I’m watching a new RTE documentary series called The School at the moment. In essence, students and staff at a school in Dunboyne are under the camera lens so the world can see what their school life is really like.

While this is a secondary school and my abode of work is third level, I find that I am enjoying this.  I love the fly-on-the-wall snippets. The perceptions of the students are worth airing. From the first years having burger buns lobbed at them by second years to the sixth years wondering where they will go next, the students reactions to the incidents reveal a lot. The 2 first years on the receiving end of the burger buns showed a mature and responsible attitude, putting themselves in the position of the second year student and how themselves might act in that situation.

However a theme that seems to crop up a lot is the school uniform and students being told off for improperly knotted ties, having navy trousers and not black ones, wearing trainers outside the sports grounds, etc.  This brings back rather dodgy memories for me. Back in the school days I somehow managed to get on the wrong side of the uniform police on a regular basis and quite often without even trying to. I wasn’t slovenly but that uniform never sat properly with me. My darling brothers went to an all-boys school where there was no uniform. The staff considered it more trouble than it was worth to implement it. I was so jealous.  There was general consensus that the boys in their own clothes looked better and smarter than the girls in their uniform.

The teenage years are highly influential. Students are out of lower childhood and are experimenting with self-presentation and who they are in relation to others outside their direct family.  Uniforms stamp out much of the appearance aspects of self-presentation. I’ve never been sure that this is a good idea. What’s wrong with letting students express themselves through what they wear?

The effort taken to implement the proper wearing of uniforms could surely be better spent elsewhere. Surely the emphasis should be on personal development, helping students figure out careers that might fit them, contribute to their local environment, debate societal issues, etc. It’s good to see that much of this is taking place in the school. One teacher was stopped in the corridor and asked for his perspective of how Ireland handles the poverty issue.  Would the interviewing student have carried out the interview any more or less proficiently if wearing non-uniform clothes?

As an aside, guess what my favourite item of clothing is in the cirrent time – black jeans!   My “uniform” has come a long way from the early school garb of the 1920s.  I quite like the hat though.

A smart uniform from the 1920s

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