BLOG: 'Poverty-proofing' schools sends the wrong message

Instead of banning high-priced brands, schools are better off focusing on education and community involvement


Brand names have always been at the forefront of fashion fads in school. For my generation, it was button-fly Guess jeans, bright-coloured Club Monaco sweatshirts and lace-up Doc Marten boots that were the must-have styles of my high school days.

There were brands that my parents couldn’t afford and brands that I begged for every single day - desperate to fit in with the high-priced teen trends.

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My mom did her best, scooping up lookalike styles from second-hand shops. Sometimes for Christmas, an overpriced top or pair of shoes would appear under the tree, leaving me shrieking with excitement.

Today, the desire for duds donning the biggest names in fashion still exists - only the names have changed and the price tags seem to have spiked significantly.

For Woodchurch High School in Birkenhead - a town in northern England - those break-the-bank brands have now been banned.

A letter was sent home to the parents, outlining the clothing items that were no longer allowed. Topping the list of banned brands was Toronto-made Canada Goose jackets. With price points ranging from several hundred dollars to $1,000 per jacket, the school’s headteacher, Rebekah Phillips, explained in an interview with BBC News that the measure was put in place to “poverty-proof” the school.

After receiving a letter from a former student stating that economic backgrounds should not be rubbed in their faces at school, and hearing the same request from a few parents, Phillips decided to take action.

Several schools in the U.K. have taken a similar stance on “poverty-proofing” classrooms, implementing bans on items such as expensive pencil cases. One school even requested all students carry the same backpack brand.

While I think the intentions are good, I don’t agree that banning expensive items from school is sending the right message to kids.

Economic inequality is common in schools - in fact, in the U.K. school that is enforcing the jacket ban, nearly 46 per cent of the students come from low-income families. Skirting the issue by telling the students which clothes they can and cannot wear, doesn’t dissolve the issue or create equality, it just covers it up.

Instead of banning all high-end brands, perhaps the inequality can be addressed in other ways.

Schools could try educating kids about their buying habits, encourage community involvement such as organizing a coat drive for those families who are less fortunate, and find ways to explain the economic differences and how students are impacted as a result.

There’s more value in turning differences into learning opportunities than in banning anything that makes those differences apparent.

Bianca Bujan is a mom of three, writer, editor and marketing consultant. Find her online at @bitsofbee. 


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