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Uniformity or individuality?

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The topic of school uniform has always been a particularly controversial one. Over the past couple of weeks, however, it has launched new debates amongst teachers, parents and students alike. A pupil in St. Ambrose Barlow in Salford has faced suspension for his hairstyle, an attempt to emulate footballer Sergio Aguero. Before that, Elizabeth Churton of Hanson Academy in Bradford sent over 152 pupils home in one day for 'offences including the wearing of hooped earrings and the wrong kind of shoes', according to The Independent.

Many argue that a strict uniform code enforces discipline, instils a sense of community within an institution and eliminates competition amongst pupils, creating a level playing field.

However the fact that a headteacher has the authority to turn away over a tenth of her student body on account of their dress still begs the question: should uniform ever take such priority? And, by extension, is uniform necessary at all?

It does follow that good uniform makes for a stable learning environment; there are no excuses for disputes over who wears the most fashionable clothes or who can't afford more than what Tesco or Morrisons have to offer.

Unfortunately, however, young people do not always need such ammunition to taunt each other. As Emma Jacobs observed recently in The Guardian, "if teens want to bully others they will find their motive and means".

Perhaps uniforms could deter bullies, to an extent, but "frankly it takes more than stipulating the right shade of blue shirt to eradicate bullying from schools."

In that case, should uniform ever take priority over attendance?

It is common opinion that there is little point in having a uniform code if it is not strictly enforced. This being said, there is a thin line between strictly enforcing a dress code and being excessively pernickety.

When a student is sent home, consequently missing out on their morning learning, for wearing the wrong colour socks, for example, it is evident that something is amiss.

Students should look smart if they are to wear a uniform, but they should not be robbed of the identity to which they are entitled. Those in favour of school uniform often claim that it is necessary to prepare students for appropriate dress conduct in the workplace.

What they so often fail to acknowledge is that these students are still only children. In an age in which youth is more short-lived than it has ever been, it is crucial that young people are able to freely, enthusiastically and clumsily discover themselves.

By enforcing the standards of the white-collar workplace, teachers leave very little room for the establishment of identity which is so critical in an environment as competitive as today's.

Kids will always try to find a way to make themselves heard, and to enforce a uniform code as strictly as Ms Churton has done is to deny them that right.

However, despite its frustratingly inflexible nature in schools such as Hanson Academy, uniform is, for the most part, a sound concept, which makes students fundamentally equal.

But a line must be drawn between what we claim to be 'equal' and what we enforce as 'invariable'; we must leave students room for growth, just not in the sense that we buy shirts two sizes too big at the beginning of term.

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