iwore navy blue shorts and shirt right through Form 6, now Form 7, I believe,winter and summer. During intervals and lunch period we would be kicking afootball around and invariably sliding on the wet, and sometimes muddy,ground. It was a simple matter to wash one legs before re-entering school. We pitied the kids in Napier who wore long pants.The kids here wear uniforms anyway. Just look at any gang of High Schoolkids walking down the street. The same sloppy blue jeans and whatever. I inderstand that Mexico has mandated uniforms for all kids in school. Itmakes it hard to tell the haves from the have-nots and gives the poor kids abetter feeling. They get sent home if their uniforms are not clean and tidy. Try that hereand the kid come back to school with his/her lawyer. Jim T. Nanaimo

Christopher Wagner

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Created: June 5, 1999
Last updated: June 5, 1999