Do we need school uniforms?

School uniform is an expense we could perhaps do without – unless you can get cast-offs for free. So why do some schools make it so specific?


While the back to school ads were in the shops before summer term was over, many parents will have been receiving a round of school admin emails in the last couple of weeks. Many of them tend to centre around school uniform, but who can afford a new blazer or PE kit at the moment? The age old debate about whether a school uniform is necessary and whether it saves money and stigma in the longer term tends to surge at this point.

I’m not passionate one way or the other, but what I object to is the need for uniforms to be so specific. Why do you need to have a pleated skirt or a revere collar, whatever that is? What possible difference does it make? Why does every PE item need a logo? Ditto jumpers? Is it just to force you to go to the one uniform shop that sells it [at much higher prices than, say, Asda], which you apparently have to do before the end of July – before the holidays if possible – or it won’t be delivered in time – something that slips my mind every single year? Who makes this stuff up? Is it a punishment for parents? What about if children have a growth spurt over the holidays? I’ve been thinking of getting my son a blazer for 18 year olds [he’s 12] for the purposes of growth. If he wears a thick jumper underneath he may be able to bulk it out. Apparently there is a shortage of blazers this year [to add to all the other shortages] so there was an email to say other ‘interim’ blazers could be used in the meantime.

The thing to do is to network with other parents and swap uniform, of course, if you have time to network. Schools often have second hand uniform on offer, but ours only sells that on restricted work days, which doesn’t make it easy for parents since it’s half an hour’s drive away.

My son came home last term with a PE shirt two sizes too small for him. I have no idea how he couldn’t see that it was not his shirt since it had a label in it with someone else’s name on – someone he has never heard of. His original shirt was for a 14 year old, built to last. I figured he could probably squeeze into it until the end of GCSEs. Now he informs me that his shorts are getting a bit tight. I’ve told him if he can make it till next year he can have a new pair. Perhaps it will encourage him to do more exercise and a little less Minecraft.

But why go on about uniform when every day brings more news of the country’s imminent collapse? Today it was head teachers talking about choosing between a three-day week due to the heating bills or firing arts and humanities staff or support staff such as mental health experts due to rising costs all round. Then there’s the possibility of teacher strikes to go with all the other strikes as the public sector, starved for years, falls apart. We could be back to homeschooling part of the week by the end of the year – homeschooling in the freezing cold with the heating turned off. Then school uniform will be completely immaterial.

Meanwhile, nurseries are closing, it’s getting harder to recruit and retain social care staff and everyone is terrified of anyone in their family getting ill. What kind of a dystopian world have we sleepwalked into? The thing is that much of this has been coming in slow motion for years, exacerbated, of course, by Covid, the Ukraine war and Brexit. It’s just that we have been distracted by trivia or politicians blaming anyone except themselves. No-one has been interested in social policy. I was a social policy reporter back in the day and I was told a thousand times that stories about care homes, disability, poverty and so forth don’t sell. No-one wants to read them and since everything is now about ‘selling’ rather than informing we have to report on what sells. Well, here we are now and apparently social policy does matter. In fact, social policy is at the centre of everything. It holds us together.

Let’s see what the next school term brings.

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