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Anything but Uniform

One of the things I’m most frequently asked by prospective parents is why, at Highgate Primary School, we don’t have a uniform. It’s a good question – and one that always reveals strong opinions.

As a schoolboy I wore a uniform. I managed to go through primary school in short trousers, shirt and tie, and in the early days, a cap. Not the most practical attire, especially in the depths of winter, but getting really cold is character building. Ties weren’t really that practical, especially when painting, and lost caps tended to need replacing most weeks. But we looked smart which, I guess, was important.

At secondary school our uniform was there to be sabotaged. I became an expert at tying fat ties, but later equally adept at the classic ‘peanut’. Wearing uniform was a challenge to find out how far you could push things without being sanctioned, after all, the uniform policy never said that ties needed to be worn around the neck. It was much more fun to be Robert De Nero in The Deer Hunter than uphold the good name of the school.

In the 6th form we were not required to wear uniform, but the expectation was to wear a suit. I acquired a good selection of vintage suits from charity shops, with one enormous dinner suit making an occasional appearance in the classroom (sadly it now fits perfectly). The ‘how far can you push it?’ prize however, went to a student who was sent home to change after arriving in a suit of armour. I remember at the time thinking this was unfair.

A bit of internet research on school uniforms throws up the following standard paragraph: ‘Our uniform policy reinforces our academy’s culture of high expectations and academic achievement.’ Clearly, in this country, a view has prevailed that somehow wearing a uniform magically leads to higher attainment. Why? It always amuses me to note that in Finland, officially the highest performing education system in the world, children do not wear uniform. Just imagine what Fins could achieve with caps and ties.

Just as a uniform reflects the aims and values of a school, the decision not to have a uniform does the same. At Highgate Primary we value individualism. We want children to be themselves, to be comfortable with who they are and be free to express themselves through what they wear. I like it when Rose comes to school as Harry Potter or when Coralie wears her Gingerbread Man outfit – and I like the current trend for unicorn horns. I even like our Year 6 girls, as happened last week, turning up in their Onesies. It’s mildly rebellious but it never lasts (there’s a challenge).

We’re comfortable being a no uniform school. For many of our parents, not having a uniform is important, and influenced their decision to choose Highgate Primary. A decision to introduce a uniform now would be controversial and might alienate a large section of our community – not to mention most of our children. As the Department for Education is keen to learn from the best education systems in the world, perhaps it’s time to look at Finland and lay this uniform red herring to rest once and for all.

William