Monday, November 26, 2007

Sir, Sir, it's a causal fallacy: School Uniform and politics...

So - we have seen a call from the Conservative Party for schools to enforce smart uniforms, have pupils stand when teachers enter the room, and call them Sir and Miss (or like some,perhaps, Madam).

The argument seems to run that good schools have uniforms / formal aspects: therefore the goodness of the schools must be a function of the dress of the pupils and the formal relation with teachers. (It may also be that the proponents of such a view have memories of their own formal schooling and the relative quality of the experience - but the principle is the same).

It looks here - to me - like a good old-fashioned causal fallacy. Without evidence that the uniforms and formal means of address have a causal connection to the behaviour / attainment of pupils - the connection could surely be either coincidental, or both could be the effects of some other, third cause...

Now - I was schooled in the 70s and 80s, and have, possibly as a result of liberal social conditioning, a deep aversion to school uniforms: but when I raise this in classes - my students all seem in favour of them - as do the parents of many of those at the same schools as my children: what's going on in the world?

Is school uniform really a good thing? Why? Can anyone tell me good reasons for it?


  1. Anonymous4:32 pm

    I think school uniform is a good thing for year 7-11. It takes off the pressure of getting bullied for what your wearing & from experience its alot easier to get dressed in the morning with a uniform! Perhaps this is because my uniform at school was really simple & relaxed with just a pair of black trousers, a white/black polo t-shirt and a black sweatshirt. However, I think no uniform should still be kept for sixth forms as you need for freedom then after wearing a uniform for 5 years of secondry then there's primary too.

  2. I think, possibly, they are a useful distraction by the tories. lets ignore the more important aspects with regards to schooling, and reduce the argument to one of clothing.

    when i was at school (early nineties) we had a uniform. All that happened was the students personalised the uniform (ludicrously small ties for example)

    what did the uniform achieve?

  3. jeangenie10:32 pm

    my son is at the same school as Dave's child. the uniform rules, or i should say laws, at this school are archaic to say the least. they must have their shirts tucked in at all times, they must always wear their blazers (even in the summer months until they are officially told they don't have to), and god forbid them if they don't wear school shoes. my son, aged 12, absent-mindedly slipped on his trainers one morning - he got 50 lines 'i must not wear trainers to school'!!!!!!!!!!! this is the 21st century.. i don't think anyone told them that.. the sixth form at that school still has to wear uniform, although lucky things get a blue shirt instead of a white one...

    now this school is a really good school and i was really happy that he got offered a place there... is their strictness about uniform somehow interlinked with their good results? if so how?

    i was unfortunate enough to suffer private school education when i was a lass.. that was back in the late 70's, and the laws for us were as strict as they are for my son.. and the uniform was vile.. but even at that school the sixth formers got to wear their own clothes...

    as i've said in a previous blog the only reason i can think of for uniform is school trips so that the kids are easy to spot for the headless teachers.. but that is by the by.. and is not a problem for schools that don't have uniform..

    i think it should be abolished.. i know the argument about being bullied for not wearing designer clothes.. but quite frankly bullies are bullies and they will do their business around whatever topic they choose.. the ones that would get bullied for this are, sadly, probably being bullied already.. and also.. the ones that can't afford the top clothing can neither afford the proper uniform, so already stand out from the crowd.. uniform does nothing for this argument..

    i believe in children developing their identity as well as multiplying their brain cells...

    abolish uniform!!!!!!

  4. Statistics do seem skewed, as pointed out uniformed students generally perform better probably due to ‘mummy’ and ‘daddy’ (Is privatisation a good thing?). The question is does identity improve or hinder the learning environment? There was uniform at schools I attended and kids still managed to find points for bullying ‘fatty’ ‘four eyes’ ‘ginger’ even encountered some myself for my mothers choice of school swimwear which took a nasty transparent form when it got wet.
    Apart from that, I think on the whole uniform is beneficial. I was asked once why my friend and I had the same haircut in the army (by a peace study student grrrrrr), I replied (not very intelligently) that it was easy to maintain and neat. His rehearsed answer was: it’s to take away our identity so we act in an autonomous, compliant way. This sounds good, but in an age of fame academy, the X factor, Big Brother where everyone is constantly striving to be noticed/famous, you see the benefits of group identity (As I had just got back from the fireman strikes and witnessed how the autonomous robots achieved a lot more in a month then this particular student would achieve in a decade)
    ……………………..I might be a bit biased.

  5. Anonymous9:44 am

    How interesting that you focus on Cameron's comments about dress. What about behaviour?

  6. Thanks for pulling me up on that Anon...

    Yes - Mr Cameron is primarily interested in raising attainment - and feels that ensuring god behaviour in schools in part of this. In a sense this is something we can all sign up to - the 'end' is not controversial. The issue is the means by which we reach that end...

