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Education (Guidance about Costs of School Uniforms) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:20 am on 13th March 2020.

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Photo of Robert Courts Robert Courts Conservative, Witney 11:20 am, 13th March 2020

It is a great pleasure to speak on the Bill. It is one of those occasions when we in this House get to speak on an issue that affects all of us in our everyday lives and the everyday lives of our constituents. I do not yet have school-age children, although it will not be long—my eldest will go to primary school later this year—but my mother was a teaching assistant for many years and my wife—this is in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, Madam Deputy Speaker—is a governor at the local primary school. This is an issue that I see and hear about all the time. It matters to us hugely.

We ought to consider at the outset whether, in today’s age, there is a need for school uniforms. We live in a world where we want access to the highest form of education for everybody. We live in an egalitarian age, so it is worth considering at the outset whether there is a need for school uniforms. I am very grateful to Mike Amesbury for making it clear at the outset that this is not an anti-school uniform Bill. In fact, in many ways, we could say quite the reverse. The Bill seeks to ensure that the benefits, as I see them, of school uniform are available to everybody.

There are benefits to school uniforms, provided that they are managed in a judicious and sensible way that ensures there is access to education for everybody. First, it gets children used, at a young age, to dressing formally and professionally. Those habits are harder to bring on later in life, once people have got used to acting and behaving in a certain way. Whether we go on to work in business, law, medicine, Parliament or whatever it happens to be, the need to dress professionally is something that everybody has to learn. It may be a suit and tie, or it may be less formal than that, but it gets people used to that at an early age, which I feel is a benefit.

The second benefit is one that we have heard mention of today: esprit de corps. It is pride. I think it was Fleur Anderson who made mention of the pride that she had in dressing up her children and sending them off to school on their first day. It provides a pride in an institution. I think we are more likely to see a school that is successful and well regarded in the local community, that children want to go to and is seen to be successful, if people have pride in it. Parents look around and see their children there and are glad that they go to that school.

There is a further benefit, which perhaps has not been mentioned today, which is that it makes things a bit easier for the pupils who are at the school. We live in an age that is increasingly pressured for young people. We have seen that very powerfully in the context of the mental health debate. More is required of young people at a younger age through the Instagram effect: everyone is expected to look good to show that they are on top of fashion and to show that their lives are the glossy image that all their friends are portraying.