Are Schools Crushing Creative Expression?

Image Credits: Sam Taylor/Netflix

Words by Lucia Cubb

Uniform has been a long and widely debated topic – should we be able to dress as we want, or should we stick to the rules and continue quietly? Following the newest season of the popular tv series Sex Education, there has been more of an open discussion surrounding gender expression and its relation to clothing and whether self-expression is limited due to school rules. 

Warning: spoiler alert! Do not proceed if you haven’t watched the show!

The much-loved tv show Sex Education recently released its third season, much to the delight of many viewers. Having already gained attention and popularity from its hilarious first and second seasons, the British comedy-drama was set to do well with its latest release. Season three delves deep into the teenage life of the main character, Otis Milburn, screening his relationships, friendships and general school life. A significant focus of the third season is a change in headteacher, Hope Haddon, who at first seems cool and exciting – a teacher unlike others and one that dances during school assemblies. However, her eccentric demeanour quickly comes to a halt as she strives to change the school completely, becoming strict and enforcing new rules that don’t sit well with many of the students.

Hope decides to implement a new school uniform: grey blazers, grey knee-length skirts and trousers, and ties and bows displaying the school colours in stripes – not the most exciting thing to wear. Students are no longer able to dress as they please, a drastic change for the characters and the viewers, who have become familiar with the different styles and quirks of each character. This then draws in the question of ‘are schools crushing creative expression?’: is something as simple as uniform suppressing students’ abilities to express who they are?

Sex Education introduces new characters in season 3, some of which are vital to the uniform debate. Cal Bowman, a non-binary person, debuts in the show and faces continuous gender discrimination from the school’s new headteacher. Cal attempts to remain authentic to themself by adopting a different approach to the uniform rules: wanting to wear trousers and a tie, they are told this isn’t allowed by Hope, who expects them to conform to the gender they were born with – they must wear a skirt and bow. However, Cal continues to defy the rules, sticking to how they want to express themself, much to the annoyance of the headteacher. Bringing a new commentary to school uniform, Cal is a fresh perspective on creative freedom, as they refuse to be misgendered and have their identity changed. 

Although Cal has the confidence to remain true to themself and express the gender they feel is most comfortable to them in their school environment, many students around the United Kingdom aren’t able to experience this. The UK Government still allows schools to decide if girls can wear trousers, meaning many females or non-binary people are forced to wear skirts as part of their school’s dress code, even if they don’t feel comfortable in them. With the UK being known as such a cohesive and integrated country, this is a shocking allowance, as it is a rule that is not inclusive of all genders and inhibits people from expressing their true selves. Although schools are an environment for working, this should not impact the way that students dress – I think it’s safe to say almost all students would agree that uniform does not affect learning. 

Not only does the show Sex Education highlight a suppression of gender expression, but the creative side also takes a hit. With his brightly coloured jacket, Otis, Lily, with her space buns and eccentric outfits, Maeve, with her blue hair and nose, piercing – become students that are reduced to nothing more than a grey monochrome outfit alongside many other characters in the show. The audience cannot grasp their true personalities, something that is essential in creating a loveable TV show. Which then causes us to ask – how are we to know the true personalities of real-life students if they all dress the same? What makes them individual? Unique? Special? 

With most schools maintaining strict rules when it comes to uniforms, makeup and hairstyles, creativity and gender expression are being crushed. Individualism is no longer a thing: students cannot be themselves, complicating self-expression and creating indistinguishable identities. Schools should reconsider their strict stances and lessen the rules surrounding uniforms, which I believe will help nourish and encourage students to be not only themselves but the best version of themselves – we are always taught to be nothing more than ourselves, so why should we let a dress code stop this?