    He seems to suggest (you can get to his words via: )
    that the means of smarter, more enforced uniform, and more formal relations between pupils and teachers is an effective means of reaching this goal.

    This debate then is not so much about what goal he wishes to reach - but the efficacy of the means he proposes for doing so: hence the pertinence of his comments on uniform...

  7. 'good behaviour' - of course - not 'god' - forgive my mistyping!

  8. I definitely think that uniform is a good thing but also a bad thing. Having attended a catholic school it was more of a chance to cover up anything that was inappropriate (ie female chest or legs lol) and also i do think it made u feel like part of a big group. In sixth form wearing our own clothes meant nothing. It had to be "office wear", shirts and smart trousers and shoes. However the clothes some girls got away with was beyond me!! In the lower school there was alot of "tuck your shirt in", "roll that skirt down" (pleated skirts we had, made it more obvious if a girl had rolled up her skirt!!!hilarious!!) "where is your blazer?". I do agree with jeangenie tho! We had to wear blazers even in the summer and if we didnt wear them we still had to carry them around with us. They were fantastic though! Massive pockets!! But thats not the point. Whatever uniform u give a child, they make their own stamp on it anyway but I do think that forcibly making schools wear uniform and believe them to think that it makes grades better is misleading. A child's progress at school is what they can do with their brain not what new NIKE trainers they are wearing to school. Also it made "non uniform" days a day to show off a new top or outfit!!!

  9. jeangenie9:35 am

    ok i'm probably gonna raise a few eyebrows here, specially as i'm no tory!!!
    but i think kids behaviour is down to the parents/guardians/surrounding family n friends....its not about uniform... the kids that behave badly at school and out of school, whether in uniform or not, are usually from sad environments (huge sweeping statement there!!!).. in this way i'm not saying 'i blame the parents'.. thats not me..far from it.. but there's a lot of sad situations out there, a lot of neglect going on, n a lot of kids tryin to get attention any way they can... i think Cameron is heading way down the wrong track about uniform and kids behaviour.. look into their home life, attend to the children's needs, give the kids a break...there needs to be a lot more understanding...

    uniform is nothing to do with behaviour, in fact its something solid that kids can rebel against by wearing their tie short, or rolling their skirt up, or being really scruffy... classic example, a kid that doesn't care about his/her appearance in uniform more often doesn't care about it out of uniform.. simple fact, they don't care, thats their attitude to life, and to find the answer you have to look behind the kids.. cos they are just kids...

  10. Looks like animal cruelty in the picture. The dog (or is it a badger? - you can hardly tell for the uniform ....) looks like he'd prefer sodomy to wearing that silly tie

    Uniform - how do we use this word, as a noun - as in wearing one, demonstrated by the dog - or an adverb? - 'To make uniform', becoming all the same. It all amounts to the same idea becoming alike, becoming secular, becoming pasteurised, becoming a handy spoke in the wheel - to get the job done efficiently as in the above example of the fire brigade. So, that's good. Life can continue happily knowing that when needs be there is a regulated force, chugging along, that will see us through.

    But at the expense of what? The school uniform is a tyranny against the individual. I challenge the above comment who cited the apparently individualistic motivation behind X Factor, Big Brother, etc, as being the opposite to accomplishments made be a regulated group. How is the X Factor, Big Brother, etc, individualistic? It is as uniform as 'the uniform'. The participants in these shows do not value their own worth, which is what is truly individualistic. They perform on behalf of others, usually a panel of botoxed cadavers. They lay their value and worth at the feet of imposters. This is the same mentality as the uniform enforcers, but without the brass band and neon lights. Both are caricatures of a society which bases its people's worth at the feet of others. The politicians' 'goals and objectives' are to achieve better results. Children perform to improve statistical measurements for their school who perform to improve statistical measurements for their government. Maybe they will receive a condescending nod from their superiors at an awards ceremony. People are exploited by people; everybody is performing for somebody else. People never validate their own value or worth; we don't even know how to do it. Maybe chucking the uniform could be a start ......

    And as an end comment, and please refer to other blog posts to highlight the hypocrisy and stupidity of politicians, while school uniforms are being enforced, uniforms of religion - the hijab and the wearing of religious symbols by children in schools - is considered punishable behaviour and charged with exclusion

    So go figure

  11. jeangenie - I agree woith some of what you said. i haved no problem at all in saying that SOME bad behaviour IS down to the parents. i wouold drawe the line at all, of course. some parents work very hard for their children, but those children still do things they should not and act in ways that go against what their parents have taught them.
    But, in a large percentage of cases, i feel parents simply dont do enough. they consider it to be solely the role of the teacher - and it is not.

  12. Anonymous7:39 pm

    From what I have seen in the primary schools I have worked in, children take pride in their uniform, but this has most likely developed from the parents excitement of the children starting school (as I am working in a reception class at the moment).

