11 best school shoes
From shoes with scuff protection to those with buckles, these designs are built to last
Most kids would select a pair of school shoes purely based on style, while parents would cite comfort and cost as paramount, plus a shoe that looks smart. But that isn’t all you need to think about when choosing your children’s school shoes.
The holy grail of school shoes is a pair that you buy in late summer that will then last your child a whole school year. Unfortunately, some children’s feet will grow quicker than that and you’ll be forced to buy a new pair within the school year, which is frustrating but not as annoying as a pair of school shoes that still fit but can’t be worn – as the sole is falling off or they have a hole in them.
For that reason, durability is super important, especially with younger kids who are likely to use their shoes for kicking balls and sometimes even walls and generally running around a lot.
School shoes also need to be waterproof and have good grip. Scuff protection is a good feature and younger kids who can’t do up their laces or buckles will need Velcro or Riptape straps or slip on shoes, so they can easily take them on and off.
We look for sturdy material at the ankle, for support and so the shoe doesn’t get destroyed if they’re prone to slipping the shoe on without undoing the laces or straps.
And of course, the shoes need to be comfortable, ideally from the off, though some shoes will need a little wearing in at home, so they feel good on kids’ feet by the time school starts.
We’ve tried to keep these reviews as gender neutral as possible to accommodate all kids and their style and practicality needs, whether it be for football or fashion.
The shoes were tested on children about to start year 1, 4 and 6 and we’ve only featured black shoes as that seems to be the regulation in most UK schools.
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.
Lastly, make sure you label your kids’ shoes - you’d be surprised how many children will have the same or similar looking pairs.
Start-rite Score Black Leather Riptape School Shoe: £48.99, Start-rite
Our year 4 tester is only interested in a shoe they can run and play football in and the trainer style Score from Start-Rite wins on both counts.
It has great grip on the sole, and even grip on one of the straps, with extra rubber on the toe for durability.
The tester found it a comfy shoe from the first wear, while one of our favourite features was the reflective panels for extra visibility in low light.
A top, rugged choice. Available in sizes 10 to 4 in a choice of four widths.
Clarks Crown Pride Kids School Shoe: £38, Clarks
Our year 6 tester liked the chunky style of this shoe but also found it really comfy and springy to wear, and they had no problem running fast in it.
They also liked the Riptape strap disguised as a buckle. The grip looked good, and we found the in store fitting service as thorough and impressive as we remembered it from childhood.
Available in sizes 7 to 12.2 in standard and wide fits.
Dr. Martens Junior Softy Shoe: £60, Dr. Martens
DMs are a classic school shoe for older kids, but the leather can be tough and take a while to wear in, so Dr. Martens have made a Softy version with gentler leather for children.
The older testers liked the look and style of the shoe and compared the bounce in the sole to the way a pair of trainers might feel. Available in sizes 13 to 3.
John Lewis Children’s Cheshire Mary Jane Shoe: From £32, John Lewis
This Mary Jane pump style with an added bow twist proved popular with our younger testers. It’s not the most robust or weatherproof shoe, but it was soft and flexible with comfy padding in the heel.
The Riptape strap made the shoe easy to get and off for the younger kids as well, and you can also use it to adjust the tightness. Available in sizes 10 to 3 in standard and wide fits.
Start-Rite Spring Black Patent Riptape School Shoes: £47.99, Start-Rite
If your child wants a Mary Jane style shoe but also likes charging about the playground, the Spring from Start-Rite would make a great choice.
It’s a super-sturdy shoe with really good grip on the sole, and extra strong material in the toe and heel to help avoid scuff damage.
The Riptape fabric on the buckles makes it easy for kids to get on and off or tighten and loosen.
Also available in black leather. Sold in sizes 10-4 in two width fits.
Vivo Barefoot Wyn Junior: £70, Vivo Barefoot
Research from Bournemouth University showed that kids concentrate and perform better when they take their shoes off in class, which understandably isn’t always practical.
The Wyn Junior offers a compromise in the form of this lightweight, thin shoe which aims to mimic walking barefoot.
It’s obviously not a rugged shoe and won’t be right for every kid, plus its pricey, but our tester did like the way it felt on their feet. Available in sizes 3-6.
Vans Authentic Kids Shoe: £32, Vans
Whether your child can get away with wearing a pair of black Vans will depend on the school’s specific policy, but it’s certainly a popular shoe amongst the year fives and sixes at our testers’ primary school.
Pros are it’s a comfy, springy shoe that’s reasonably durable, with vegan credentials, on the cons side it’s not waterproof and there are better shoes to play football in the playground in.
Available in children’s sizes 10-3, though they also do an adult equivalent shoe.
Debenhams Black Leather Lace Up Shoes: £22.40, Debenhams
A classic smart lace-up shoe for older kids at a very reasonable price from Debenhams.
The grip was ok but not as impressive as it was on some of the other shoes, but older children tend to dart around less so that might not be a problem.
They’re also not as robust as some of the other shoes on test but the leather felt soft and flexible and with a good polish from time to time they should last well.
Available in sizes 10 to 4.
Hush Puppies Black Leather Kada Brogues: £40, Debenhams
Hush Puppies continues to be a popular school shoe brand with parents rating its quality and reliability.
This is a smart and comfortable brogue shoe in a style that went down well with our older tester.
The only con was the poor grip on the sole, as even though older kids often don’t run around as much, they’ll need some grip, so they don’t slip in the playground or walking to school in the wet. Available in sizes 13-5.
Geox Children’s Agata Tassel Leather Loafers: From £50, John Lewis
Our older testers liked this solid tassel loafer design from Geox, as it looked smart but also felt robust enough to handle the daily demands of school.
The shoe was comfortable, easy to slip on and off and the breathable fabric stopped feet from getting too hot and sticky. The only con was the sole could be a little more grip.
Available in sizes 11.5 to 6.
Clarks Hula Thrill School Shoe: £48, Clarks
The Hula Thrill from Clarks is smart-looking shoe, but it still has many of the great features of the sportier styles, including extra toe protection, serious grip on the sole, plus good cushioning and flexibility in the fit.
Our tester liked the way it felt on and was impressed that it had three straps instead of one.
Available in sizes 10 to 3, and four width fittings.