Students' school shoes

How to buy the right school shoes

Overwhelmed with the variety, price range, or – if you have a budding fashionista – whether they’re cool? Here are our tips to make sure your kids’ shoes will go the distance this year.

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What to look for

Kids need firm and supportive shoes. The bones in their feet don’t fuse together properly until puberty. Their feet can also lack muscle strength and their bones can be prone to hypermobility, which means they have more flexible movement in their joints.

So, to help protect growing feet, firm and supportive shoes are a must. A good pair will help prevent problems developing, such as flat feet, sore knees, shin splints and even back pain.

The fit checklist

How the shoe fits is critical. Dr Daniel Poratt, Auckland University of Technology programme leader in podiatry, recommends using a Brannock Device (a metal ruler you place your foot in) to measure the length and width of your child’s feet.

If the store doesn’t have the device, ask your child to raise their big toe (while wearing the shoe) and put your thumb on the tip of the toe. If there’s a thumb width gap between your child’s big toe and the end of the shoe, then the length is about right.

Dr Poratt also recommends checking the shoe’s flexibility. To test this, pick it up, and bend it by pushing the toe upwards. If it’s a good shoe, it’ll bend at the ball of the foot, but no further. That said, make sure it’s not too bendy — if it is, it won’t be supportive enough.

More fit tips



  • Look for a small heel in a school shoe – this will help keep your child’s foot in a neutral position. If the shoe is too flat, your child may “claw” their feet while walking.
  • And not too heavy, either. Heavy shoes can cause muscle pain and foot aches, especially for younger kids.
  • Make sure there’s plenty of toe room. Can your child wiggle their toes and is the “toe box” – the empty space at the front of the shoe – deep?
  • Is the material used for the heel of the shoe firm enough to support your child’s heel?
  • Look for leather uppers. They last longer and allow your child’s feet to breathe.
  • The insole should be soft, comfortable, and made of an absorbent fabric to reduce sweating. And check whether it can be removed easily, in case you need to replace it with an orthotic.
  • Avoid slip-on shoes because they can’t be adjusted. Laces, buckles and Velcro are equally good.

Six steps to make sure your kids’ shoes fit

  1. Both feet forward — always get both of your child’s feet measured.
  2. Rule of thumb — make sure there’s a gap of about half the width of your thumb between your child’s longest toe and the end of the shoe.
  3. Go wide (and deep) — make sure the shoes are wide and deep enough for your child’s foot. If you can see the outline of their foot, walk away.
  4. No pain — your child should be comfortable in the shoes straight away, without feeling any pain or pressure points.
  5. Shop in the PM — kids’ feet tend to swell throughout the day.
  6. “They’ll grow into it” — don’t be tempted to buy a larger size. Shoes that fit well will support and protect vulnerable and growing feet.

High quality, or cheap ‘n’ cheerful?

We’ve seen shoes advertised for as low as $12, but will they last the distance and be comfortable to wear? It all depends on how they’re made. Keep these four things in mind when you’re weighing up what pair to buy:

  • Higher-quality shoes tend to be stitched rather than glued.
  • Cheaper shoes often have cardboard running through the sole of the shoe to help keep its shape, while more expensive pairs use a harder-wearing polyurethane material.
  • Better made shoes have well-padded lining made from breathable fabrics, and use less synthetics.
  • The soles of some shoes may be “blown-out”, which means there are air pockets inside the sole. Blown out soles make for lighter shoes and have cushioning, but they can make the sole wear out and sink down more easily.

Time for a new pair?

It’s not just when your child’s toes are touching the end of the shoe that it’s time to get a bigger size. Other signs it’s time to upgrade are:

  • When the tread of the shoe has gone. This can make them slippery.
  • If the shoe has lots of side or scuff marks. It may mean the shoe is too tight.
  • When the heels are worn down.

What about sneakers?

If the school’s uniform policy allows them, sneakers can be a good choice. So long as the sneaker isn’t super flexible, quality sports shoes are very supportive and light, and help keep the foot stable.

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