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From the ages of five to 16, British pupils have to wear a white shirt (sometimes with a tie) or polo t-shirt, jumper or blazer, smart trousers or a smart skirt, and black shoes every Monday to Friday. The jumper normally has the school’s badge on it.
In most schools, there is even a uniform for physical education and sports! It is only when they go to sixth-form or college that British teens can finally wear their own clothes to school.
There are some rules when it comes to school uniforms in the UK. They have to be fair to both genders. And, unlike French schools, British schools allow children to wear clothing linked to their religion and culture, such as turbans and headscarves.
Many countries across the world have a compulsory school uniform policy, or at least a dress code. In Australia, the system is similar to Britain. In Brazil, pupils at private schools wear uniform but it is not always the case for state school pupils who might not be able to afford a uniform. Most state schools in the USA and Canada don’t have a school uniform, but do have a dress code – rules against indecent or offensive clothing. In the Dominican Republic, school uniforms are required by law.
But what do students think about their uniforms? Many students, in the UK at least, feel they lose their identity when everyone has to wear the same clothes to school. They also feel that it takes away their freedom to make decisions and express themselves.
Others feel that a school uniform makes everyone equal, stops feelings of jealousy and helps save time in a morning! For teachers, it could help reduce discipline problems – teachers can teach and students can learn.
However, it is not always the case that school uniforms are the ‘cheaper’ option compared to wearing your own clothes. A study from charity Family Action, which supports disadvantaged families, found that many poor parents paid 40 percent of their monthly salary in August on ‘back-to-school costs’. The average cost of uniforms for boys is £160.74 (about 183 Euros) and for girls is £155.95 (about 177 Euros). At primary school, the average is £113.44 (129 Euros).
The charity says that uniforms are popular with parents because they hide differences in income, and because children look smart and well-presented. The study found that most children like school uniforms because ‘they do not need to worry about having the latest fashions’, and so there is less peer pressure.
However, the cost is a big problem for many families. Helen Dent, chief executive of Family Action, told the British press: ‘It can’t be right that going back to school breaks the bank for some families. Too many families struggle to make ends meet over the expensive summer months in preparation for September.’
It is difficult to know what is fairer. It is a real shame that some families have difficulty in paying for school uniforms, as the idea is supposed to be that uniforms make differences in income less obvious.
As for teenagers, when I was at school, I remember that most of the pupils (especially the girls) in my class tried to make their uniform more individual. Some wore makeup and jewellery (if they could hide it when a teacher passed by!). Others bought their trousers from fashionable shops or wore short skirts. (Sometimes, however, they were punished if they went too far.)
Overall, I don’t think school uniforms are a bad idea as there is already a lot of pressure on teenagers – having the ‘coolest’ clothes at school, or being bullied because you don’t have them, shouldn’t be one of them.
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