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school uniforms  380x411 When school uniforms go too far...

Would you like a dress code with that?

by SAM PAIOR

As a member of my kids’ school governing council, twice each term I get to sit and listen to the principal, staff and parents complain about electricity bills, the doors that need to be replaced, the graffiti on the windows, the private piano teacher using space for free, the war relic canteen pie warmer with its own staph colony, and school uniform.

Mostly, I try to engage and offer something meaningful, and to not drift away as members earnestly discuss whether we should stock the MSG free hot dogs in the canteen, or whether our after school care should set debt collectors on the non-payers.

But talking about school uniforms actually got kinda interesting.

My kids are at a regular local government school. The kind where, when I was a kid, we didn’t have to wear a uniform at all. At about eight years old, I switched into a state school from a relatively exclusive private school, so on my first day of term two, grade three, not knowing any better, my parents sent me to school in a white collared shirt, school pinafore, long socks and a school tie. Yep, my Mum put me in a tie at state primary school. I still bear the scars.

Our local school today doesn’t have actual shirts, let alone ties. We have a school polo t’shirt, zip up fleece jackets and school colour pants and shorts. The girls get those options, as well as a skort (skirt with in-built shorts), pinafore or summer dress.

We don’t have monogrammed school socks, and the kids’ footwear is open slather. I mean that. Kids wear anything from flimsy plastic sandals, to footy boots, to crocs, to knee length vinyl heeled boots. Note to parents: your children cannot actively participate in fitness and sports activities wearing those stupid shoes.

The girls will wear pink socks, purple socks, socks with rainbow stripes. They even wear those heinous three quarter length “leggings” in any colour, with lace trim which ends below their summer dress, and above the lace on their orange striped socks. It’s not – believe me – a good look.

World war three erupted in the staff room on a recent Monday night, as the dominant faction demanded that “school coloured socks” and “school coloured tights – NO leggings” be added to the school uniform code. The other faction roared “But this is a State school! We don’t have money to buy the right colours, and our kids will scream, and why can’t they express their individuality?!”

Sarah, leader of the dominant faction, with a hint of an imperial accent, let it be known that while *her* children didn’t dress like ragamuffins, that when the other kids wore black hoodies with glow-in-dark skeletons, pink socks or knee high rainbow leggings, the class photos were simply horrendous.

Don’t get me wrong. While I like the kids to look smart, and show some pride in their school and uniform, does it really make a difference?

Anecdotal research would suggest so. Actual research? Not so much.

If I’m honest, the research is pretty divided, but this is my opinion, so I choose… Dr David Brunsma, whose decades of study have shown that when a new dress code is implemented at a school, bad behaviours *increase*. In the relatively few schools where behaviour improved, the chances were that there was a raft of other behaviour and curriculum changes made at the same time. According to Dr Brunsma, “uniforms work as a catalyst for change and provide a highly visible window of opportunity. It is this window which allows additional programs to be implemented”

So, instead of watching my fellow councillors bitch about which schools look the most “bogan” and whether pink socks should be banished from the island, I should probably look at the debate with fresh eyes and say “Why don’t we look at updating our behaviour policy at the same time?”

Sam Paior is involved with the website www.ParentsHelpingParents.org.au which she started with a few other parents of kids with special needs.

Did you wear a uniform at school? How strict/hideous was it? Do you think they’re a positive or negative thing for kids?

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