Schools uniforms – For or Against?
As an education consultant and expert on Madrid schools, I am very familiar with most school uniforms in Spain’s capital city. I simply can’t tear my eyes away from those logos, always zooming in on uniforms on the street, park, metro etc. My own school uniform in secondary was probably the worst I have ever seen and certainly puts me in the ‘anti school uniform’ team. My hideous uniform was a mix of brown and mustard – a mustard (yip!) shirt, brown (poo like colour) jumper and skirt(trousers have since been included) complete with a brown tie. It really was hideous and I’m sure influenced my dislike of uniforms.
According to a 2011 study, 47% of private and semi-private schools (concertado) in Spain have a school uniform, compared to 18% of public schools. However, in some regions, such as Madrid, the use of school uniforms in public schools has been promoted, offering tax deductions to families and allowing each school to decide individually on this matter.
Globally, according to a 2017 UNESCO report, the use of school uniforms is mandatory in 40% of countries, optional in 25%, and nonexistent in 35%. Countries that require school uniforms include Ireland, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Japan, China, India, and South Africa. Those without uniforms include the United States, Canada, Germany, Sweden, and Finland. Countries that leave it to the discretion of schools or families include Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, and Mexico
As a reasonable person, I do try to see two sides of everything. Yes, uniforms in schools in Madrid can be cost effective, can be a socio economic leveller and can help to make everybody feel included. Nowadays, thankfully, girls can also wear trousers as well as skirts.
The tradition of school uniforms in the UK has historical roots. The use of school uniforms became more widespread in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Public schools, such as Eton, were among the first to adopt uniforms, initially for sports. The trend then spread to state schools in the early 20th century.
The formality of British school uniforms is often associated with a desire to instill discipline, a sense of identity, and a level playing field among students. The idea is that uniforms create a sense of unity and equality, reducing distinctions based on socio-economic factors.
What is striking about school uniforms is the difference from school to school. Without a doubt, British schools in Madrid have quite a formal, corporate look. This is especially evident in older teens but quite comical to see little ones wearing such uncomfortable and impractical clothing. Ironically, whilst office wear is moving toward a functional approach rather than a formalist approach, the typical British school in Madrid still prefers a much more formal approach.
Just last week when visiting a British school in Madrid, three year olds are obliged to wear the same uniform as say, the President of Spain / UK Prime Minister. To see these ‘little men’ try to play football in the playground whilst wearing a blazer, shirt and tie, formal trousers complete with chunky formal shoes seems ridiculous. Who benefits from this? Certainly not these little men, nor their parents who are forced to pay out quite a lot of money on this very impractical rig out.
Those in favour of school uniforms often proclaim the economic benefits of said uniform but I am not sure that this is always the case. Some private schools in Madrid insist on two uniforms (formal and sports or summer and winter) which quite often doubles the expense. Another point is the school brand. Almost all schools in Madrid expect parents to buy branded items of school uniform for their children. If branding was not a requirement then parents would be able to buy most uniform items from a wide range of shops, including high street retailers and supermarkets. However, this does not tend to be the case and branded items need to be bought from specific shops (sometimes el Corte Inglés – a Spanish benchmark for high end retail) or directly from the school. There is no doubt that schools also ‘make a little something on sales of uniforms’.
Another oft repeated argument is that the school uniform levels the playing field and makes a school more inclusive. Again, debatable. I certainly Hated what I was made to wear on a daily basis many moons ago and I have no doubt that many students nowadays feel likewise. My daughter has a particular dislike of tights, each morning was a battlefield which the poor thing never won and ensured an unpleasant start of the day for all involved. We since moved schools (not because of the tights) where joyfully there are no school uniforms and our mornings have definitely improved. I would go so far as saying that whilst students do not wear a uniform at this school, they are all dressed pretty similarly, nobody daring to be very different.
Level playing field
Another acclamation of the school uniform is that it helps improve students behaviour and academic performance. Sadly, this is not entirely accurate. The majority of research on the effects of school uniforms concluded that, because children settle in more quickly, uniforms do tend to enhance classroom management and increase instructional effectiveness. Nonetheless, there isn’t any solid proof that uniforms raise students’ academic achievement. And there is another element to this, not much is known about the impact of uniform on other domains of education (eg. creativity).
As an education consultant with a focus on Madrid schools, I often witness the diverse approaches to uniforms. While some Spanish schools may have uniform policies, the level of formality tends to vary. It’s an interesting reflection of how different educational systems navigate tradition and respond to societal changes. If you have specific questions about Madrid schools or any other aspect of education, feel free to ask!
Sinéad Galvin’s extensive experience as an education consultant fuels her commitment to helping families successfully navigate the Spanish education system and discover the Best school for their child. Sinéad founded Steps into Spain, a boutique education consultancy situated in Madrid and offers a variety of school search services. Take a look to learn more about the services and what is included in each one . If you’re ready to begin or want more information, feel free to reach out to Sinéad.