Uniform Behaviour - Keith Budge in The Week

Posted on 15th September 2016

Bedales is famously ‘non-uniform’, and in a recent article in The Week Independent Schools Guide Keith Budge argues for the school’s policy alongside Peter Green (Headmaster, Rugby School), an enthusiastic supporter of school uniforms.

New academies impose uniforms, suggests Peter Green, in order to encourage a sense of pride, belonging, loyalty and discipline. Rugby itself has a uniform that Green describes as “gender-neutral” and “old-fashioned”, which the students like. He argues that the uniforms give students a sense of being part of a community, and that they are a leveller – worn by those from wealthy families and those on 100% bursaries alike. Rather than being a constraint, he says, uniforms give students the freedom to be who they are rather than who they might be trying to be, and with friendships made on the basis of how people behave rather than how they look.

In contrast, Keith finds it interesting that any school policy not to have a school uniform is so often and easily confused with a kind of neglectful progressivism. At Bedales, despite the ‘no uniform’ policy he says, the students learn plenty and enjoy school, although this might be attributed to uniform policy only to a very small extent.

Rather, he says, the Bedales approach to dress reflects its attitude to everything concerned with schooling: the education to be had places students and their aspirations at its heart. Hje says: “‘Work of each for weal of all’, the school motto, contains within in it an important tension. On the one hand it stresses the importance of individuality, and on the other the duty of each person to the wider community.” Thus, liberalism and individuality is tempered by a social duty. “If there is no good reason to constrain students in their choices, then we don’t”, he explains.

But what of the potential for uniforms to share an identity and iron out differences?  He says: “There are far more powerful ways of creating shared identity: at Bedales, we expect our students to contribute to the making of decisions on how the school is run, and what happens in the classroom. We seek a shared identity that goes well beyond how we all look.”

Most adults do not wear uniforms, says Keith, but are expected to dress in a way that respects the context and those around them. He explains: “We give young people the space to play with this idea.  Students don’t always make choices that work particularly well, although at Bedales we believe in giving young people the room to make mistakes and to learn how to make a better fist of it. Clothing seems to me to be a relatively risk-free area in which to experiment with choice.”

The full articles published in the Autumn/Winter 2016 issue of The Week Independent Schools Guide are reproduced here with kind permission from The Week: Keith Budge, ‘In praise of not wearing uniform’; Peter Green, ‘The virtues of uniform’

Keith Budge blogs regularly during term-time – click here to read more from Keith.