The difference between the school the kids currently attend and the schools we left behind is huge, almost to the point of absurdity. Although we came here knowing things would not be the same, I’m still constantly surprised by just how different the schools are.
The most obvious difference is that children here wear uniforms to school pretty much across the board, regardless of whether the school is public or private. My kids are in a private school and their uniform is pretty formal, but even public schools here have dressy uniforms: dress pants, button down shirts, and sweaters or blazers. No khakis and polo shirts–although I think even that is better than no uniform at all!
I love school uniforms. Wearing uniforms completely takes the pressure off the kids to dress a certain way. No one feels embarrassed because they don’t have the right brand of jeans or the coolest type of socks — which was an actual thing at the elementary school we were at in D.C. Cool, very expensive socks. No one dresses a certain way to fit in or judges people based on their clothes. Uniforms level the playing field.
School uniforms also make our mornings so much easier because everyone already knows what to wear. None of my kids complain that their favorite jeans aren’t clean or that they don’t want to wear a certain top or that they “have nothing to wear”. They get their uniforms on and that’s the end of it.
At our school, the boys wear a dress shirt, tie, v-neck sweater, and blazer. In the younger grades, the boys wear dress shorts and knee socks (so very traditional and British!) while the older boys are allowed to wear long pants. In the final year of school (US 12th grade, UK Upper Sixth Form), the boys at the Senior School wear a black suit every day.
The girls wear a dress shirt, v-neck sweater, and blazer as well. In the lower grades (up through US grade 5) they can either wear a pleated jumper/pinafore OR a pleated skirt. Both options are knee length. In the final year, the girls also wear a black suit every day, but with a skirt and black tights, not pants.
All the kids wear black leather dress shoes. No heels for the girls until senior year.
All the kids also have uniforms for P.E. and a separate uniform for school sports. They have a warm-up suit they wear over their sports gear when they travel to other schools for games and meets.
They have to wear a plain black or plain navy overcoat in the winter. They have a school knit hat with the school logo embroidered on it, a scarf in school colors, and plain black gloves. Even their backpacks have the school seal on them.
The initial investment for all this gear was huge — we paid over $3000 in total between the four kids. Although it was a huge shock to drop that much money on back to school clothes, and at the time I thought it was sort of silly to have SO MANY required items, now I really appreciate how much easier it makes my life.
The thing I think I love most about the uniforms, though, is that wearing them makes the kids feel a greater sense of belonging to the school. They are representing the school with the very clothes they wear and as such they are expected by the staff to “look smart” and to be put together. I’ve seen teachers remind students to straighten their ties or tuck in their shirts. There’s a general expectation of formality and propriety.
The level of formality of the uniforms also forces the students to be a little less casual in their behavior as well. You sit up straighter in a jacket and tie than you do in a hoodie. Wearing a dress uniform every day also teaches them that you can still play and have fun in dressy clothes (therefore by extension there is no good reason to dress in athletic wear unless you are actually participating in an athletic event). They are learning from a young age that certain clothing is appropriate for certain occasions and NOT appropriate for others. On the whole, I feel like my kids dress a little nicer now, by choice, even when they’re not going to school, and I think the uniforms have a lot to do with that.
I didn’t expect to have such strong feelings about school uniforms; I saw them as a cute change and though how fun it would be to see the kids all dressed up all day. Now I see that they are an important learning tool in the school environment and I appreciate how they simplify my life.
School uniforms for the win!