You know the school system is broken when children are put into isolation for wearing the wrong shoes

Writing pad with Back to school written on it
Emily Apple

Children across the UK have recently returned to school after the summer holidays. And with the beginning of the new term, there’s been a flurry of stories about the draconian uniform policies being implemented across the country.

But not only are the policies draconian, so too are the punishments schools are inflicting on children who breach the uniform code. Children are being put into isolation or forced to walk in shoes that are causing them pain because their schools appear to put a dress code above pupil welfare.

And this says everything about what’s wrong with our education system and its priorities.

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The wrong shade of grey

The examples of some of the violations children have been threatened with or punished for are mindboggling. In fact, they’d be funny if the impact on the kids wasn’t so severe.

For example, one child was told on her first day of secondary school that her trousers were the wrong shade of grey. She was pulled out of line, and sent to the school’s “behaviour unit”. Think back to your first day at school and remember the excitement and anxiety that accompanies that. Then imagine being singled out in front of your new class and punished for wearing the wrong coloured trousers.

As the child’s mother stated her, “Her confidence has just been slashed”. She also said:

Kezia was very upset, she didn’t want to go back the next day. She felt that she had done something wrong because she was sent to the behaviour unit with kids who had been naughty.

The wrong shoes

Meanwhile, in Somerset, a 15-year-old was forced to spend the day wearing shoes that caused her pain after her school threatened her with isolation or detention if she changed them. Although she supports a uniform policy, the girl stated:

But what I don’t agree with is how the school is taking students out of lessons and putting them in isolation or detaining them after class.

It seems as if they are putting adhering to the uniform policy ahead of learning.

Pupils and parents protested outside Clevedon School over its uniform policy. According to Devon Live, one mother reported that her:

12-year-old son was put in isolation all day, and not allowed out at break times after arriving in “unsuitable shoes”.

This is despite the fact he wore the same shoes last year, and it was a change in policy by the school that meant they were no longer suitable.

Does the punishment fit the crime?

There is a crisis in children’s mental health. Years of austerity has stretched services to breaking point. And a report published in 2018 found that

between 2008 and 2014, the percentage of children and young adults with a mental health condition also rose by 60% in England and by 75% in Scotland

Yet schools think isolation booths are an appropriate punishment for wearing the wrong shoes. Vice described one pupil’s experience:

The cubicles were cramped and dark with students’ graffitied initials carved into the wood. It was silent except when the rest of school went out for lunch and you could hear laughing in the canteen below.

Research from Schools Week found that:

over two-thirds of the country’s largest academy trusts have schools that use some form of isolation, although with varying labels from “inclusion units” and “consequence booths” to “time-out spaces” and “calm rooms”.

One mother whose child was put into isolation told the Guardian:

It’s a small booth. They can’t look left or right, they can’t look behind. They have to focus in front all the time. They can’t speak to anyone for the whole day. It’s basically an internal exclusion. It’s barbaric.

Another stated:

He came out at the end of the day and he didn’t look well. His legs were shaking and he could hardly string a sentence together. He looked completely done in.

What do we want from our schools?

Ultimately we need to think about what we want from our schools. Do we want schools that foster free-thinking, creativity, and a love of learning? Or do we want schools that turn out cogs for the capitalist machine, teaching kids to nod and obey on cue?

I know a lot of teachers. I have love and respect for each and every one of them. They entered education for the right reasons – because they wanted to make a positive difference to children’s lives – and they do a brilliant job. Many are broken by the vicious cuts this government has made to education. Some have left. Some struggle on.

But among the people who run schools, there’s a special class of petty dictators; the type of people who should never be allowed a grain of power let alone control of children. These are the people who think trousers being a bit too short is more important than learning and creativity; the people who don’t realise that respect has to be earned and isn’t achieved by shouting and punishing kids.

The Tories have decimated our schools through cuts. Micahel Gove pretty much singlehandedly destroyed the curriculum. But ultimately it’s not just funding that schools need – it’s a total change in attitude. Because even if schools had lots of cash, if they’re putting children in isolation for wearing the wrong shoes, then there’s something seriously wrong with our education system.

Featured image via Pixabay/Innviertlerin

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  • Show Comments
    1. Totally agree, this control freak attitude too many schools have has to go. Our children are being destroyed by it, especially our SEND children.
      When the school would rather put their uniform policy above a request for a reasonable adjustment under the Equalities Act 2010 for 1 day, for an autistic pupil with severe sensory issues, trauma from primary, attendance difficulties due to the above diagnosed conditions and the anxiety that all brings with it. Having managed to get to school, gone to 1st lesson, gets yanked out of 2nd lesson halfway through!
      Denied access to his education, because his diagnosed diasblity had prevented him wearing the uniform, by a Deputy Head who wanted to “teach him it wasn’t going to become a habit!”
      So he is then isolated and attached to various members of staff all day, becoming more stressed and anxious.
      The ONLY lesson he’s learnt is that yet again school have failed him, he is now refusing to go.
      But it will be the parent who is blamed, threatened with fines and court action, false allegations made about.
      Yes things have to change in our schools. Fast! Because it’s about so much more than the “Uniform Zealots” (there is an N word that works better, but I won’t offend by using it). This nastiness in our school system is insidious, it’s creeping into the primary schools too, and it extends beyond the children to their parents, families and homes.

    2. Are these “rules” actually law? Centuries ago, I was put into a religion class as a 12 yr old Atheist, which I refused. My father came to the school and demanded to see the religious “law”, which was only a “rule” of the Christian head master. A few phone calls later and I was “punished” with extra French instead of religion.
      Lesson: Parents need to demand straight answers from these mini-fascists to stop them before they start. The child alone isn’t strong enough.
      PS. When I refused formal corporal punishment, the teacher whacked me across the shoulders with a cane. My father arrived, knocked the teacher down – in class! – saying he was the only one to beat his son. The teacher mumbled about “in loco parentis” but he never touched me again. More “extra French”…
      Lesson: Strong parents make strong children.

    3. This takes me back to my convent school 50 years ago, and a girl being publicly humiliated by Sister Angela for wearing a gymslip that wasn’t the right shade of navy blue. The girl’s parents were good Catholics and had 11 children, so not much spare cash, and she’d inherited the gymslip from an elder sister who went to a different school.

      My experiences put me off school uniforms for my own children, but going through the daily nightmare of sorting out what they were going to wear, made even worse by the tyranny of teenage fashion demands, made me realise that a case can be made for a school uniform. However this should be something simple, sensible and cheap with allowances for variations. After all one of the arguments in favour of a school uniform is that it disguises obvious differences in parental income. When the demands are so precise and detailed, the differences between richer and poorer are made glaringly obvious.

      I would add that my daughter gave up teaching maths in comprehensive schools and moved to a 6th form college, because of the time she was expected to waste on checking her pupils’ uniforms.

    4. Let us be honest here. What Government department have they not broke? I would welcome any input. Oh I am aware that The Foreign Office is or should I say has done rather well, especially in giving more and more billions to help underdeveloped nations progress, like India for example, the India that has just sent a lander to the Moon.

    5. Most academies see uniform, particularly the old fashioned blazer type, as a means of enhancing the image. Strict enforcement by leaders, many of whom are not qualified teachers, is all part of the drive to maintain control and is of course not subject to any democratic scrutiny. Certainly some non academy schools do the same but at least their actions have to answer to democratically constituted boards of governors

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