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Parenting Can we stop the madness of uncomfortable and costly school uniforms?

Margaret Lynch is fed up buying unsuitable school uniforms that don’t work with the Irish weather.

WOULDN’T THE WEATHER just drive you to distraction? It’s March! Could we not get a couple of nice days? Or at least a break from the never-ending grey skies and torrential rain?

I drive past two different schools on my way to work each morning and always feel so sorry for the students making their way in the rain, hail, sleet, snow, frost and the very, very odd day of blistering heat.

For a country with such dramatic shifts in weather (multiple times each day), isn’t it wild that we still insist on school uniforms that are entirely unfit for purpose! My eldest wore her tracksuit on one of the very cold days last month, and I gave her a note in her journal to explain it. The school came back to say that this wasn’t a valid reason for not wearing the right uniform, and gave her an official ‘Uniform Violation’ note on the app! And an official note on the app is serious business, three of these mean a detention.

So, I mean, if saving their little legs from the bitter arctic frost isn’t a valid reason, what is? Or maybe the schools should be giving us valid reasons as to why uniforms are mandatory in the first place.

Why uniforms?

The school has said that uniforms ‘Reduce the potential for bullying’. This was obviously said by someone who has never spent time with an actual real life teenage child. Those guys are mean. And creative in the subtle (and not-so-subtle) ways they find to hurt one another.

It is absurd to think that uniforms are actually reducing the occurrence of bullying. I dread to think what my school years would have been like without the stiff woollen protective cloak.

The school crests must be fitted with bully-repellent technology, are they? A laser beam that immediately reflects and redirects the insults back at the other person. Although this would definitely help explain the staggering costs of the branded items.

The schools say that uniforms ‘Improve focus on learning’, because, of course, our kids would be too distracted by seasonally appropriate clothing. This makes sense because kilts are renowned for their concentration improving abilities. Sure, who among us doesn’t still don a kilt in the middle of Winter when they need a little boost of focus? It’s amazing that other countries manage to get any schoolwork done.

And as for the jumpers! A special wool blend that manages to be sweaty and itchy in Summer, and absolutely baltic in Winter. A thin layer that provides no protection against sub-zero temperatures, but is somehow also too bulky to fit under a coat. Incredible.

The schools also tell us that the uniforms help cut costs for parents. They say this as they hand us a sheet of acceptable and branded items, that they tell us must only be worn during school hours, because they represent the school under the brand, and we pretend that we don’t have to clothe the kids for every minute they aren’t in school.

The cost

Our uniforms for this year came in at €300 per child (without shoes and runners). The school coat, kilt/trousers and jumper are around €50 each, while the blouse, PE jumper, PE t-shirt, PE tracksuit bottoms are all around €30 each, and then the socks and ties are €10 each.

You are also playing very loosey goosey if you only have one of each item (because they take 3-5 business days to dry after a mid-week wash), or blessed from the heavens above if you don’t have to replace a jumper or a coat during the school year.

With shoes and runners, it was around €450 per child, and then they both had the audacity to go and grow again this term. The younger one sprouted an extra foot this year and everything needs to be replaced. We could have spent that in Penneys and clothe them for the next six years!

The schools say that if kids pick their own clothes, they will pick on each other for not having the right brands and isolate one another. They tell us about the emotional damage this will cause and then refuse a child entry to their Junior Cert exams for not wearing the right socks or embarrass them in front of their friends for having the wrong colour shoes. We might never know where kids learn this behaviour.

They (the very people tasked with preparing our kids for life) say that uniforms minimise the stress of having to decide what to wear each morning as if they won’t have to know how to do that every day of their lives after they leave. The schools worry that the kids will get carried away, turning schools into a catwalk, where fashion reigns and highly inappropriate outfits will be the norm.

As if we, the people living on this island where it rains 364 days of the year and we never see the sun, could ever part ways with comfort and warmth. As if the only thing stopping us from being LA is the school uniforms. As if we could ever adopt catwalk behaviour. We just aren’t that type of nation.

A delicate balance

Now listen, I could never be a teacher. Never in a million years. I don’t know how teachers do it. If I did have to teach, and I was surrounded by loud teenagers all day, I would be on a permanent sensory overload. I would jump at the opportunity to send a few down to the office for any minor infringement and I would desperately try to trample any creative sparks. I would need them all to be very quiet and very still, for everyone’s safety. I get it.

But I’m not a teacher. I am a parent who is fed up spending hundreds each year on useless items that are unfit for purpose while being told it’s all for our benefit. We need the schools to agree a basic, plain outfit, or we need to be able to dress them ourselves.

We need simple, unbranded tracksuits, and breathable and layerable materials.
There are plenty of things we can’t change for our teens, and far too many awful uncertainties for the world we leave them, but this is an easy win. It’s time to stop the madness!

Margaret Lynch is a working mum of two in Kildare.

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