Close Menu
Today at Bressingham Opening Times Open 10.30 - 5.00pm. Last entry 4.00pm Todays Event Volunteer Recruitment Day Buy Tickets »

Back to school, back in time!

History Of School Uniformimage credit: Leonard Bentley

After our last blog post about traditional playground games we decided to continue the vintage school theme and take a look at School uniforms past and present.

Loved by some, hated by many school uniforms are a divisive issue, so where did they come from and where are they going?

What were the first school uniforms?

The use of school uniforms has fluctuated, a few decades ago relatively few primary schools for example used them, nowadays (2019) school uniforms are worn by over 90% of school children!

So where did all this uniform-ing start.  Unsurprisingly, England appears to be the answer!

In 1222 the Archbishop of Canterbury at the time, the rather pedestrianly named Stephen Langton, ordered that students attending school should wear something called the cappa clausa, a cape sewn up at the front worn by monks at the time.

The closed cloak still exists in some forms today, such as the parliamentary robe worn by bishops at a State Opening or Coronation; and in the cope worn by the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University (or his deputy) when conferring degrees. It is a long scarlet robe with a deep hood lined with fur.

In actual fact, Langton’s election as Archbishop was apparently a major factor in the events that finally led to the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215 - but we’re not interested in that.  His contribution to school uniforms being much more important.

Why did school uniform become popular?

In the 1200’s going to school, let alone what you wore when you went, was not an issue that affected the majority of the population until 600 odd years later with the passing of the 1870 Elementary Education Act.

This was the first of a number of parliamentary acts creating compulsory education in England and Wales.  If you were between 5 and 13 you now had to go to school!

Just because everyone had to go to school following the 1870 Education Act it didn’t mean that everyone had to wear school uniform - this is where that favourite of British pastimes, class, comes into play.

Headteachers at grammar schools insisted on their pupils wearing uniform to distinguish them from children at the new school board secondary modern schools and elementary schools.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when the majority of UK and US schools (which interestingly have a similar timeline regarding widespread adoption of school uniforms) - but by the 2019 School uniform is worn in over 90% of schools in England.

Ironically, in the debate whether school uniform is good or bad, many argue that uniforms help eliminate social and economic difference - this debate on the subject came out with a slim majority that they do help in this regard.

Other statistics in support of school uniforms is a reported drop in crime, school muggings and sexual offences - they can also save parents money (depending on who the school insists the uniform must come from).

Whatever the plusses an minuses, as this list of pro and cons on the use of school uniforms mentions, in surveys most parents and educators support mandatory uniforms - so they’re not going anywhere anytime soon!

Is there anything we should’ve mentioned?

Do you have any thoughts, comments or views on the history of education?

Is there anything you think we should have mentioned?

If there is get in touch and let us know – you can also do it on Facebook or Twitter.


By Alastair Baker at 26 Aug 2019, 00:00 AM