Independent Education Today, 27.08.15 The new school year will see a new uniform at some of the country's schools, while some interesting traditions remain in place. HMC leading independent Bedales and King Edward's Witley feature and Christ's Hospital and Robert Gordon's College are referenced.
Many pupils returning to independent schools this term will do so in a variety of new garments and outfits, incorporating modern and traditional materials in the classroom and on the sports field. Branding remains of major importance, while two schools continue to operate alternative arrangements to the norm.
A novel uniform system operates at King Edward’s School Witley (formerly Bridewell Royal Hospital,) the creation of which was sanctioned by the same charter as that of Christ's Hospital and St Thomas' Hospital in 1553 by King Edward XI. Pupils are allocated uniform by the sewing room upon arrival and as they outgrow their uniform they simply go back to the sewing room, who undertake repairs if needed and replace the uniform with bigger sizes. Pupils return the uniform upon leaving and it is recycled if usable.
The sewing room also provides a personal alterations service for pupils’ uniform, sixth form dress and home clothes, which the boarders wear on evenings and weekends. The school also has an onsite professional laundry so all returning pupils are greeted on the first day of term with pristine dry-cleaned blazers in their boarding house.
Generally, uniform has a five-year lifecycle although exceptions include the ceremonial gowns worn by the head boy and head girl, which are passed down from generation to generation. These have just been replaced but last for over 20 years.
It is difficult to know what girls want; Robert Gordon’s College in Aberdeen sells a compact mirror with an engraved logo, but there was not a huge uptake when we proposed something similar. We are already looking forward to our centenary in 2030; it will take a long time to prepare for this – we may produce a coffee table book and special logo.”
A uniform is conspicuous by its absence at Bedales School, where headmaster Keith Budge said: “Pupils, staff and visitors often comment on how refreshing it is pupils have their own identity when it comes to clothing. The strength of Bedales’ close-knit and long-standing community is proof uniform is not required to promote a sense of belonging. There are other ways to create a sense of community and identity and Bedales does this through mutual respect and long-held school traditions strengthening the bonds between staff and pupils and the community at large, such as the handshaking ceremony at the end of assembly. We do not have any guidelines when it comes to attire, other than it should not be offensive.”
Clearly, the clothes worn in the country’s independent schools do more than keep their pupils warm, with the colours, cuts and patterns establishing belonging, whether to a centuries-old institution or brand new one. Updated attire can appeal to today’s image-conscious children, while uniform can prepare them for life after school.
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