It’s time for students to stand up and question why uniforms are enforced so strictly in schools. It’s right that in several schools in Britain, students have been protesting against rigid uniform rules and the punishment they receive when they break them.
Teachers tell us that school uniforms are equalisers. We are told that they stop students from feeling like they have to compete with each other to wear brands or the latest trends. But uniforms still highlight inequality between students and can still affect poorer students’ self-esteem.
In secondary school, we were told by the school to buy leather shoes and have specific blazers. Now in sixth form, we are told to dress in “business casual”, which means blazers and smart attire.
Of course, these items are out of reach for some students. And when these poorer students don’t have the correct uniform, they can be punished for it.
At secondary school, you could miss your lunch break or be put in detention. If you broke the rules because you couldn’t afford, for example, formal shoes and wore trainers to school instead, you could be labelled a “bad student”.
In sixth form the rules are more relaxed. But you can still have the time you’re allowed to go home to study taken away from you to punish for uniform infringements. I was disciplined by a teacher a few months ago for walking into the classroom with my scarf still on, as I hadn’t had time to take it off after being outside in the cold.
It’s also definitely true that schools in poorer areas push for strict uniforms even harder—ties, blazers and smart shoes—all to make the school look more prestigious.
Uniform standards can also highlight sexist and racist stereotypes in wider society. Some teachers and the head told us we weren’t allowed to wear hoodies at our secondary school in east London.
We were told that hoodies were associated with gangs and that the school didn’t want to be associated with them. At a school with mainly black and Asian pupils, this is certainly playing into offensive and racist stereotypes.
And when teachers punish us for having skirts that are considered too short, this can also play into sexist ideas. Young women can be made to feel that if their skirts are too short, that they were “asking for” sexual harassment or attention. We need to start questioning everything about school uniform policy.
Why is it right that students get punished for wearing the wrong coloured socks or wearing makeup in class? Why should we be sent out of the classroom because our uniform isn’t correct, interrupting our learning?
We must say firmly that how we dress doesn’t affect our ability to be taught. As socialists, we also need to argue that strict uniform codes point to something deeper.
Every day we are ground down by these codes and how they are enforced in schools. If your uniform isn’t right for any reason, you feel worried about it all day.
We have come to accept these rules that we have had to follow from a young age and believe it’s normal. But it’s not normal. These strict codes prepare us students to be good workers when we leave school and to keep our heads down, conform and don’t challenge authority.
The protests we have seen across the country have led to conversations at our sixth form about the function of school uniforms. We need to see more students rising up and teachers speaking out to challenge school’s strict uniform codes.Original post