Do uniforms make school a happier place? Comment by WILL POTTERTON, Director at Leavers Hoodies Company

School uniforms have been commonplace in the UK since the 15th century. They were most likely introduced to create a sense of conformity amongst school children. Implementing a school uniform will also have meant that your school had students who looked smart and well disciplined; presenting your school and its students in a positive light. Today, whilst there are some traditional elements to school uniforms such as being able to identify students on school trips or at external events, in the vast majority of schools there isn’t such a vital need for a uniform. This is reflected in how school uniforms have changed to allow some level of individuality, personal style and comfort in modern schools – from girls wearing trousers to in some cases, boys wearing skirts. So, the question is – are school uniforms actually making a positive difference in today’s school life?

School uniform adds purpose to getting ready, just like getting ready for an activity like swimming, where a certain type of clothing is required. In the same way as swimming, it takes a level of self-consciousness away from students – as, like swimming, they’re going to be wearing the same sort of clothes as everyone else.

A long-standing socioeconomic leveller, school uniform also prevents wealthier or less wealthy students from standing out, because no matter their family income, they will be dressed in the same clothing as everyone else at school. Students are happier knowing what they will wear the next day without worrying about whether their favourite top is available after the weekend.

Some teachers will also say that taking pride in their appearance gives

students more motivation in the classroom, as those that are dressed smartly and ready to do their job as learners, are happier, more focused and better behaved than those who choose not to wear their school uniform as it was intended.

For many years, the main arguments against school uniforms have been that they take away the opportunity for students to display their individuality and don’t allow students to be as comfortable as possible whilst at school. However, in many cases, today’s school uniform allows for optimum comfort as well as individuality.

Whatever a person’s profession – be it one that requires a uniform such as healthcare, or one which requires you to dress smartly, such as professional services – a person’s day to day attire is usually tailored to make them feel dressed and ready for a day of work within their chosen industry or career.

It’s the same for students. They’re happy feeling prepared and a uniform makes them feel a part of something too – a big team that is their school. They are there to do a job, just like the nurses who wear uniforms to work, and that job is to learn. What better way to prepare for learning than to take pride in their appearance and be ‘ready’ for the school day ahead?

Part of a student’s identity is the school they go to and this is displayed by wearing their school uniform. Once at school, the sea of comrades in the same colours gives students a sense of belonging, making them feel happy and comfortable in their clothing, from the moment they arrive until the moment they leave for home.

Promoting a positive mental health culture in schools

Comment by CHERYL GIOVANNONI, Chief Executive of the Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST)

In December, the Government published its much anticipated green paper on children’s mental health. We wholeheartedly welcome this focus on mental health for children, something that has been strikingly absent until recent times.

It’s so important to promote a positive mental health culture, rather than reacting to issues once they have developed. With the right resources, support and training, schools and teachers can play a vital role in this. At the GDST, the pastoral care we provide our students is as important as results, and care for mental health and wellbeing is central to everything we do. Our girls thrive because we understand, more than anyone, how girls learn and develop. Strong relationships forged with form teachers from the early years upwards are key, and an emphasis on developing character – personal qualities like resilience, confidence, compassion, and courage – through PSHE and elsewhere in the curriculum, lays the groundwork. To support these initiatives, the Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST) is the first education group to be rolling out the Positive Schools Programme across our schools and academies. This app-based toolkit has been designed to provide teachers and students of all ages at the GDST with the knowledge, confidence and tools to enhance their own wellbeing. Crucially, both staff and students following the same programme ensures that it is mutually reinforcing, helping to develop a shared language to talk about emotions and mental health across the whole school community.

Our implementation of the Programme also represents a tangible response 20

to the GDST Student Survey, which highlighted the importance pupils place on personal qualities in teachers such as empathy and approachability, and the significance of pupil-teacher relationships to learning. The Positive Programme is focused on delivering long-term understanding and tools, rather than a ‘quick fix’ solution. It works by firstly enabling participants to gain a detailed knowledge of how the brain functions, how this influences our attitudes and behaviours (often subconsciously), and how we can consciously take control of our thoughts and emotions. Teachers on the programme gain the confidence and skills to be able to pass this understanding on to pupils of different ages.

The Positive app provides a technological version of some of the tools, with the easily accessible format helping to reinforce habits and embed positive behaviours. The app also includes an ‘emotional barometer’ which allows pupils and teachers to monitor their own feelings. Other features include access to training materials, guided mindfulness sessions, a regularly updated newsfeed and the GDST teachers’ forum, where staff can share materials and ideas for delivering the programme in context with different age groups. We piloted the Programme in nine schools last year and were extremely encouraged by the results. The Programme is now being rolled-out across all our schools and academies. At the GDST we are never stopping to look for ways to support mental health and wellbeing. Now more than ever, there is an increased openness about mental health and we must seize this moment to create positive change for the future.

January 2018

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