Carmarthen Journal

Obsession with class, status and privilege

- With Graham Davies

MY secondary school uniform was iconic. It had more stripes than a zebra and more colours than Joseph’s amazing technicolo­ur dream-coat.

People in the street didn’t know whether I was an escaped convict or a circus performer. I blame the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1222 and his introducti­on of formal academic dress in the ‘cappa clausa’ – a long robe sewn up at the front and reminiscen­t of Hogwarts’ Albus Dumbledore.

In most European countries children in schools do not wear a uniform.

In Britain, the oldest, and possibly most bizarre, school uniform appeared in the Christ’s Hospital School, a school opened in 1552 for orphans and the children of the poor in London.

The free uniform consisted of a long blue coat, belted at the waist, matching knee breeches or skirt, yellow socks and white neck bands. This was to ensure that the children were inconspicu­ous in the community!

In the current cost-of-living crisis and when some schools ask parents to spend a ridiculous amount of money on ‘appropriat­e clothing’ to send their children to school, the Welsh Government has launched a consultati­on, concluding at the end of this month. It seeks views on school uniform and aspects such as branding, logos, single supplier, etc.

School uniform in Britain is a classic example of the obsession with class, status and privilege where the private sector from the early 19th Century built on the grammar school uniform to enhance their upper-class empires. Sadly it can also stifle individual­ity

School uniform suppliers salivated over the lucrative trade and whole floors of stores creaked with their wares. Schools, both private and state, preached about ethos, tone, standards, identity, belonging and discipline although the evidence is very thin to suggest that uniform improves learning or behaviour.

Parents have a stronger case when they argue that uniform avoids conflict over dress among peers – but noncomplia­nce issues in schools can distract from the real business of teaching and learning.

I do believe that making me dress like a zebra was part of a plan to make me think like all the others. It didn’t work.

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