NEW guidance saying pupils should be allowed to wear trainers to school will encourage bullying and cost parents a fortune, head teachers and pupils warned yesterday.
The Welsh Assembly Government said in new guidance to schools that cheap trainers are better for feet than cut-price shoes and that they encourage young people to be active.
But young people favour fashionable, designer brands and bargain trainers are no better than cheap shoes, critics said.
Anna Brychan, director of the National Association of Head Teachers Cymru, said trainers were often used as a status symbol and teenagers warned that they might be bullied for wearing “the wrong” trainers.
Although many primary schools in Wales allow pupils to wear trainers, secondary schools are stricter, demanding black or blue smart shoes.
This is part of a general uniform policy to promote equality through pupils wearing the same clothes and because it looks smart, head teachers said.
But the new document from WAG says, “Trainers are often made out of healthy materials and may be quite reasonably priced in comparison to leather shoes.
“Not permitting trainers might leave less well-off parents with no alternative other than to buy non-leather shoes that are not properly fitted and which might lead to severe foot problems in later life.”
Podiatrist Andrew James, of Ace Feet In Motion in Cardiff, agreed that trainers were a healthy option, but only if they were good quality.
He said, “Trainers are good for you. They’re comfortable, they’re supportive, they have a fastening strap or laces and they wrap around the whole foot, so they’re ideal in that way.
“We do come across cases where children need help through the phases where there feet are growing and one of the things we need to do then is limit their footwear.
“One of the things we can do is get them to wear trainers to school, and we often have to write to schools to get permission for them to do that.
“So in that sense trainers qualify as a good shoe and it does frustrate me that children can’t wear them.”
However, he added, “A bad shoe is a bad shoe, I don’t quite buy the idea that a bad trainer is better than a bad shoe.”
Teachers said any health benefits would be outweighed by the damage done by allowing branded footwear at school.
Dr Chris Howard, head teacher at Lewis School Pengam, Gilfach, Bargoed, said the WAG guidance was “arguable”.
“We’ve still got a semi-formal uniform and we require black shoes,” he said.
“We think they’re sturdier and less water permeable than other shoes.
“And the governors have always been sensitive to the fact that if you allow children to wear branded material there would be competition between the children.
“For both these reasons we’ve never required anything other than black leather footwear.
“It’s staggering that the Assembly should be making judgments about the micro management of schools at this level.
“As a spokesperson for the National Association of Head Teachers, in my opinion the advice would have been better if it had been less particular, less detailed. Schools generally know their own purposes better and are better able to define what’s right for them and their student body.”
Ms Brychan said, “I’m not convinced that it solves the problems that it sets out to solve.
“One of the arguments for retaining school uniforms is that everyone looks the same, but of all the things that would possibly show a difference in status, trainers are the very thing that might do that, because they do vary from very cheap to very expensive.
“And they have been items of status, so my fear would be that it would undermine one of the advantages of having a school uniform, which is to iron out visible differences in financial background.”
Even the pupils themselves agreed.
Rhiannon Llewellyn, 17, a sixth form pupil at Ysgol Glantaf in Cardiff, said bullying could be a problem.
“You do get people who are going to notice and probably say something if they think they should be wearing Adidas or Nike or something and they’re not,” she said.
“It depends on the age group – when you get older you don’t care so much, but when you’re starting out the first few years of high school, people might get bullied for not having the right pair of trainers.”