These days, school footwear is not just about being affordable, comfy and long-lasting. It's about whether the shoes could get your child in trouble, or in extreme cases, excluded.


It sounds ridiculous that the humble shoe can cause so much fuss but many schools are clamping down hard on what shoes your children can and can't wear. Which makes it especially hard when Kickers, Nike, Converse, Vans and other desirable brands are creating shoes that might meet the school rules but, then again, might not.

Staff at many high-street stores may tell you that all the shoes in their Back to School ranges will pass inspection. But, in reality, every school sets its own standards – and what's OK for one school may absolutely not be OK for another.

So how do you choose suitable school shoes?

Check the guidelines on your school's website super-carefully. And accept your child's insistence that "everyone else has these" at your peril.

Some schools provide visual checklists – like the one pictured below – which can be really handy, and a useful 'referee' between you and your child if you find you differ on what "suitable black footwear" actually means.

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example visual guide to which school shoes are allowed and which are not allowed

But if there isn't a visual guide and you're left trying to guess what "suitable" means to a set of teachers you may not even have met yet, things can get a whole lot trickier – as is evidenced by the regular questions that pop up in our our MadeForMums Top Testers Club. This post, below, about whether daps or pumps are suitable as school shoes, is pretty typical:

screenshot of question asked in forum about whether pumps are suitable as school shoes

We can't say what your child's school will allow but. given the high cost of school shoes, we reckon it’s best to play it safe. As a rule of thumb, if the school guidelines don't specifically mention pumps, trainers, Kickers or Vans, then the likelihood is they're not permitted. Think basic black – with no logos, no stripes and no high heels.

So what happens if my child turns up wearing the 'wrong' school shoes?

This (you've guessed it!) varies from school to school. The official line from the Department for Education is: "Teachers can discipline pupils for breaching the school’s rules on appearance or uniform. This should be carried out in accordance with the school's published behaviour policy."

Generally speaking, a school uniform breach can range from a verbal reprimand to a letter sent home to parents to a request to go home and change. Repeated breaches of the school's uniform policy will obviously be dealt with more seriously.

Over the years, there have been many a media scare story about the 'shoe police' in schools. Our favourites ones – both from quite a few years ago now – are about Djanogly City Academy in Nottingham, where teachers sent home more than 50 pupils on the first day of term of wearing inappropriate footwear (including, it has to said, flip-flops!) and about Saddleworth School in Oldham where parents were issued with letters withdrawing the child’s social time if their shoes didn't conform to the recently updated rules, and a threat of exclusion if they didn’t have correct footwear within a week.

Why are some schools stricter than others?

Uniform enforcement is up to the discretion of the school and the head. The Department of Education’s guidelines give a lot of room for headteachers and those in charge to implement their own rules – within reason of course.

Can I challenge the school’s shoe policy?

Yes, you can but you need to have a justifiable reason for the school to revisit its guidelines. This might include the required shoes discriminating against certain groups of pupils, particularly those with protected characteristics, or if the required shoes are not practical or comfortable or are simply unaffordable for most parents.

If you'd like the school's uniform policy reconsidered, you should talk to the headteacher and the school governors. If you can get a few parents or even the parent-teacher association supporting your case, you'll be in a stronger position.

Pic: Getty Images

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