So Kids Can Wear Regular Clothes At British Schools Now?

I’m watching Cuckoo on Netflix. One character, a high school student, is shown at school with his schoolmates all in regular clothes instead of uniforms.

Since when do any British schools (state or independent - or public and private, to us 'Muricans) do away with uniforms?

It’s a matter for each school whether to have a uniform or not, and what rules to impose regarding when it must be worn. It’s been that way for at least 40 years.

The vast majority of schools have uniforms, really the only kind of school that wouldn’t would be the few private schools that have an unconventional and liberal approach to education.

The exception would be for those pupils in the sixth form, which is the two years after the mandatory leaving age. Most state schools don’t require sixth-formers to wear uniform, though private schools often do.

School uniforms are still the default in most places, and are generally well supported by parents for the following reasons:

  1. It makes kids look smarter, supposedly helping to put them in a working mindset and promoting school pride.
  2. School uniforms, in the state sector, are much much cheaper than regular clothes - they are sold in supermarkets and most schools follow a similar style - white shirt, grey/black trousers/skirts, black.grey blazer, with the only bespoke item to the school being perhaps the tie or colour of pullover. Here’s a link to a low cost supermarket called Asda so you can see the options and prices.
  3. It promotes equality - as the uniforms are cheap, everyone looks the same, regardless of the wealth of parents.

Things change post 16, when students have the option to leave school and enter work, or stay on to study for two years of ‘A’ Levels (the quals required to go to university). As this period of study is optional, some schools and further education colleges allow students to wear their own clothes.

I went to a posh private school, so our uniform was bespoke and very expensive. Post 16 we wore our own clothes, but were required to dress as if working in a professional environment, ie skirt or trouser suits in neutral colours with blouse or smart tee - think trainee lawyers.

Additional to the above, having all the children in uniform mostly eliminates the competitive element which can be a serious problem for some parents. There is still the trainers (Nike or Sketchers) issue, but many schools ban them too. Jewellery is also banned except for studs in pierced ears, makeup is usually banned too, and they are encouraged to leave their smartphones at home.

In the interest of equality, the rules apply to boys and girls equally, so boys can wear skirts if they wish Boy wears skirt to school

Thanks for the insight. In the last 10 years or so, a lot of American schools have adopted dress codes for similar reasons, but I notice that you don’t mention one of the primary reasons American schools are doing it: So kids can’t wear gang colors (clothes that identify which gang they belong to). I take it that gangs are not a big concern over there?

Gangs are a concern in some city areas and some schools are even considering metal detectors to stop knives. I only know what I read in the papers, but I get the impression that clothes are not a big identifier of gang membership. Tats and hairstyles may well be though.

A purely personal opinion.

Hairstyles are seen as more of a problem than uniforms. Many schools now ban ‘extreme’ cuts and artificial colourings. Back in the 1950s and 1960s (before my time) long hair was the problem. These days short hair is the concern. Shaven heads (partly or fully shaven) is a trigger. So the once traditional ‘short back and sides’ is now potentially outlawed.

When it comes to clothing there are the occasional media over reactions to a boy demanding ‘equality’ and wanting to wear a dress. The equality issue being girls these days are usually allowed to wear trousers or dresses / skirts.

But a slightly bigger issue these days is the attempts to stop girls wearing clothes conforming more or less to the uniform code but made sexier. So girls wearing excessively tight trousers or very short skirts.


That matches my limited experience in the UK. I lived in Wembley in 1979-1980 and went to a public school (I was 9 at the time). There were a few kids who wore a uniform but the vast majority of the students wore regular clothes.

My sister, 3 years older than me, went to a different school, also public, and they all had to wear uniforms.

And by “public”, you mean what we call “private”, in the US, right?

No, he means a free government-run school - that is, the US usage of public school. There are no UK public schools (which is actually a slightly narrower term than private school in US usage) that do not require uniforms, and there aren’t any Public Schools in Wembley anyway.

We generally call them “State” schools, to differentiate them from “public” and “private” ones.

“Public” schools are generally the well known secondary schools like Eton or Rugby. There are a great many lesser “private” schools, which charge for tuition (they may be day schools, or boarding, or both).

Oh, there’s nothing new in that. Girls have been trying to make their drab uniforms sexier since school uniforms were invented, I imagine.

Back in my day (80s) we would try and roll up up skirts to make them shorter. We had teachers on the school gates doing on-the-spot uniform checks to make sure we were still decent.

Sorry, yes - a “public” school in the US sense.

I was quickly disabused of this notion in the Army, where how shiny your boots were, how sharply creased your uniform was, how your hair was cut, what sunglasses your wore, etc, were constant targets of competition and/or ridicule.

PS: Gangs are not a big concern in the US either. It’s a fig-leaf used to justify onerous restrictions and control over children. Maybe it’s a real issue in New York or LA (though my guess is that gang members aren’t spending a lot of time in the classroom). But these types of restrictions are used all over the country, including the primarily white suburban farm town where I attended high school. The more rules they can use to remind kids that free thought and personal autonomy are frowned upon, the happier our school administrators are.

I’m on series 2; the character the OP’s referring to is in his last year before university; which would put him in the Upper Sixth.

A lot of the independent schools allow sixth-formers to wear their own suits rather than the uniform. Not Eton, obviously.

Yeah, that’s how it was at the private school I went to. Prefects got a special blazer though.