Wednesday, August 29, 2007

School uniform

On the flimsiest of excuses - a half heard radio interview on the cost of school uniform (where still applicable) - and being pertinent to the time of year - I present "The Day that the Young Jerrychicken had his School Uniform fitting".

I passed my 11 plus exam, that is I scraped through by, as I later discovered, just one mark, if I'd spelled my name wrong (entirely possible) then I'd have been bound for Secondary Education and a life spent in manual labour.

But I passed and to my fathers dismay I was required by the Leeds Modern Grammar School to aquire a complete uniform by the time the Autumn term of 1968 commenced.

All of which meant a trip to Rawcliffes.

Only two shops in Leeds sold school uniforms and one of those was a new upstart, Hornes, but mothers being mothers only Rawcliffes would do and tales abounded of how Hornes sold shoddy goods, how the knees in their trousers soon wore through, how their blazers were, horror upon horror, made ABROAD, deary me, no mother in her right mind would send her kinder to school in a blazer made in Hong Kong.

No, it simply had to be Rawcliffes and so on one warm August day during the school holiday our mum bundled me onto the number 33 bus into Leeds where we met our dad outside Rawcliffes during his dinner hour - he had to be there as he was paying by cheque and the bank account was only in his name, in fact the only person allowed to handle money at all in our house was our dad, our mum never owned a bank account in her name, ever, for she was a woman and not capable of understanding such things.

Rawcliffes was an old fashioned clothing store dedicated entirely to school clothing and August was obviously its very busiest time and so we stood in line with lots of other mothers and fathers (other fathers on their lunch breaks who had to sign the cheques) and offspring until it was out turn to step up to the large glass topped and glass fronted counter to be served by a man who told you what you had to buy.

"School sir ?" he would simply ask.
"Leeds Modern" our mother answered and proudly looked around at the queue of other parents to see if they were impressed, for many of those other parents would be buying uniforms for the lowly Secondary Modern Schools, and would rightly be both ashamed of their own children and impressed by me, I looked around too with an air of "I'm good, me"

And the man behind the counter would flip through a few pages on his clipboard until he reached the list of clothing for Leeds Modern, then he would start opening and closing large wooden drawers and placing various items of clothing on the counter for which we were given no choice in the purchase thereof...

"Grey socks, three pairs of"
"White nylon shirts, three"
"Leeds Modern tie, one"
"Gym shorts, one pair"
"Reversable rugby/football shirt, one"
"Gym vest, one"
"School cap madam ?"
"Yes please"
"No thank you"
"Shutup you, you will wear a cap, lets hear no more"
"School cap, one"
"Black shoes, one pair"
"Gym plimpsols, one pair"
"Football boots, one pair, he can use these for rugby too madam"
"Thank god for that"
"Pardon sir ?"
"Blazer madam, all black or black and red stripes ?"
"Black please, ouch"
"Don't be impudent, you'll have a stripey one, I think they're smart"
"Yes madam, the red and black stripes are recommended for first years"
"And now madam, shorts or long trousers ?"

And I held my breath, this was a rite of passage moment for at Junior School we had always worn shorts "let the sun get to your legs" our mums had said to us all, but the big boys at Grammar School all wore long trousers except for the tortured few who's mothers were not prepared to let loose the apron strings on their beloved sons and still insisted on letting the sun get to their legs on into Grammar School...

She looked at me, we had discussed this at home, at length, for six whole weeks we had discussed this, she still wanted the sun to get to my legs for at least another year as if my legs would wither and die if covered by cloth...

"Long trousers please"
"Long trousers it is madam, one pair"

I breathed a sigh of relief.

"Is that it" asked our dad hopefully
"Madam will require a school badge for the blazer"
"Doesn't it come with one" asked our dad, astonished that the red and black monstrosity of a blazer did not include the school badge, i mean who the hell else would buy such a thing if not a Leeds Modern School first former ?

"No sir it does not"
"We'll have two please" and that was the final word on the matter as our mum gave our dad a look that said "shut up and pay" although why she bought two school badges for the one blazer I still do not know, I also still do not know why I found both school badges in a box of her belongings when she died and I also do not know why I myself have now kept them - its a mystery.

"Is that it" asked our dad again, in a far more worried voice than before, his lunch break was nearly up and so was his bank account judging by the huge pile of clothing gathered on the counter in front of us.

"Will madam be requiring name tags ?"
"Oh yes please"
"He knows what his name is"
"Shut up"
"They come in packs of fifty madam"
"Shut up, yes fifty will be fine thank you"
"Where are you going to use fifty name tags"
"Shut up"

And then it was finally time to write out the cheque and our poor dad had to sit down and bite on a piece of cloth to stop himself bursting into tears while he did it and after all of these years I am still suprised that he didn't try and "do a deal" with the Rawcliffes man as I never saw him buy anything else ever in his life without "doing a deal" with the seller.

"It'd better be worth it" he warned me as he spun on his heel and walked out of the shop back to his nearby office leaving me and me mum to lug the new school uniform home on the bus where she would take it out of the bags several times a day to show to envious friends and neighbours, "its got two badges for the blazer you know" she'd tell them proudly and they, like I, wodered why the hell that should be.


Ms Jones said...

I bet you still sew labels in ALL your clothes! :)

mal said...

In 1968 the controversy in California public education was whether we would have a dress code, let alone a school uniform. We used to feel bad for the kids in the Lutheran and Catholic schools who had to wear uniforms.

There is data now that supports the position that schools that do require a uniform perform at a high level than those that do not.

mal said...

Oh! The two badges thing is one of those parental mysteries that will remain. It makes you wonder what mysteries we will leave our kids *L*

Gary said...

ms jones - its the only way I can remember my full name nowadays, I use it instead of an ID card, "...well I'm wearing his shirt and shoes officer..."

mal - My kids high school last year tightened up on the uniform policy, it does automatically impose a certain standard and expectation and gets a subliminal message across to the kids that "this is school time - the rest is leisure time", its a good idea.

School caps look ridiculous though.

Ms Jones said...

I just googled "Elevenplus" much to my surprise some schools still use it.. Not many though!
As you may tell.. I failed mine :)

John_D said...

I was the year after the the 11-plus was abandoned, hence my comprehensive education what has not done me no 'arm.
I did however take the same 11-plus exam that my sister passed, allowing her to go to grammar school for a whole two years before she was forcibly dragged down to my level, and passed with ease. I mean, the daily sudoku* in the Guardian is harder. I could lose respect for you, old chap.

* - despite my earlier protestations, I now know what I'm doing and find it simple.

But Why? said...

Back in my school days in the People's Republic of South Yorkshire, uniforms had been banned in state schools. This meant that students were free to express themselves howsoever they wished, unconstrained by any fascist notions of uniform.

This led to us all developing a well-formed sense of individuality and a number of kids getting beat up for not wearing the right brand of trainers.

teech said...

Uniforms are really useful to staff when trying work out which kids belong to the school and which ones are just hanging around at break time...

I'd be interested to see the data Mal talked about. The consensus in the UK is that uniforms moderate behaviour and that better behaviour leads to better attainment. I've worked at lots of schools and those with strict uniform policies but are relaxed about hairstyles, makeup, accessories and footwear (within reason for the latter!) seem to produce the happiest students. A sense of belonging to a community with enough freedom to express themselves.