‘School uniforms are used as a repressive tool of control’: Readers share their views

We asked readers how they feel about school uniforms for youngsters. The question has certainly evoked strong feelings - here are just some of them

Recently, Jen Hogan wrote about the Irish education system’s obsession with school uniforms. While not unique to Ireland, the wearing of school uniforms at primary and secondary level is not the norm throughout the world.

We asked readers for their views: Are school uniforms necessary? Are they a help or a hindrance? How they do affect a child’s comfort and individuality, and a parent’s bank account?

Here are a small selection of the submissions.

‘Militaristic and conformist’

“I hated my school uniform and did everything possible to individualise it throughout my school life. It does not guarantee equality of the child. Kids will find something to pick on others with, no matter what. It’s a cost on parents and unnecessary militaristic and conformist in a society that values individualism.” – Sean, Co Limerick


‘Don’t eliminate them’

“Itchy scratchy uniforms? You need to change your school or washing detergent! Most schools have uniforms based on consultation with parents, students and staff. They are designed to be easily washed and tumble-dried. Most can be bought locally and are very reasonably priced – if not, parents need to kick and shout a bit. I have four boys in two schools and the only item I need to buy is a jumper with a crest on it. Grey trousers and blue shirts can be found anywhere. As a teacher, I love them. As a mum, I adore them. They make life easy and cheap. I pass them down from one child to the next and can find second-hand items easily. There are no delays in the mornings. It gives students a sense of community and helps manage them outside of school. If you don’t like your school’s uniform, get on the board of management and the parents’ association and change it – but, for the love of God, don’t eliminate them.” – Sarah, Co Louth

‘Historical legacy’

“As a post-primary teacher, I see too often how uniforms are used as a repressive tool of control. Enforcing uniform, hair style and jewellery rules wastes a lot of school time and is not pretty. Students are humiliated, shamed, mocked, excluded from activities and detained because they are in breach of some element of the uniformity code. Any arguments that [uniforms] protect children from being shamed is laughable in this context. They are a historical legacy – a peculiar mix of snobbery, aping our colonial masters who invented school uniforms, and repression (especially of girls), mirroring the erstwhile dress habits of religious orders who control our schools.

“Ireland and Malta, with a similar British colonial and Catholic history, are the only two EU countries where school uniforms are the norm. Miraculously, students in all other EU countries manage to get dressed every day without a uniform. Forcing children to wear uniforms has unsettling echoes of a fascist past in Europe. In France it was Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally who earlier this year proposed the introduction of uniforms in schools. Thankfully it was rejected.

“I realise that many students and parents think that they could not cope without a uniform. Some of my 18-year-old students say they would be daunted by the thought of getting dressed in their own clothes for school. How much of an indictment is that of how poorly our system prepares them for the real world? Anyhow, if that is the case, make it optional. Let those who want one, wear one, but don’t force them on everybody.

“Uniforms are an educationally bankrupt concept, symbolising an antiquated system in which conformity trumps self-expression, free thinking and creativity. These are qualities we need in a modern world confronted with so many problems. It is time for us to consign uniforms to history and catch up with the 21st century.” – Gearóid, Co Mayo

‘It’s about who is wearing what’

“I grew up stateside, in the Los Angeles area, and I can tell you first-hand, that was a veritable arms race in terms of clothing and shoe brands. Anyone that didn’t have the in-style brands of the day were subject to varying levels of mockery, especially at the start of term. My parents didn’t make enough money to justify the expense of buying the designer brands, and attempted to fill the gap with the knock-off brands, resulting in even more ridicule. Whilst uniforms may be stuffy, they level the playing field in terms of costs and effort spend on clothing. Kids are cruel, especially in the tween/early teen years, and removing one element from the list of things they can pull from to mock and torment their peers is a good thing in my opinion. Perhaps we should turn our efforts into sustainability and cost-reduction for uniforms, and make it easier on families, rather than open Pandora’s Box on who is wearing what to class.” – John, Co Kildare

‘Tracksuit top for €8′

“We have iron-on school crests that the school organised from a local company. It has changed everything. I got three polos for €5.75, two jumpers for €12 and a tracksuit top for €8 – all now crested at a total of €52 for everything. Great. – Mary, Co Dublin

‘Drab and awful colours’

“If schools do have to have uniforms, couldn’t they use more modern fabrics? Why don’t girls have leggings rather than tracksuits, for example? If I was principal of a school, I’d overhaul the uniform fabrics, there are so many amazing modern fabrics for uniforms that don’t require Teflon coating, and don’t cost the earth – and they are also in bright colours; uniforms in Ireland are so drab and have such awful colours. My school would have a wax jacket, blue jeans, a polo shirt and cardigan/jumper of the same colour, a new colour for each year, and any footwear other than heels would be allowed. The sports uniform would be what children wear anyway – leggings and new length shorts, skorts, any sort of cotton or synthetic sports fabric T-shirt, to match the colour of the year; all would be generic, purchasable in Penneys or Ralph Lauren. Just the colour rule would apply. The choice of a denim mini or maxi skirt would also be there for boys and girls, or sarongs. Uniforms can be what they wear anyway, and comfortable. It’s a particular cruelty to make students sit their state exams in their uniform.” - Laura

‘Expensive education’

“Our local secondary school is distinctly mediocre as regards progression to third level. But what is more important for the school is the uniform, because an expensive uniform equals an expensive education, and an expensive education is a good thing, right? Crested uniforms from a specific shop; school-specific jacket, with normal coats or jackets 100 per cent forbidden; school-specific PE uniform, etc. I think I will be applying to join the school committee and I’ll be agitating to bin some of these. Generic uniforms with iron-on patches for sale at the school? Yes, please! Generic tracksuits? Yes, please! Wear any coat you want? Yes, please!” – John, Co Dublin

‘Unnecessary expense’

“We have no uniform, no school book charges, and the voluntary contribution is a flexible donation with no reminders on apps to shame us. We choose if we wish to donate (I do a direct debit monthly as I am so grateful for the lack of other expenses). It is bizarre to me to consider sending the kids to school in crested uniforms. They go in their own runners and whatever they are comfortable in. The laundry is simpler and the cost is much reduced – think of how quickly kids change shoe sizes and imagine having to buy their regular shoes and school shoes each time the size changes. I have no idea why uniforms still exist in Ireland. I feel sorry for the parents who have to go through this unnecessary expense every summer.” – Erica, Co Dublin

‘It’s a joke’

“Our school has a crested uniform with particular trousers. The jumper is nearly €50, the trousers are €30. A specific PE kit is nearly €100. Book rental for five books is €120. Voluntary contribution which, of course, is not voluntary, is another €100. This is a Deis school. It’s a joke. The uniform can only be bought in four particular high-end shops in town. My eldest girl went to secondary school in England. Black jumper or cardi and trousers and a white shirt you could get anywhere. Black tracksuit for PE. Free education in Ireland is a myth.” – Sharon, Co Galway

Damian Cullen

Damian Cullen

Damian Cullen is Health & Family Editor of The Irish Times