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This year, a number of schools in France will look different. The French government is starting a pilot project for school uniforms. In several parts of the country, schools can voluntarily participate in the experiment. The idea is that the uniform creates equality and solidarity. But does the new generation, which values diversity so much, benefit from a school uniform?
The history of school uniforms
There has been a debate in France for years about the return of school uniforms. Mandatory clothing was first introduced in the country by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802, along with the establishment of state schools. During the twentieth century, its use gradually declined. In 1968, the clothing was largely abolished, and girls were allowed to wear trousers. During that period, the uniform at many schools consisted only of a kind of blouse worn over regular clothing.
Although the official uniform was abolished, the government considered a neutral dress code important in schools. Therefore, in 2004, a law was introduced that prohibited “any visible religious symbols or clothing.” In September 2023, the abaya was added to this. This long, loose garment is worn mainly in the Middle East and parts of Africa.
In recent years, there has been increasing discussion in France about whether the school uniform should return. After the ban on the abaya, President Macron expressed support for clothing rules in education. According to him, schools could introduce a uniform, but a compulsory clothing combination such as jeans, a T-shirt, and a jacket was also an option. His wife, Brigitte Macron, also indicated in an interview that she is a fan of the school uniform.
“It erases the differences, it saves time. Choosing what to wear in the morning takes time. (…) So, I am in favor of school uniforms, but only if it’s a simple outfit, not too boring.”
French government starts pilot for school uniforms
Meanwhile, Gabriel Attal, the French Minister of Education, has announced that experiments with uniforms will start from September 2024. Elementary and secondary schools in several regions can voluntarily participate. These include the cities of Tourcoing, Reims, Nice, and Perpignan, the departments of Allier and Alpes-Maritimes, and the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, including Lyon and Grenoble.
The package will cost 200 euros per student. Each child will receive five polo shirts, two sweaters, and two pairs of trousers. Half of the amount will be paid by the government, and the other half by the regional authorities. Although the clothing is the same everywhere, schools may choose to have logos printed on them.
However, there are still many uncertainties. Some schools only want to receive polo shirts and sweaters, while others would like to introduce the complete uniform this school year. Also, there is still no clothing package for summer and physical education classes. So far, there is no difference between the uniform for girls and boys, but this could still change. In short, there are still some issues to be worked out.
School uniforms in 2024
When discussing school uniforms, the arguments have been the same for years. The main argument of the proponents is often that it promotes equality and thus reduces bullying. It is often emphasized that this has been scientifically researched. And that’s correct. A study from 1999 did indeed show that school uniforms improve students’ behavior and engagement.
But this research is now outdated. In 2011, a new, similar study showed something different. It found that students’ behavior does not change at all when they wear a uniform. And that’s not surprising either. The society looked very different 25 years ago. Not only the upbringing and the education system but also the norms and values were based on the knowledge of that time. Nowadays, we are much more aware of issues such as discrimination, sexism, and mental health. Diversity is also increasingly embraced. This is not to say that bullying no longer exists, but that we have simply changed our way of thinking.
Do we gain anything from this?
Of course, there will be parents who encourage the introduction of school uniforms. Especially now that the government is covering the costs, they will only benefit. Moreover, there will be no more discussion in the morning about what can and cannot be worn. And in the meantime, schools can proudly declare that their students are equal.
We almost forget those who have to wear the uniforms daily. Has research been done on this? Has the influence of clothing on bullying been studied at the schools concerned? Not at all. But it is the (white) privileged men in politics who decide that we should go back to their time. Because they liked it.
I am curious if it will benefit today’s youth. Time will tell. Or even better, a study at the participating schools can tell us.