    I have always worn school uniform even when I was completing my A-levels and to be honest I prefered it as it was easy and I wasn't spending an hour a day deciding what I was going to wear! As when I started university it was so strange to be wearing my own clothes and even at the start of my course it felt like one of those non-uniform days at school, when you were so worried about what you wear so people would admire what your wearing not hate it and make fun of you.

    For children I think it is needed even when in secondary school they change the uniform in specific ways (which aren't always nice), but its individual to them. Even though I had a school uniform in sixth form, I was allowed to choose what clothes I wanted but they had to be the colour and style the school has always used. Uniform is needed and this should be promoted.

    We have to remember though that everyone is individual and thats what I have been taught to promote, so if they do change their uniform in a specific way its for their personal security then feeling uncomfortable which could lead to issues with work etc.

  13. I think school uniforms are a good thing and the reasons for this are as follows:-
    It helps reduce the emphasis children place on how fashionable they look when they are in school, preventing us from entering an Americanised culture of the fashionable elite versus the geeks; it helps to identify the school a child belongs to and it assists in making children feel part of the school and part of the community of that school. It would be a bad thing if we got rid of uniforms because of these reasons.
    Rachel Thornton 2nd year BEd student.

  14. Anonymous11:46 pm

    i also feel that school uniform is a good idea. through studying education for the last three years, i have worked in many different education establishments. uniform is a way of showing unity and detracts from all cultures and different ways of life. even though each individual child should be able to express their own individuality, it shows that they are all equal, and there is no reason for bullying or being distracted from their work and the social side of the day i.e. in the playground. from reception to year 11 i feel that school uniform is very important and whoever says that it is not should take a look in an early years setting or education environment and see the evidence for themselves. it still shows individuality as each child has a different personality but also allows them to concentrate on what they are there for - to learn!!

  15. I have been to schools with both a uniform policy and a more relaxed policy of sivvies. There was a huge difference in behaviour. In my opinion uniform is a very good way of getting the children into a mind set of working, it's just like power dressing to a meeting with your boss, if they look like they should be working, smart, they will be ready to work. Also there is the arguement of bulling, if they all look the same, well dressed the same then there can be no reason for people with the 'wrong type of trousers' to be picked on sa they will be wearign the same, this gives them the chance to concentrate what they are in school for, learning. As most school uniforms are getting extremely expensive, i think that the schools should supply them, or at least help towards them.

  16. Anonymous9:23 pm

    Hi, school uniform is an essential way of establishing a collective identity. Under that identity certain rules and regulations operate. By putting on the uniform, and wearing it correctly, you are making a statement of conformity and acceptance of the rules. I feel the uniform is a very powerful tool in creating a very level playing field. A pecking order not determined by the size of your parent's wallet. Attend a school on a non-uniform day; the behaviour is awful. Uniforms are an important aspect of our and everyone's school life. Keep them and keep them relatively inflexible. Children,as already stated, can have their minor rebellion by wearing a shortened tie etc.

  17. Seems to be some very polar views,(politically linked?!?) both with good points, I wonder if there is any kind of third alternative?

  18. Charlie1:03 pm

    What about uniform for Universities? I think this is a ridulous idea, it would take away the 'essence' - I guess the freedom - of university.I also agree with what someone said about bullies always being there so I don't think wearing a uniform will make much difference. But I also think that uniform is part of going to/being at school, the philosophy of school whould change completely without a uniform.
    1st year RPE student

  19. jeangenie9:34 pm

    this is incredible.. some of the arguments here... it produces uniformity.. amazing.. its uniform.. a collective identity...power dressing...showing unity...identifies the school.. detracts from all cultures and ways of life...

    this is incredible.. does no one give a damn about the individuality of humans anymore.. everyone seems to have quite happily bought thatchers dream (that blair happily inherited) of a country of stepford wives, robots, uniform, same, no difference, its better that way, we all look the same...

    i've been thinking recently there's no fight in the young generation today but i didn't realise it had got this bad...i'm not bein patronising, its just fact..

    here here n bravo to shelley...totally agree with all, how can anyone think that big brother is about individualism, you can hardly tell them apart (literally this year)..and if uniforms are so important then why are religious uniforms (cos that's what they are)disallowed and punished.. oh i forgot the skool uniform does away with culture... we're not allowed that, apart from you must sing hymns and say prayers to the chosen god of this government!!!

    can no one see that children's identity NOT the skool is what's important.. as said above, the only reason the skools even want the kids to do well is to get the nod of approval from some sweaty palmed superior, they don't care about the children...

    individual culture and ways of life need accentuating not hiding...humans are intrinsically different.. who's idea was it to make us all the same.. u'll never do it...

