This week my young daughter started at Comp. We have spent more on her uniform than on a self-catering holiday in Kernow.   There are trousers which are not boys, yet look the same as them; there is a jumper with badge on, and long-sleeved shirts far too hot for classrooms; there is a grey hoodie which can't be worn in class and is for sport alone, to be worn by girls and not boys in a breach of the European Declaration on Human Rights for certain.
   There is a  hockey skirt and I half expected a lacrosse outfit, except she's off to Ysgol Gyfun not Howell's! We bought the wrong one, a wrap-around affair like a mini-sari. I was sent to buy the right one called a 'scort' and nearly came back with a 'scart lead'!
   At least she inherited ties from my two oldest, though one is unwearable as it's graffitied with 'MANICS'. We checked the other to see if it had 'MOZART' on it, but luckily didn't.
   I loathe school uniform and always have done. From my days in Grammar School waering cap , ridiculous shorts and an enormous blazer handed down from my brother, right through to being a teacher and witnessing the inordinate waste of time spent spying on pupils, admonishing and punishing them for breaking petty rules.
   Having taught in Germany which, in common with most of Europe, has no uniforms, I know that they're totally unnecessary, uncomfortable and very expensive. Moreover, German pupils had acquired a very sensible and practical approach, mostly wearing jeans and t-shirts. In summer they could wear shorts without fear of suspension. It was all very civilised, like the 6th form at Radyr Comp. (where I used to teach) and like Primary schools used to be in this country.
   I'm tempted to take the whole matter to the European Court of Human Rights, as no school can legally force any pupil to wear uniform, many of which are fit for funerals ( black), or for mockery from other schools (red).
   The only thing stopping me is the fact that my daughter would be a 'guinea pig' in this process and her schooling would be sacrificed for my principles.As with the tawse in Scotland and cane elsewhere, I dream of a day when uniform's banned forever.
   It's all a legacy of the public school system : a reflection of the over-riding militarism in schools, which sought to impose discipline from above rather than foster self-discipline. The ConDems would return to this in a more obsessive way with their desire to appoint ex-members of the Armed Forces in all England's schools; conveniently forgetting the strong culture of bullying in the Forces, exemplified by Deep Cut barracks.
   It's about time that we learnt from the likes of Finland ( whose system was excellently reported by a certain Ciaran Jenkins on BBC Wales last week) and trusted pupils and teachers to make their own decisions and that includes what to wear in both cases. I was once admonished by the Governors of a school for not wearing a tie, though thankfully my last school weren't so dictatorial. Pride comes from loving the whole school environment, not from brandishing the regimental badge.
   The April Rising at Pen-y-dre High School in the 80's brought this home to me more dramatically than anything else.
   It was the time of the Miners' Strike, Greenham Common and the teachers' industrial action. Every lunchtime we left school, as part of a work-to-rule, to demonstrate that the lunch hour was ours.
   I believe all this influenced the pupil protest at Pen-y-dre ,which was highly organised, even if some criminal elements did exploit it to fling sausages at staff cars and smoke in the open. It was a reaction to a newly-appointed Head of Year who threw her weight around and banned white socks and donkey jackets ( maybe that's why white socks became so iconic in Merthyr).
   About 60 pupils managed to chain and padlock the gates and sit down on the drive, having changed into 'civilian clothing'. Many more joined them later. Unbelievably, the only person allowed to leave was the Head, who had a meeting in Cardiff!
   The police eventually arrived at the end of the school day to break it up and 200 pupils were suspended as a result. The local paper published a story describing it as a minor disturbance: the Head was a master of spin long before Tony Blair.
   Contrary to myth, most pupils I taught were against school uniform, many vehemently so. There are also an increasing number of teachers with these views, often too afraid to voice them.
   The financial argument is increasingly important, as many newspaper stories have illustrated this week. In 'The Observer' an article entitled 'Families 'break the bank' to pay for school uniform' shows clearly how the rising costs and cuts in grants have hit the poorest families hardest.
   The argument that you cannot distinguish social class so easily is an absurd one. Pupils who are poorest inevitably stand out, with the tattiest uniforms. Pupils spend ages trying to defeat the system with its trivial rules about the colour of shoes or length of skirts. Energy better expended elsewhere.
   How can they possibly have faith in an education system based on such futility? How can they show respect to staff who have to pounce on them for wearing trainers to school? It merely breeds resentment and that April Rising was symbolic of it.

Off  To  Grammar

At eleven, I was packed off to Grammar
wearing above-knee grey shorts,
a peaked cap and handed-down blazer.
I must've resembled a stunted jockey
desperately searching for his horse.

I might as well have had the motto
'I am a victim. Aim here!'
on the badge at my head and heart.
Yellow the colour of the crest,
yellow the colour of my fears.

The older boys would grab our caps
and hurl them onto bus-shelter roofs,
they'd giggle at our spindly legs
which weren't even sprouting hairs.
At least my blazer was in shreds.

Within a month I wore long trousers,
my tie was hanging off like fur moulting,
my jumper beginning to lose its skin
and my cap had become a rugby ball
tossed down the three-quarters of the bus.

The bright badge was darkening
like a love-bite shown off for boasts
and whoever invented school uniform
to rile and humiliate us First Formers
must've tut-tut-tutted at the constant abuse.


01/29/2014 08:37

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