Wednesday, 4 February 2009

School uniforms

My big girl is getting ready for her first day of year four, and is putting on her Catholic school uniform (which is unusually orderly, having just had its annual dryclean).

There are debates to be had about school uniforms. The most common is that they suppress kids' individuality. That's an interesting issue and an argument I'm willing to have, but ultimately I tend to come down on the side of uniforms. They prevent kids from using clothes to compete with one another, which alienates those who can't afford to keep up with the Joneses. And on the whole (or at my daughter's school, at least), they save money. I'll take my daughter's easy to wash and dry pinafore any day, over the barrage of costly Bratz outfits and impractical shoes I might otherwise have to buy.

One thing I'm less than chuffed about, though, is that uniform sales seem to be used by some schools at least as a profit-making venture. I've heard through the grapevine that the Ministry of Consumer Affairs has had several complaints to this effect. Because there's not a large market for any particular type of school uniform, manufacturers and/or retailers (who may be schools) are in a position to charge unfairly.

At my daughter's school, uniform costs are still cheaper than equipping my girl with a year's worth of mufti. But I'm completely bemused by the requirement that girls wear a polo shirt with the school insignia on it. The insignia raises the price of the shirt from $20 to $40 bucks - even though its really just a bog standard shirt manufactured by mistreated workers in China. And to add insult to injury, the insignia is completely hidden beneath the girls' pinafores. Only God can see it! It makes me a bit suspicious...


artandmylife said...

My 6 year old has just started her new school today and its our first experience with a uniform. For us its cheaper (a Postie+ uniform) and I agree about the "keeping up witht he Jones aspect". My neighbour called it a "leveller". The insignia on the school sun hat doubled the price but that was the only thing.

Placebogirl said...

One of the things I have a problem with is the gendering of uniforms, particularly for little kids. I think I would be much more pro-uniform if little girls got things that made it just as easy to run and jump without "showing their knickers" as little boys. My (co-ed) highschool actually had an asexual uniform (which meant the pants and the shorts didn't really fit anyone, sadly but the same thing could have been done with boys' and girls' versions of the pants), and I liked that a lot better.

Julie said...

One thing I never get about school uniforms is ties. What's the point? It's just a meaningless bit of fabric that adds to the price of the uniform with no return. And no one ever knows how to tie them properly so you just slip it on and off over your head for as long as possible and then if it comes undone hope that there is someone in the vicinty who knows how to fix it.

Anonymous said...

I agree with everyone. I went to catholic schools with uniforms and it didn't do me any harm. (well the catholicism did but not the uniforms). It's funny but I've noticed that talking to the parents of my sons peers (hes 4) the ones who go on about uniforms being controlling and suppressing individuality are generally the ones who spend a small fortune kitting their kids out in label clothing. If both of our kids were in uniforms how would they prove their superiority?

Hugh said...

I was staunchly against uniforms when I was at high school and I haven't really changed my views since. I think that the argument about designer clothing is a bit of a false one - it doesn't seem to be a big problem at high schools that don't have uniforms. And even if it were a problem, I think it's being solved with a sledgehammer. Is this really what we want to teach kids? "Sometimes people use their rights in ways that may harm others, so we take those rights away for everybody"

Even when uniforms are present the desire to compete with one another in that way still manage to find ways to do so (in my high school, we all had highly personalised backpacks). Perhaps we should all have had the same backpack? And maybe similar haircuts, so that people didn't compete with one another to see who could have the most expensive hairstyles? And so on and so on.

So, in summary, school uniforms are a non-solution to a very minor problem.

Anna said...

Ties are absurd - so are woollen kilts, for that matter. To be fair, I think there has been a trend towards more practical and comfortable uniforms in the last few years.

My high schools was socioeconomically quite diverse, and as one of the poor folks I always found mufti day to be an absolute ordeal. It was like being asked to advertise your inadequacy. Having said that, though, girls (and it was girls) who could afford nice clothing did manage to convey this even through their uniforms.

A state primary school in Dunedin recently chose to adopt a uniform - it is also socioeconomically diverse. The poor kids were getting picked on, and the wealthier ones were having their clothing stolen.