    it seems like everyone wants the skools to succeed, what about the kids.. what about the kids who's parents can't afford skool uniform n they get picked on for that anyway.. u think any less bullying goes on with them all in uniform.. thats a lame one...

    jason, i don't dispute that parents work extremely hard for their kids and those kids still go off the rails, but maybe the parents are still at fault. a little love and attention wouldn't go amiss for a lot of kids...whether they're lacking it because their parents are drug addicts or alcoholics, or because they're parents are workaholics 'i've given you everything money can buy' that don't care, don't care for one reason... they don't feel cared for.. getting a bit into psychology here but its a fact..

    interesting that those from the era of trade unions, strikes, fighting for your rights, and even maybe punk and anarchy, seem to have a yearning for individualism and non conformity... i actually feel quite depressed reading some of these comments... think i'll go wash my kids skool uniforms...

  20. Sorry, Jeannie, I'm jumping ship. Forget individualism. I was finally convinced by the comment by anonymous, "school uniform is an essential way of establishing a collective identity", Hallelujah! What a beacon to strive towards. And it is just so tiresome when mayhem breaks free on the non-uniform days. Well, you've convinced me, I am an advocate for uniforms now, uniformity, I will endeavour to be part of the crowd, don't really want to shine anyhow, too much hard work ha ha. Humility and keeping my light under a bushel are qualities that I now want to harbour and nurture personally and harbour and nurture in my children. Just conform and follow the path of least resistance. Anyhow, in my life I have always respected and tried to follow in the footsteps of those who maintained the status quo. I never really had much time for people like Steve Bilko, Dag Hammerskjold, Lech Walesa, Harriet Tubman, Che Guevara, just peace-disturbers, who likely as not, get themselves killed. Actually, really just prefer same old, same old, day in, year out, it's a bit boring sometimes, but at least you know where you are and what's expected of you. The uniform to me, states this better than anything. Onward!! Towards a collective identity! Then the country will really prosper, thrive and flourish. And so will each of us individually. So, good luck, Jeannie, I'm splitting and I'm sure you'll come round to seeing sense soon, too.

  21. Jeangenie, again, i agree with lots of what you were saying. perhaps i was not clear enough in my post before. I think in a large amount of cases the parents are at fault, I was merely making the point that it would be wrong to say this applies to ALL cases. surely, sometimes, the parents do everything right - but their children still do wrong, or are you saying that it neccesarily follows that if a parent does ALL they should, a child will not 'go the wrong way'

    Interesting arguments for school uniform, I can see the benefits being highlighted. But I still maintain that school uniform as a solution is like wallpapering over holes in the wall rather than filling those holes in, it, in my opinion, is a negligible action which will provide negligible results.

  22. jeangenie11:57 am

    jason i guess the only answer is what is right and what is wrong.. there's the simple fact that school is not for some kids.. they don't go together.. i know the Steiner schools get a lot of the kids that can't cope with the constraints of normal schools.. so i guess, yeah there will always be some kids with ultra loving parents with a fantastic childhood, intelligent, etc, but just cannot fit in to mainstream education... and refuse to...but at least those children have a spark of individuality about them!!!
    shelley, you've got me there.. i see your argument, i mean who am i to shine, maybe Mandela got it wrong in his speech.. 'Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.'...maybe we're not meant to shine. you maybe right, it could be that the natural way for mankind to go is for us all to speak the same, learn the same, do the same. .and look the same.. who am i to think that i should be different!!! well fortunately i'm Jeannie and by very nature of that fact, i'm different from everyone.. and so are my children, and i shall continue to celebrate their differentness and encourage them to shine, to stand out, to dare to be different...
    but i've been thinking of a university uniform.. would it be different for each field? what about joint students? would it be universal with us all in one uniform.. would it be a national university uniform, so we can all stand out 'i am at university'.. or local. 'i am at university of gloucestershire'.. what would happen if you didn't wear it? would you be given lines or a detention?
    answers on a postcard please....

  23. Anonymous10:12 pm

    O.K. Collective identity seems to be interpreted as squashing individuality. How individual would the competition to wear the best and most expensive clothes be??? How individual would it be to have year 10 girls walking round with skirts to their armpits?? How individual would it be to have children showing up with pierced lips or ripped clothes? We all conform to one or more social groups...From my youth you had the Jitters, Goths, Trendies (sic), nerds etc. We all had specific ways of dressing: fashion, grunge or whatever. Don't think that using uniform to identify yourself as a member of a specific group is limited to school! By using (school) uniform to level the different social uniforms we already wear; the pupils can look beyond these immediate social groups and rally around a collective that is the best possible platform to learn. Individuality will always be present - regardless of your uniform (either in school or life). There is nothing wrong with belonging to, and showing you belong to, an organisation that promotes your education and strives to give you the best opportunity in life. Regardless of how individual you are!!!!