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Ulster Teachers’ Union

Footwear research is not to be sniffed at

22nd Feb 2017


Footwear research is not to be sniffed at, say NI Teachers

When it comes to schoolwear, a uniform approach may not always be the best choice, according to Northern Ireland teachers.

Avril Hall Callaghan, General Secretary of the Ulster Teachers’ Union, was responding to claims that by allowing pupils to take off their shoes in school, grades improved.

“Findern Primary in Derbyshire is the latest school to allow its children to don slippers in class and has done so on the basis of UK university research and best practice in Scandinavia,” she said.

Observing thousands of children from 25 countries over a 10-year period, researchers from the University of Bournemouth found those who left their shoes outside the classroom were more likely to arrive at school earlier, leave later and read more widely.

Similarly, in Scandinavia where countries routinely top educational league tables, children are encouraged to leave their shoes at the door – ostensibly for the practical reasons of not bringing snow inside – but the practice may also contribute to their positive learning outcomes.

“The merits or otherwise of school uniform involve ongoing debate and certainly the mounting costs of prescriptive uniforms which are demanded by some schools is questionable, especially if uniforms are intended primarily to actually break down barriers between pupils from varying incomes,” said Ms Hall Callaghan.

“Indeed, in Europe, uniform is relatively rare. Yet here in the UK, might there be a correlation between the increasing popularity of blazer and tie uniforms over the last 30 years and increasing social inequality?

“The most serious recent investigation into what children wear to school was by the Office of Fair Trading which found that state-school children can now dress smartly and cheaply for learning (under £7 at Tesco’s), but the divide between them and the pupils of Eton (three-piece tailsuit, £170) or Harrow (monitor's black top hat, £158) is wider than ever.”

Over the life of their research, academics collated data from schools in New Zealand and Australia, as well as a school in London. However, schools in Spain, where it is more common to wear shoes indoors, also tested out the theory and found improved learning and pupil behaviour.

“It’s hard to argue with findings like this when experts found that by removing shoes, classrooms were quieter, providing a calmer atmosphere where pupils were more willing to engage in learning activities,” continued Ms Hall Callaghan.

“Bullying in schools where the policy had been introduced was also markedly reduced.

“Uniform is always a contentious issue and it’s up to individual schools and their governors to decide what will work best for their pupils – but this latest finding is certainly food for thought!”


For more information please contact UTU Gen Secretary, Avril Hall Callaghan on 02890 662216 or 07808 363702 or her deputy Jacquie White on 07764 899288 or Mandi Millar  on 077 1966 4642