Good point about the gendering of uniforms. One thing I will say for wee girls' pinafores, though, is that they're at least as hardwearing as boys' uniforms. My daughter climbs trees, rolls down hills and so on in hers!

Carol said...

I liked wearing school uniform, because I was a bit of a tomboy and wasn't that much into clothes. Well, at least not the sort of clothes most girls seemed to think were cool. Mufti always seemed so highly gendered, and (hetero)sexualised in comparison with the uniform.

I always liked the tie as it seemed kind of drag-gy. I learned how to tie it fairly early on, which turned out to be a handy skill on the odd occasion when I wore a tie to a lesbian event.

In comparison, Sunday School/bible class was a nightmare. It seemed to me the only reason the other girls and their mothers went there or to church was to compare clothes, and put down the females they considered didn't measure up. This all seemed a total contradiction of the Christian message. That, and my inability to follow the logic of Christianity - the crucifixion, the taking things on faith etc, put my off Christianity/religion for life.

So yay, for school uniforms, and a double yay for making them as least gendered as possible.

Lenore said...

I think you go over the top about uniforms being a leveler blah blah blah - that has been going on for decades. None of my kids wear uniforms from primary to secondary and it certainly has not cost more than a uniform my nieces had to buy. My two younger kids wear hand me downs which are free and my older girl wore jeans every day basically

Also when our kids are 5 or 6 years old, they basically do what we say. What about when they are teenagers and want to express them selves. I also liked the fact that at the secondary school my daughter went to, the students could wear what they liked and basically no one cared as long as they wore shoes and nothing offensive. No bloody issues about hair colour, pierced ears etc that uniformed schools get really anal about. A couple of the guys at my daughter's school liked to wear dresses and skirts - no one cared.

If there has to be a uniform, keep it flexible - girls wear pants or skirt etc. The uniforms I had to wear were gross and when we tried to petition to wear pants - oh no not lady like. 29 years later the school still doesn't allow girls to wear pants - pathetic.

Roman catholic primary schools may have cheap uniforms but others don't, you can be hit up to $1000 for a uniform. Better to get your kids into op shopping eh!!

lauredhel said...

My jaw dropped at your $20/$40 sentence! This _saves_ you money?!

My kid's school uniform consists of either a brand new logo polo or tee shirt at around $14-$18, a new generic correct-colour polo shirt from Big W for $4, or a secondhand shirt from the school uniform shop for $1; paired with any shorts or tracksuit pants of the right colour, again $4 new or $1 secondhand.

This still doesn't actually save us money over the hand-me-downs or Freecycled clothes he wears most of the time, but at least it's a manageable cost.

Lucy said...

I always loved wearing a school uniform as a kid because I was completely uninterested in clothing and uniforms were a way to avoid dealing with it. However, at secondary school level they can be *very* expensive. My mid-decile school did its best to get people to donate old uniforms back and made arrangements for the poorer families to buy them at an affordable cost, but it was hardly a perfect arrangement.

I also agree with the gendering comments - ours was a knee-length skirt, which was less restrictive than it could have been but still, well, a skirt. The option of shorts or trousers would have been nice. At seventh-form level, when mufti became permissible, almost everyone wore trousers to school.

Carol said...

Isn't one of the factors in the cost equation to do with the number of outfits a school student needs?

With a uniform, a student just needs enough versions of it to allow for washing it. With mufti, especially for females, I feel that it's still fairly likely that a student needs to have a diversity of outfits so as not to attract some negative judgements. So a student would need to have a bigger wardrobe if they don't wear a uniform - not a problem for a well-off family.

Lenore, maybe you live in a very enlightened area, but, given the wider focus on consumerism in society, and the pre-occupation of physical appearance, especially for females, I find it difficult to believe that, in most shcools, there is not some degree of negative criticism of those (especially females) who don't measure up to some fashion standards.

As a school student I was always grateful that I didn't have to think about such fashion wars at school and could focus more on the other aspects of education.

I don't think there's necessarily a direct correlation between individuality in fashion choices and critical thinking on educational, political, social matters. In fact, an excessive focus on appearance can divert attention from (what I would consider to be) more important aspects of life. And this maybe helps to counter the excessive, consumerism-driven, focus on appearance in the wider society.

