One mom from the southwest of England thought that she had done everything to prepare her son properly for the new school year. So she was well and truly taken aback when she was informed that her son was dressed inappropriately. Worse still, his teachers threatened him with isolation for his uniform infringement. But this feisty mom put her foot down – she wasn’t prepared to stand for it.
September 2017 was the time for 14-year-old Colby to commence his new school trimester. So, in plenty of time, he committed himself to what countless school kids have to do towards the end of their summer vacation. The young student went on a back-to-school shopping trip with his mom.
Single mom Kellie McGowan and Colby live in Gloucester, some 95 miles away from the English capital of London. The south-west city is good for shopping, so the pair were easily able to pick up all Colby required for the new academic year. There was one item in particular that he needed before going back to school – a new pair of shoes. Colby is a student at Severn Vale School in Gloucester, an educational establishment with a fairly clear-cut dress code in place.
Therefore, Colby’s shoes had to be suitable and smart. Retail worker McGowan had been sent a letter by the school detailing the uniform rules that all its students were expected to adhere to. So, before she took her son shopping, she made sure to study the letter of the laws carefully to make sure she knew what they were looking for.
In terms of footwear, the school had very clear ideas about what was acceptable and what was not. The letter, which was dated August 22, was later quoted in U.K. tabloid newspaper The Sun. It informed parents, “Canvas shoes, boots, plimsolls, training or open-toed styles should not be worn.”
The communication from the school even included pictures of shoes that met the standard and those that fell below it. The letter also advised parents that appropriate school shoes could be found for as little as £18 – or $24. Parents were also encouraged to get in touch with the school if they had any questions about any of the uniform rules.
So, after having taken in all the information from the school’s letter, McGowan and her son hit the shops. She told The Sun that Colby takes pride in his appearance, so they were hoping to pick up footwear that suited him and the school’s standards. Eventually, they settled on a black pair of Kickers shoes that set McGowan back a substantial £50 – or $66.
Mom and son were both pleased with their purchase, and considered the shopping expedition a success. However, that was all to change when Colby set foot in Severn Vale School on the first day back. Evidently, his teachers were not massive fans of the teenager’s brand-new footwear. In fact, the boy found himself in big trouble.
The teaching staff at Severn Vale School took one look at Colby’s black Kickers and saw red. They told the teenager that his new shoes stepped all over the school’s dress code, and that he would have to find another pair. Colby and his mom were given a week to find a new pair of appropriate shoes.
In the meantime, the school furnished Colby with replacement shoes which didn’t contravene the dress code. According to McGowan, Colby’s teachers “threatened him with isolation for wearing shoes that, ‘look like trainers.’” But the indignant mom was outraged by the suggestion that her son’s footwear was not suitable for school.
“[The school] are saying they look like trainers. It does not tell parents in the letter we received that they would be a problem,” an exasperated McGowan told The Sun. The thing that particularly infuriated the single mom was that the shoes in question were included in the Kicker brand’s “school range.”
So the McGowan got in touch with Kickers representatives who confirmed that Colby’s shoes – Tovnie Lacers – were indeed marketed as school shoes. However, unfortunately for the maddened mom, the shoe company declined to fight her corner by contacting Severn Vale School directly.
For someone in McGowan’s personal circumstances, there was something else to worry about. The school had asked the mom to pay out for another pair of school shoes for her son. Bear in mind, that she had already spent the equivalent of $66 on a pair she had thought were perfectly acceptable. McGowan told The Sun, “As a single parent, I don’t have another £50 to replace them. It is ridiculous.”
McGowan maintained that the Severn Vale School’s letter, with its pictures of acceptable and unacceptable footwear, showed a pair of shoes very similar to the pair she bought her son. But nevertheless the school insisted that Colby’s offending footwear were “trainer-style,” and therefore inappropriate.
Richard Johnson, the principal of Severn Vale School, has since spoken out about the scandal of Colby’s Kickers. Johnson gave a stout defense of his school’s uniform policy. He said, “With regards to shoes, we told parents that we expected school shoes to mean school shoes. Trainer-style shoes would not be acceptable.”
The school head also said that the pupil’s parents had been informed that if their children arrived for lessons wearing unacceptable shoes then they would be given a pair to wear by the school. But the very fact that Severn Vale School had set aside funds for spare footwear was something else that angered McGowan. “Why are the school spending money on shoes for children who turn up in footwear they say isn’t correct?” she asked in The Sun.
Johnson’s statement was firm and unapologetic, showing that the rules would not be bent for any student. He also claimed that the majority of parents were pleased with the uniform rules. He added, “Most have found that buying school shoes is significantly cheaper than buying branded trainer style shoe.”
The contentious issue was picked up by U.K. tabloid newspapers, and sparked a debate online. Readers of the Daily Mail were quick to voice their opinions in the comments section underneath that paper’s coverage of the story. And many of its readers were not all that sympathetic towards McGowan.
One commenter wrote, “I feel sorry for these children if their parents cannot understand simple rules and instructions from the school about how to dress their children. Their children are off to a bad start in life.” While another supported McGowan by saying, “Well this is stupid, Kickers are a school shoe brand and are meant for school.”
This certainly isn’t the first debate about school uniform to hit the headlines recently. In the same month that Colby was reprimanded for unsuitable shoes, one schoolgirl from Kent in the U.K. was sent home for having shoes that were “too shiny,” according to The Sun. Then again, she had also dyed her hair – and presumably not regulation black.