The Significance of School Uniform

Figure 1.--For many the uniform at a school is a reflection of discipline and other standards and is important it forming opinions about the school. Not everyone can carefully study a school's operation. Anyone can glance at a school's pupils and form a quick opinion as the boys travel to and from school.

The school uniform is the single-most vissible element of any school. Boys in school uniform are in fact walking advertisements for a school, giving an impression of the school for good or for bad throughout a town or city. This is of obvious importance to fee paying schools, but it also reflects on how the public views the performance of the staff at state schools.

Many believed the uniform to be an accurate reflection of a school's discipline standards and discipline because, as any school teacher can tell you, it critical to the functioning of any school. No school can function effectively without a disciplined student body. Yet descipline without an effective education program has little value. Thus uniform standards can be misleading. A school might produce excellent results, academically, artistically or atheletically--but slovenly dresses students suggested to many that the school was not effective. Likewise, neatly tuned out boys suggested to many that a school, no matter how dismal the results, was an effective one.

Figure 2.--Many believe that having boys dress neatly for school sends an unmistakanable message that school is somthing to be taken seiously. It helps to establish the principle that they are in school to seriously apply themselves and not play.

Despite this obvious fact, there was once no other aspect of a school more likely to be regarded as the clear reflection of discipline. The state of the pupils' dress was thought to reflect the overall effectivness of the school. Academic results are hard to evaluate. Sure some schools might win more honors, but often that reflects the factors such as selectivity or the socio-economic status of the community from which the children are drawn. Even so excellent academic and sporting results might weigh less in some people's eyes than the appearance of the students as they move back and forh to school. If the boys and girls wear their shirttails outside their trousers and skirts or if their knee socks are falling down their legs, if caps are worn awkwardly, or if their ties re loosened and worn slovenly, many would think there was something very wrong at the school. In the same way, some parents were confused by the outward appearances of a smartly turned out boy with cap and blazer, his tie in place and his knee socks properly pulled up--thinkimg this was a reflection of a happy effective school.

Figure 3.--School uniforms do not mean that children can not play and have fun at school.

This is not to say there is no relationship between superficial matters such as well-turned out boys and the physical appearance of the school buildings and grounds. There is certainly some relatinship between the way a school looks and the quality of education it offers. Certainly this is not a perfect indicator, but it probably is a very good ne. Piles of litter, graffiti, rampant vandalism, dischelved teachers and children are indicators of the absence of effective leadership and the lack of pride in one's community. A principal or headmaster who ignores such matters to focus on more important matters is not being priogressive; he or she is failing to address his responsibilities. While the children may not verbalize such matters, they very much notice them. Poor maintenance and discheveled staff are signals to the children that the people that matter do not consider their education important. Letting children come to school in trendy, often scruffy clothes is a signal that they are not expected to seriously apply themselves. The problem for educators is how to achieve a reasonable ballance of minimal tidiness without an undue use of authority on what is admitedly a rather superficial matter.

Parents, teachers, and students still debate the value of school uniforms. But beyond these discussions, the debate over school uniform can take on an importance far beyond the issues involved. More importantly it is an impression that everyone in the vicinity of a school forms, most of whom do not have the opportunity and interest in assessing a school's program.

Careful, clicking on these will exit you from the Boys' Historical Clothing web site, but several are highly recommended

  • Apertures Press International Project: Pictures at schools in different countries and a book on British schools
  • Apertures Press New Zealand book: New book on New Zealand schools in progress
  • School Uniform Web Site: Informative review of British school uniforms with some excellent photographs
  • British Preparatory Schools: A photographic book depicting life at British preparatory schools during the 1980s. Most of the schools are English or Scottish, but schools in Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, and Ulster are also included. The pictures show the uniforms worn at many different schools.
  • Information: Information about school uniforms in America

    Christopher Wagner

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    Created: October 7, 1998
    Last updated: October 7, 1998