I can think of a thousand reasons why a new secondary school should not have a uniform. Most of these centre around questioning why we feel the need to continue doing all that we have done in the past without reviewing the reasons why. Why do we want everyone to conform to the same appearance? Whilst uniforms have always been part of the secondary school experience here and in other parts of the world [such as the United Kingdom] they are a comparative rarity in North America and most of Europe. They are also often quite expensive and can be uncomfortable to wear. So why?
I am well aware of the arguments against having a school uniform and actually agree with many of them but…Rolleston College will have a uniform. This has been decided after community consultation and after extensive discussion and deliberation at Board level.
My reasons for ultimately supporting having a school uniform can be summarised under three key points and when I weigh up the pros and cons these are three points that are game breakers for me.
- Being learning ready. I do believe that when a learner puts on a uniform and wears it well they are making a statement of intent. They are in learning mode and are learning ready. Yes we have to be aware that we are in a time where learning takes place anytime and anywhere but in the physical act of going to school [which will always be an important part of the learning process] I believe that it is important to go deliberately into learning mode and the wearing of a uniform helps assist that. In a way the learner is saying I am dressing to learn and a very old fashioned part of me does adhere to the idea that you dress well to learn well. The wearing of a school uniform Identifies purpose and helps make that purpose clear.
Can you learn and not wear a uniform? Of course you can and we all do, I am referring to the going to school to learn here and in this context I do believe uniform can play a part in assisting learning.
- Uniforms can help establish and affirm a sense of belonging. I am a strong advocate of developing the individual, nurturing individuality and encouraging creativity, nothing is dearer to my heart. One of the key responsibilities of a school is to ensure that a young person can succeed as who they are not because they conform blindly to a prescribed formula of what success looks like.
I also believe that in order to develop that sense of who they are young adults need to feel strongly that they belong to a number of communities. These communities could be sports teams that they play for or support, they could cosist those who appreciate a certain type of music or are avid followers of Dr Who or any one of a number of other commuties that help a person define who they are and where they belong.
One of the most positive communities that a young person can belong to is their school. There are so many opportunities presented by a school for a young person to experience belonging and self-discovery and they are all positive. Part of belonging to a community often includes a uniform of some sort, this could be a football strip, a netball tracksuit a certain haircut or taonga Young people do want to belong to a community they learn from this attachment, they gain confidence and learn how to be the full individual that they have the potential to be.
This sense of belonging is an important stage to go through towards full self-realisation and in the case of a school, the uniform is the physical representation of that belonging. In this way of uniforms can be seen as helping form identity.
- I believe that the wearing of a uniform actually assists individuality rather than diminishes it. The uniform takes away superficial identification and classification allows the defining of individuality to focus on the inner person. It takes the focus away from trends and labels and the easy identification of someone in accordance to what they are wearing and instead forces the focus on their personality, thoughts, values, ideas etc.
It prevents a superficial and immediate classification that in most cases fails to do justice to the individual and provides the opportunity for what really defines an individual to flourish.
Having said all that I fully accept and find comfort in the fact that individuals will always find a way to express their individuality, they always have done and always will do and I think this is great. After all the All Blacks all wear the same uniform but we can certainly see them and appreciate them for the individuals that they are, The sum total of these individuals existing in, and belonging to a specific community can produce an incredible team, at least we hope this is the case this Sunday morning.
For me the key is flexibility, providing a uniform that creates a sense of belonging but giving room for expressions of individuality as well. No easy task but yet another exciting challenge.