Why we shun school uniform - Keith Budge in TES

Posted on 14th November 2016

In an article for the TES Focus on Independent Schools, Keith Budge considers the case for school uniforms and concludes that they are not right for a school such as Bedales, which encourages individuality and self-expression.

Various arguments are made of behalf of uniforms – their wearing is bound up with discipline and respect for authority, they provide a shared identity and soften differences, and they are part of preparing young people for adult life. Conversely, a school policy to not have a uniform is often confused with a kind of neglectful progressivism. The late Sir Chris Woodhead, former Chief Inspector of Schools, commented in the Sunday Times in 2013: “there are plenty of comprehensive schools without a uniform and with a relaxed, bohemian atmosphere where the kids learn nothing and hate school.”  Keith takes issue with this analysis, explaining that Bedales students learn plenty and enjoy coming to school.

The Bedales attitude to dress reflects the school’s approach to everything concerned with schooling: students are encouraged to exercise choice, but with a consideration of the wider context. The school motto – “Work of each for weal of all” – stresses on the one hand the importance of individuality, and on the other the duty of each person to the community.

With regard to the potential for uniforms for fostering a shared identity and iron out differences, Keith explains that at Bedales students are expected to contribute to the making of decisions on how the school is run, and what happens in the classroom – more powerful by far than uniforms as a way in which shared identity might be created, he argues.

The Bedales way is to give young people the room to make mistakes and to learn from them, with clothing a relatively risk-free area in which to experiment with choice. The school only begins to take an interest if offence is taken. Where there is conflict, people are encouraged to have their say, and accommodation sought. Keith concludes: “Personally, I find the prospect of a dull curriculum and boring teaching far more offensive than any clothes worn by our students.”

To read the full article, click here (PDF - with kind permission from TES).