The culture that surrounds education and schooling in the UK is so dominated by social class it is really quite extraordinary. We know from research that the biggest factors in success at school are family background, parental support for education and aspiration.
Grammar schools (seen as ‘aspirational’) had the hallmark of the smart school uniform; independent schools traditionally have distinctive uniform. These smart and distinctive uniforms are supported by parents who want a statement of their aspiration for their children. This is why those of us establishing the first academies introduced smart uniform – something which is now common across the system. Insisting on proper smart uniform has now become one of the first things a headteacher does when embarking upon school improvement and transformation. It is about making a statement to parents that we expect them to support the education of their children and to share our aspirations for their children’s academic performance. It is also about making a statement to young people: you put on a uniform and you wear it with pride to make a statement about your aspiration for yourself.
There are a very small number of exceptions to what I am going on to say (I acknowledge the middle-class, ‘hippy-ish’ ‘my child is a free spirit and should be allowed to wear what they want’ parents) but the overwhelming majority of parents who want to fight a school’s uniform policy are exposing their lack of aspiration for their children’s success or their lack of parental control over their children. And everybody knows this.
I am embarrassed at the annual shaming of parents self-identifying as an obstacle to their children’s success by defending their right to wear ‘skinny’ trousers / trainers / piercings / short skirts etc. In our class-ridden culture people watch the way they watched the parents passing fish and chips through the school fence as their children didn’t like healthy school meals; they watch the way they watch Jeremy Kyle; they watch in incredulity and with a pity which is highly judgemental.
I hate seeing this: I hate seeing the under-aspirational demonised instead of educated and supported. Above all I hate the media collusion in this – in allowing those who want ‘to be on the telly’ to expose themselves allowing other parents to tut, feel smug and justified in their prejudices. It doesn’t help anyone and only serves to reinforce just how class-based our education system is. This year, witnessing these unedifying school gates arguments against a backdrop of news reports about reintroducing grammar schools just makes me want to weep.