Uniforms to mask inequality

Last updated 05:00 08/09/2012

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Once the preserve of secondary, private or religious schools, primary schools are increasingly using uniforms to mask the disparity between social classes at primary level.

A survey of 30 Waikato primary schools found half now had a uniform, many of which were only introduced in the last five years.

These schools are part of a growing trend in the region, according to School Trustees Association Waikato chairwoman April Tauelangi.

She said a core reason for many primary schools making the switch was to remove the distinction between rich kids and poor kids, which could be a distraction from children's learning.

"It is distracting to see other kids with Nike shoes and changing clothes every day and all these lovely things they have, and you coming in wearing the same pants two or three days. Children can notice those things."

A uniform allowed kids to look and feel on a par with their peers, and to focus on their schooling.

"At the end of the day it's got to be what is best for the students and getting rid of any class distinction."

Hamilton's Aberdeen School will introduce a uniform next term after "overwhelming" support from parents.

With the exception of one parent, a survey of the school community on the proposed move to a uniform had unanimous support.

Principal Murray McDonald said, along with health and safety benefits and fostering a sense of pride in the school, a uniform also eliminated pettiness or potential bullying around schoolyard fashion.

"Although we're middle of the range as far as the apparent decile wealth factor goes, we do have a number of children who come from parents who struggle to provide adequate clothing and the use of a consistent uniform is certainly going to help where they don't feel they need to compete with Levis, and who knows what else, that kids would want to wear."

He said the school tried to keep the cost of a uniform at a minimum, with items ranging from about $40 to $60.

Hamilton Budgeting Advisory Trust manager Clare Mataira said a school uniform could be "incredibly expensive" for parents.

"I know we've had a few clients who have had difficulty paying for the uniform and have kept their child away from school because of that."

But she said the initial outlay solved a number of issues around mufti clothing, such as the pressure put on parents to buy popular brands, in the long term.

Hamilton mum Nicki Braniff, whose daughter Amy, 8, wears a uniform at Pukete School, said while it was costly to begin with, she preferred it.

"It just looks nicer and tidier and it's easier as a parent," she said.

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"You don't have to worry about labels and who's got the better pair of jeans."

Her school allowed parents to sell and buy second-hand uniforms for as little as $5 per item.

But Fiona Bennett said buying mufti clothes for her daughter Hayley provided more flexibility with how much she spent as she could buy items on sale.

"At this stage they don't appear to be affected by labelled clothing. There doesn't seem to be a need to spend a lot of money on clothes."

- Waikato Times

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