I love uniforms. I wore uniforms for much of my education career. I love knowing there is a list of clothes, you wear what’s on it, and you are ‘correctly’ dressed. But somehow, this all falls apart at the shoes. A uniform specific down to whether or not girls can wear hair ribbons will be vague enough about the shoe that, buying shoes the summer before classes start, you’re left guessing about what will fit in. And, in my household anyway, when you bought a school shoe, That Was It. No changing your mind when you discovered that no one else in the entire school was wearing that style of shoe. And if by some chance we bought an off-color shoe that didn’t meet the uniform after all, making do with tinted shoe polish. OK, it’s a stupid thing to have haunt you, but, that’s me. Scarred by shoes.
Naturally, when I feel anxious about making sure my kids feel like they fit in at school, I start to worry about shoes. I once spent 45 minutes on the phone with the school athletic director trying to figure out which gym shoe was appropriate with the uniform. As far as I’m concerned, uniform lists should come home with illustrated diagrams of children in full uniform, with helpful lines pointing out each item by name, and, when it comes to the shoes, listing names of preferred shoes by brand.
And now we’re here in England. Their school uniform is not just the blazers and ties I expected, but includes uniform wellies (rainboots). Uniform bags. Uniform bathing suits. Uniform umbrellas. THREE DIFFERENT KINDS OF UNIFORM SOCKS. And yet the shoe is, once again, vague — black and shiny is what I have to go on. The extremely kind registrar at the new school had us in this week for a school tour and to meet the teachers a few days before the kids started school. The campus is gorgeous; the teachers friendly; the headmaster full of new ideas, Irish, and charming; there’s a great computer lab; huge extra curricular offerings, healthy lunch food; even a campus cat, all black, who wooed the children with purrs and pets. And there I was, wandering around, trying to scope out the students’ shoes. They surely thought I was insane. (Actually, the registrar kept introducing me as “And here’s Mrs. Crumpet, she’s a little jet-lagged.” Ha!)
A side note about school differences between the US and UK, as I understand it. Our pre-K is UK Reception. Our K is Year 1, and the numbers slide up from there. So, my youngest, who would be in her second year of preK, is in Reception, my second grader in Year 3, and my third grader in Year Four. I’ve heard that the curriculum here is ahead of the US curriculum in some areas, so we’re curious to see how that will shake down for our kids.
A friend summed up the differences in types of school in the UK to me this way: “The private schools are called public schools and the state schools are run by the church” — I’m still scratching my head over this. Apparently all schools in the UK are required to include religious instruction in the curriculum. We’re sending the children to an independent (public — meaning, private) co-educational Catholic day school. We looked for a place that explicitly welcomed international students and seemed to have a focus on community — and, I figured, if they were going to have religious instruction no matter where they went, it might as well be in a religion I know well.
Finally, can I just mention, young students look completely adorable in their uniforms. Something about those hats and tiny blazers is cheek-pinching cute. But once they reach a certain height, they start to look like tiny stockbrokers. I half expect the blazer-ed and tie-d students to ask me to file papers, get them coffee, and order them a cab.
So here we are, the day before school starts, going to pick up our blazers, making sure all the socks are packed in the school bag, and breaking in the new shoes. Wish us luck.