Anna said...

The cost of the uniform has a fair bit to do with the elitism of the school.

My daughter's uniform cost under $300 (including both winter and summer bits, and not withstanding the dodgy insignia business).

Probably, I could kit her out with a year's worth of clothes for that amount if I was frugal and bought second hand. But I might be setting her up to be mocked by her peers. I'm amazed at how girls my daughter's age are already into conspicuous consumption - including cellphones and stuff. My girl is already starting to feel a bit behind the trends...

hungrymama said...

I'm not convinced about the uniform being a leveler thing. I remember at high school that it was very easy to see who could afford to buy their uniform new and have enough garments to be able to wash midweek and who had to make do with the old, faded, stained, two-sizes-too-small pinafore.

My kid goes to a school without a uniform and, while things may be different for the older ages, the wee ones really don't care about labels or newness.

Bri said...

My son attends public school in Australia. He wears hat, shorts and a polo tshirt in summer and track pants, polo shirt and windcheater/sweater in winter. Shorts costs about $8 a pair and he has 3 pairs. Polo tops cost about $6 each and he has 5 or so. Windcheaters cost about $10 and he has 3. The school hat cost $10. His shirts last him at least a year before he grows out of them, same with jumpers and track pants. The hat lasts a couple of years. So to kit him out entirely in school uniform for at least a year cost us about $100. There is no way I could get a years worth of mufti for $100. No way. School uniforms are easier for parents and children. My primary school didnt have a compulsory uniform and it was hell for those of us that didn't measure up in the fashion stakes.

kitsuchi said...

I went to a uniform school at intermediate, and a mufti high school, and I definitely prefered mufti. I actually think I felt more pressure around what I wore with the uniform - we had shorts or long trousers, and gosh, were the trousers uncool. So even in the middle of winter you wore shorts. And when they were really getting too small for you. (There was a skirt option at this school, but next to no-one wore it.)

Whereas at high school I wore whatever I wanted. Most of dressed second hand (and I had a much older sister who could give me her cool hand-me-downs), and I honestly don't remember feeling any pressure about what we wore, and certainly less about my appearance. For one thing, as a girl with big breasts I could dress to play that down, as opposed to having to wear tent-like polo shirts.

We dressed pretty outlandishly sometimes, but as at Lenore's daughter's school, no-one cared. Maybe we were an unusual school, but I got way more criticism about my appearance at intermediate than I did at high.

The downside was really in the public perception of our school (I got asked once if it was true we grew pot on the field). I know, for example, my sister's old school was always seen as a 'bad' school, and only gained 'respectablity' after they introduced uniforms.

Lenore said...

I don't necessarily agree that if our girls or boys wear a uniform, then the problems of peer pressure will go away but i guess it depends upon where you live. We definitely have some girls at my 2 younger daughters' primary school that are becoming little shits about what other girls look like etc.

However, we are fortunate where we live, because most of those girls tend to go off to the various state and private all girls schools so my girls will follow their older sister and go to the local co-ed where there really was not the bitchiness - it was great. We certainly don't live in an enlightened area but there just seems to have developed a culture of not hassling people for what they look like etc.

I spent two years at this ridiculous girls convent catholic college where you even had to wear a hat which cost a bomb. I of course hated it and cut the rim of it before ensuring it was run over by a bus a number of times. We had ties too - which most girls pulled the threads out of. We had to wear tights or pantyhose which i used to have huge holes covered in bright red nail polish so they wouldn't get bigger (not allowed socks). The nuns used to make us kneel on the floor to check the height of our skirt. Girls just rolled them up to make them shorter. Terrible school with a hideous uniform which luckily enough i got expelled from and i have to thank my atheism for.

Kitsuchi, my older daughter's school also has some hanger on reputation that stems from the 1970's about being a druggy school with no discipline. Load of rubbish really as everyone knows you get the best drugs from the posh private schools! (-:

Anonymous said...

The school uniforms have really helped out with our budgeting for this year, in spite of the required insignia.