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A uniform approach - Part 1
CWB looks at the findings of the Schoolwear Association's recent research programme.

By Laura Turner

28 August 2012

In order to gain a fresh perspective on the current views of school uniform and the way it’s supplied, the Schoolwear Association recently embarked on a research programme involving focus groups and YouGov surveys with parents and teachers. Here are the findings.

Around this time of year, from late July onwards, the national media puts the price of school uniform harshly under the spotlight and, subsequently, the school-specific sector under fire.

At the time of writing this piece, for instance, a story has just broken that Tesco has landed the first blow in the supermarket price wars by offering a uniform for a mere £4.50.

The problem is, and what is very rarely addressed in the national media much to the frustration of specialist schoolwear industry, is that there is much more to the business of school uniform than price alone.

And so, in its role as the dedicated trade body for the school specific sector, The Schoolwear Association (SA) has armed itself with some hard facts and figures to help fight the corner of its 200 plus members who collectively clothe millions of school children and supply products to over 75 per cent of the UK’s schools.

To obtain this information, it has, in collaboration with YouGov, carried out extensive research via focus groups and surveys to reveal what parents and teachers actually think of school uniform and specialist schoolwear shops. So, what were their views?

Well, 19 out of 20 people surveyed linked good behaviour to wearing a consistent, traditional uniform during school time, supporting the current trend of “back to basics” on school attire. Additionally, the SA found 90 per cent of parents surveyed who have children at a state school where uniform is required, thought it was an important factor in helping maintain discipline, and one that needs to be fully utilised.

The consensus being that uniform is a “classical conditioning” process; it places children in a frame of mind so when they put school uniform on, they understand from an early age that they will be going to school to learn and concentrate, rather than simply to play.

Discipline has always been a hot topic in the education sector and one that parents are now placing higher up on their agenda as a priority for their offspring. This is reinforced by the fact that the SA has seen a trend increase in formal schoolwear, with its subsequent research supporting the fact that parents, teachers and even schoolchildren want school uniform back.

It is reassuring for the SA to see the trend turning to favour the durability and added disciplinary benefits of uniform, as well as its longevity, quality and value.

Notably, 87 per cent of parents thought school uniform represented good value. One parent, who deemed school uniform “excellent value for money”, put the price issue into perspective when she stated that she could buy the whole of her youngest daughter’s uniform from her local schoolwear store for less than a pair of branded shoes – and the uniform will last longer.

Other benefits of school uniform that were highlighted in the research included creating an individuality for a school and the strong, positive message generated by branded school uniform being important and not something to be dismissed lightly.

It was also clear among the teachers surveyed that uniform is an important tool in the classroom in terms of helping the teaching process. Comments included that it helps to create strong school values, gives children a sense of belonging, generates discipline but also, on a more practical level, makes it easier for teachers to keep tabs on pupils outside of the school gates.

The SA also found teachers believed wearing recognisable school uniform is also a helpful deterrent against bad conduct in public, as pupils are easily reportable.

Teachers also believed, like parents, that uniform places children in the right mind set for studying, that their uniform helps prepare them for professional life, and provides a level playing field in terms of status and trend, allowing children to focus on the task in hand.

The main consensus from the teachers’ point of view was that school is a place to learn and be educated, and anything that facilitates this process is encouraged.

Commenting on the research, Schoolwear Association chairman Howard Wilder says, “We know that a quality, specialised uniform can create a strong identity for a school. We firmly believe that school uniform is part of our cultural heritage; it provides the wearer with many benefits including a ‘clothes discipline’ and the right mindset for school.

“A distinctive uniform can promote an invaluable sense of community within schools, aiding security and a sense of belonging, as well as improving attendance and general behaviour,” he continues. “We are happy that our research has shown that teachers and parents also recognise its value for their children and want to use it to its best advantage.”


All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2006 adults (342 parents with one or more children attending a state school where school uniform is compulsory or recommended) and 2239 adults (373 parents with one or more children attending a state school where school uniform is compulsory or recommended).

Fieldwork was undertaken on 27–30 January 2012 and 16–19 March 2012 respectively. The surveys were carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

YouGov also conducted two online focus groups, one among parents of children at schools (both state and independent) where school uniform is worn, and one among teachers from both state schools and independent schools who view school uniform favourably. The focus groups were run on 16 and 17 May respectively.
 
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