Black leather shoes mandatory at many New Zealand schools in winter are causing harm to children's feet, say podiatrists.
Most intermediate and secondary schoolchildren around the country switched this week to winter uniforms and the black leather lace-ups that go with them.
Auckland podiatrist Caron Orelowitz, of Podiatry NZ, said the shoes could cause major problems for young feet.
"The foot is constantly developing and the bones are soft," Orelowitz said. "They need as much cushioning as possible or they could end up with other problems."
She said it was particularly a problem for children running around at lunchtime. "If they're running in leather shoes, with rubber soles, there's no shock absorption. They can develop knee, heel and foot pain."
Many schools say students must take their shoes off to play sport, which Orelowitz said was also a concern. The ground could be hard and sporty children needed adequate foot and ankle support, she said. "Children are often going through rapid periods of growth when they are active and their feet need all the support they can get."
She said even some primary schools required pupils to play sport barefoot.
Tom Parsons, president of the Secondary Principals Association, said the rule was to encourage equity among children. He said if some were going to school in expensive sneakers, it could create problems for those who could only afford cheap shoes.
"If you're there in your $400 adidas, what does that do to me if I can only afford a cheap version? It's a cheaper option for parents to be told that this is the school uniform. The intent is for kids to have that barrier removed from them while they're at school."
He said leather shoes were better than sneakers in some cases, such as if students were welding in a workshop.
But Orelowitz said it would be better for children to be in cheap sneakers than to run around in leather school shoes.
She said she regularly treated students for whom their school shoes were a problem.
"Ideally, if kids could wear good, supportive black trainers to school, that would be half the battle."
School policy out of step with foot health
Auckland mother-of-two Nicky Ranson (picture) says it is time schools updated uniform policies and let children wear smart black sneakers. "I think stipulating a colour is fine, but does it really have to be a certain type of black leather shoe? Our school still measures it down to the height of the sole off the ground."
Her 14-year-old daughter Kayla is in Year 10 at a North Shore secondary school. Kayla is in the school's sports academy and often has training before class. "One time she was wearing sneakers and forgot to put her school shoes in her bag to change into. They made her wear someone else's shoes that were too big for her. This is after we've always been told not to wear secondhand shoes because they're no good for your feet."
Ranson had seen students cross-country running in leather school shoes. At her son's school, PE classes are done in shoes the students are wearing, or bare feet. "I worry about what that does to their feet."